Directed by Robert B. Weide

  • Aka, what the hell was that?

The Azadi March is over. Well, technically it’s still going on in the form of Plan B: blocking of highways ‘across the country’. (Or is it Plan C?) Interestingly, the response to all plans (A, B, C) of Maulana Fazlur Rehman has been a blissful oblivion on the part of the government. The dreaded (secret) plan that Hamid Mir had been warning about (and apparently hoping for) never came to pass.

PPP and PML-N were charmingly equivocal about the whole affair. The former wasn’t sure to what extent it was willing to go along while the Maulana inevitably played the religion card(s). The latter turned its back on the dharna in Lahore, its stronghold. The gathering was almost exclusively that of Maulana’s own devotees, with no presence of workers of any other party. All parties accused all other parties of bypassing the Rahbar Committee. JUI-F’s Hafiz Hussain Ahmad went as far as likening Shahbaz Sharif to brothers of Joseph. There was a general complaint that the Maulana didn’t share his strategy with anybody. In Maulana’s defence, probably there was no strategy to share.

There was a general complaint that the Maulana didn’t share his strategy with anybody. In Maulana’s defence, probably there was no strategy to share.

The most succinct summary of the dharna came on the day the procession reached Islamabad. It was from the lips of Asfandyar Wali Khan, who demanded to know (within range of a microphone) what filth was that [the dharna]? – author’s translation, who opted for the most benign synonym for the operative word – a not so subtle indication that the ANP’s part in the affair was over for all practical purposes.

It was a depressing affair. The sight of grown-ups enjoying merry-go-rounds and see-saws of Lahore and Islamabad parks was sad. Thankfully there were occasional comic reliefs: for example, when Maulana Ataul Haq Darvesh (the general secretary of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa chapter of JUI-F) led the frantic crowd to chant ‘Go Nawaz Go’ slogans, before being informed that this particular dharna was not against Nawaz.

This brings us to the question of what the sit-in was about. The stated goal, of course, was to get Imran Khan to resign. The Maulana even hinted at the possibility of the assembled mob to go and arrest the prime minister. If the Maulana is to be believed, (at different points) the dharna was against the ‘rigging’ in the general elections, the ‘betrayal’ of Kashmir, and the country’s economic woes. The Maulana also claimed that in addition to having strengthened civilian supremacy, the dharna had dealt the Israeli and Qadiani interests a mighty blow (solve this yourself). He also made it a point to stress that his dharna had given respect to ladies. There’s no arguing with this claim, given the fact that not one of the participants belonged to the fairer sex.

How many participated in the sit-in/march is a moot point, although the author has a reliable formula of calculating the ball-park figure: remove two zeroes from the number claimed by the organizers. Be that as it may, could the Maulana afford the logistics and food for all those disciples from so many parts of the country, and for so many days? Who sponsored it? And was it aimed at sending the government packing or was it a sit-in to end all sit-ins? Madrassah reforms have been bothering the Maulana no end, and there has always been this implicit threat of Maulana’s street power. It would be safe to say that the Maulana won’t be embarking on another such venture any time soon.

Who played whom? Was it staged to put Imran Khan in his place? Was it aimed at showing the opposition parties their collective worth? Was it orchestrated to hang the Maulana out to dry? There’s no dearth of conspiracy theories regarding who orchestrated it and with what objective. But we venture into the realm of speculation here. All that is known with certainty is that Pervaiz Elahi was able to prevail upon the Maulana to end the sit-in. There’s talk of some (real or imaginary) lollipop, the nature of which remains undisclosed and is apparently known to only those endowed with supernatural powers. There’s therefore ample scope for all to link any future happenings to the dharna (and to claim that they knew so all along); and many are indeed hanging on to this thread now.

On a somewhat separate note, one really feels sorry for the pseudo-liberals. Maulana was never going to deliver what they wanted. But such was their desperation that they got on to the Maulana bandwagon regardless. As soon as they realized however that it wasn’t going to work, they wasted no time in looking for the first excuse to jump ship. A leading light among them, who had earlier blasted the PML(N) for betraying the Maulana, tweeted: ‘Then it’s over. I always understood it to be a power play within the establishment. But if in that play he’s selling out the PTM as anti-state, he loses my support. This has given his game away. I can’t support politics of expediency. Unfriended Maulana.’ Maulana was obviously able to convince the ‘anti-establishment’ crowd that he was going to get the establishment to rid them of Khan. Not that the pseudo-liberals need much convincing if something appears to be against Khan. Who will be the next liberal hope now?

The biggest beneficiary of the sit-in, as always, was the student community. The dharna started in fine style, with educational institutes shut down for two days. However, the students were left longing for more when no more holidays were to be had. As far as the consciousness of students is concerned, Khadim Rizvi, as a leader of men, ranks much higher than Maulana Fazlur Rehman.