55-year old Mahesh Kumar Malani from the Pakistan Peoples Party’s (PPP) has become the first non-Muslim to win a general seat in Pakistan’s National Assembly. Malani — who is a Hindu — contested and won the NA-222 (Tharparkar-II) seat, where he held his ground against 14 candidates. He received 106,630 votes while his opponent, Arbab Zakaullah of the Grand Democratic Alliance, got 87,251.
In 2013, Malani was also the first non-Muslim lawmaker to win a general seat in the Sindh Assembly. Non-Muslims were declared eligible to vote and contest on general seats in 2002 under an amendment introduced by then president Pervez Musharraf. Besides, non-Muslims also have reserved seats in the Senate, national and provincial assemblies.
Q: Congratulations on your historic win. How does it feel to be the first Hindu to win a general National Assembly seat in Pakistan’s history?
I’m very happy that I have won from a general seat for the National Assembly. I had won the general seat from the same constituency in 2013, but for the (Sindh) provincial assembly. In 2018, it is for the National Assembly and I am very happy.
Q: What is the significance of your win? Does it signify a change in society or polity?
Not really, my win is due to my party. I am a humble worker of the Pakistan People’s Party, and the party has undertaken extensive work in this district and in my constituency. It is on the basis of that work and performance that we got these votes. I have given time here (in Tharparkar); I am also an office-bearer of the party, so the win is due to that.
Q: People say religion plays an important role in politics. How is it that you were able to win a seat where only 5 per cent of the electorate is Hindu?
Actually, 5 per cent is the total percentage of non-Muslims in Pakistan. In Tharparkar, 40-45 per cent of people non-Muslims. But my win has nothing to do with religion…This is a win because the party has a votebank, and track-record and performance. There is no concept of religion involved in this.
Q: Have you been to India recently? What do you make of the politics here?
I came to India 3-4 years ago for 8-10 days. I had come to attend a wedding, besides meeting some distant relatives and visit places of worship, but I have no concern with anything here.
Q: But what about Indian politics?
See, I love my country, and our relations with all neighbouring countries should be good, based on equality. My country wants to move forward on the basis of equality. India should also think in the same manner.
Q: There have been forceful conversions in Pakistan. Hindus there have sought asylum in India in recent years. India has also given them expedited citizenship. What is your view?
I can say with authority that forceful conversions have stopped. Nearly 5-10 years ago, there was an issue with the law and order situation here, and some people went to India. But for the past five years, there is no law and order issue, no discrimination, we are treated as equals, we have had no feeling (of being unwanted). My win is a message that we stay here as equals with equal rights. Our Muslim brethren also vote for us based on performance. The situation is good and forceful conversions is not a major issue.
Q: What should India expect from Imran Khan as PM?
India should move forward to build better relations on the basis of equality. That should be the priority and as PM, Imran Khan would also want that.