When Edhi gave up on politics
Abdul Sattar Edhi once had political ambitions and twice contested for a seat in the National Assembly from Karachi in the 1970s. This aspect of Edhi’s eventful life isn’t widely known. When he died, nobody really mentioned that Edhi once aspired to become a member of parliament.
Having lost on both occasions, he gave up politics and began focusing more on his social and charity work. It may or may not have been a loss for politics, but it certainly was a gain for social and charity work.
Edhi’s first foray into electoral politics was in the 1970 general election for which polling was held on December 7, 1970. His native area of Kharadar and Mithadar was part of the National Assembly constituency known at the time as NW-134 Karachi-7. This constituency also included the Burns Road area and the markets surrounding it.
Shah Ahmad Noorani, the late religious scholar heading the Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan (JUP) won the contest with 28,304 votes primarily on the strength of the Barelvi vote. The runner-up was Noorul Arifin of the PPP with 22,609 votes followed by Pir Mohammad of the Jamaat-e-Islami with 20,838 and Zain Noorani of PML-Convention with 10,634 votes. Edhi polled 7,850 votes as an independent candidate and lagged far behind in fifth place.
Edhi decided to try his luck again in the by-election necessitated by Maulana Shah Ahmad Noorani’s election as a member of the Senate. The by-poll for the vacant NA seat was organised on October 19, 1975. The seat was snatched from the JUP by the ruling PPP through its candidate Noorul Arifin, who obtained 27,632 votes. The JUP candidate Mohammad Hanif Tayyab was placed second with 24,224 votes. Edhi came third with 7,611 votes getting almost the same number of ballots that he had polled in the December 1970 general election.
Living in Karachi at the time as a student and keenly following the first open general election in Pakistan, one saw almost all the candidates including Edhi from close quarters. Much like his later life, Edhi campaigned practically alone with a small team of supporters and did everything himself. He was also at a disadvantage as an independent with no support from any political party.
Edhi was dependent on his reputation as a social worker who was simple in dress and mild in his manners. Even then he was a straight talking non-politician who had ventured into politics in the belief that he could serve the electorate better than the other more resourceful candidates fielded by political parties. However, he was rejected by the voters, prematurely putting to an end his political career.
This indeed was a turning point in Edhi’s life as he henceforth devoted himself fully to charity work. In due course of time, he earned fame and got more respect than lawmakers. This certainly could not have happened if he had been elected as an MNA. The politicians who defeated him at the polls couldn’t get that kind of fame and adoration. Though many people still want to become MNAs and MPAs and senators, Edhi’s success as a social worker proved that one could serve the masses and earn their respect without coming into power.
It also looks odd that generals, judges, bureaucrats, etc join politics after having retired from service and exercised powers that they aspire to obtain again by getting elected as a member of parliament. There is a long list of such ambitious people who launched political parties after retirement and failed to win public support because they had already played their innings and done nothing remarkable to deserve another chance.
In comparison, Edhi tried his hand at politics and failed to win a seat in the National Assembly. He then emerged as a committed humanitarian with a lot of credibility. He could have used this as a ladder to re-enter politics and build a political career on the strength of his social and charity work. He resisted such a temptation and continued on his chosen path.
Edhi did the right thing and this is the reason he remained largely non-controversial and his appeal transcended regional, ethnic and linguistic barriers.