The key to a successful protest

  • Khadim Hussain style

He did it – again. Khadim Hussain Rizvi, who gained much fame by crippling the country’s capital city with his sit-in last year and emerged quite victorious having struck a deal in his favour, has yet again in a sequel managed to bring the government on its knees.

Protests – whether violent or peaceful – are not new to Pakistan. The country’s metropolitan cities often witness citizens chanting slogans for fulfillment of their rights or demands. Some decry the government’s apathy toward poor working conditions and low wages, others demand basic rights, ranging from water, shelter to safe transport to affordable education. Yet more take to the streets, demanding justice for the downtrodden or victims of violence, whether at home or in other countries. But none wield the power of persuasion as Rizvi.

It started last year, when protesting an erroneous modification in the country’s electoral law involving the finality of prophethood, Rizvi’s party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYR), had demanded the resignation of the then law minister Zahid Hamid. The ‘clerical error’ had been immediately corrected after being pointed out, but Rizvi refused to budge from his sit-in until the minister’s resignation. Initially, no attempts were made by the government to contact the protestors. Later, police launched an operation using tear gas and water cannons to clear the area where protesters had camped out for the last 20 days, as they had blocked the main routes into Islamabad. The government then called the army to control the law and order situation in the federal capital, while the protests spread beyond the Faizabad Interchange and sit-ins were staged in nearly 70 other cities and towns. Public life came to a halt, until the sit-in in the capital culminated with the signing of an agreement — brokered by the army and seen as a complete surrender by the state.

The state had probably hoped that Khadim Hussain Rizvi would get busy preparing for election campaigns – he has already declared his party will participate fully – or maybe he wouldn’t bother bringing up another conflict. The state was wrong. It misjudged Rizvi’s sharp memory and intolerance towards non acceptance of his demands and apparently, did not implement the Faizabad Agreement. This time, Rizvi chose Sufi saint Data Ganj Bakhsh’s shrine in Lahore as a backdrop for his new sit-in.

An act, already deemed sacrilegious and punishable by law gets ensured that its perpetrator does not go unnoticed. Then why unnecessarily bring a blessed name in controversies?

Supporters of TLYR spread to what they claimed over 80 places in the city. After initial talks failed with the government, the group’s ‘peaceful’ protestors, threatening a nationwide protest, were seen carrying batons at major streets and crossings. They also blocked the Metro bus routes from both sides and the service was stopped. Protests spread to other cities of Punjab and also in Karachi.

Rizvi is already facing around two dozen cases related to the Faizabad protest violence in Islamabad. He has been declared an absconder by various anti-terrorism courts owing to his no show in hearings and warrants have been issued for his arrest. Three teams of police left Islamabad for Lahore, Gujranwala and South Punjab to apprehend at least 480 activists of TLYR, along with their leader – only to remain empty handed. The Punjab government spokesperson admitted to ‘difficulties’ in arresting Khadim Hussain Rizvi, saying the authorities fear that any arrests or other adverse action will lead to a situation like the one created in Faizabad.

So when the provincial government yet again accepted all demands of TLYR and Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah agreed to appear before the clerics, only then the nationwide sit-ins were called off.

What were the difficulties in arresting a proclaimed offender? Why does the government cater to his demands? The nervousness and sense of fear in the atmosphere hearing that Khadim Hussain Rizvi and his supporters have announced a sit-in is linked to their zeal. Not only they claim undying and staunch support for Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), the last messenger of Allah, they let loose a storm of fury on anyone who dares insult the prophet. In short, Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah uses the card of blasphemy. With the finality of prophethood it’s main agenda, it firmly plants itself in a situation which secures support from the already charged and sentimental nation. It rides on a wagon, tromping away any adventurers or those who don’t conform to its designated roles. The government, already in a weak political situation, moves to prevent any escalation which may get out of hand and become a source of embarrassment.

So when we choose to ignore the demands of lady health workers, visually impaired citizens, transgenders, supporters of missing activists or journalists, minorities and many others protesting violation or non-provision of basic rights, we send them a message that their zeal is either not significant or perhaps not dangerous enough. If they dare block a major interchange for long, law enforcement agencies will spring to action and shoo them away like a swarm of bees. The protesters may shout their throats hoarse, but their demands fall on deaf ears. By passers view them from the corner of their eyes as another routine event. But if they were to invoke the name of the Prophet (pbuh), faces would turn, eyes would pop out and ear lobes would flame.

An act, already deemed sacrilegious and punishable by law gets ensured that its perpetrator does not go unnoticed. Then why unnecessarily bring a blessed name in controversies? When a ‘clerical error’ has been amended, why make a hue and cry over it again and again and make a mockery out of society? In the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, who, in his or her senses, would dare to defame or insult the last messenger’s name? Claiming unflinching love for the prophet, why is the nation bent on persecuting an already marginalised community on the pretext of blasphemy? Why some non-Muslims’ rights are violated by making false allegations, just to be able to settle some score?

Answer these questions or not, next time if you hear of yet another sit-in by Khadim Hussain Rizvi, be prepared for some suspense, a temporary inconvenience, but stay assured that it won’t last for long. For in the end, his power of persuasion will prevail and in exchange of fulfillment of his demands – whether rightful or not – peace will return.