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On trail of Gullu Butt

November 01, 2014

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Life in the Faisal Town locality is quieter for the absence of Shahid Aziz alias Gullu Butt. The Kotha Pind flats as the blocks of multi-storey buildings are called are where the now convicted basher of cars had revelled over the years in his various moods, acting as a protector of people’s rights now, and soon enough returning to the avatar of a local bully or to the dubious role of a police proxy.

Hence the public verdict on Gullu who has just been sentenced to more than 11 years is divided.

Also read: Gullu Butt sentenced to 11 years in prison

The streets around the flats where Gullu Butt spent much of his time in recent years are a favourite with young men who come to Lahore for studies. There are a few families, too, which occupy the apartments, but the buzz that young students with time to kill and engage in debate dominates.

With its ‘affordable’ eateries, its political huddles and its crowded atmosphere, the place is always awake. And it is ready to throw up its characters, gullible to a few heated exchanges which might later on be dismissed as trifles.

Know more: Gullu Butt apologises for actions, seeks forgiveness

Long before the title of “the main protagonist in the Model Town violence against the Pakistan Awami Tehreek on June 17” was thrust upon him, the people around the flats knew Gullu Butt had potential. If anything, fame came to him rather late in life, in mid-50s, given all that he had been involved in.

One of his close relatives tells Dawn that Gullu was born in Karachi, where the family had moved to from Gowalmandi in Lahore, and his father worked with Karachi Municipal Corporation. His was a large family – seven brothers and four sisters, Gullu being more outgoing of them. He worked as an air-conditioning technician in the Gulf for 12 years and was first spotted in the Faisal Town neighbourhood in 2008. But he was far too eager to pursue causes to be known by his professional background.

In recent years, Gullu Butt has been seen by the people in the neighbourhood taking on so many roles. Not too long ago, he had set up a camp by the flats against corruption and bad governance. This effort of his could be termed quite successful since, according to a man who has been watching him closely all these years, he was able to gain the signed support of some 2,000 people for his campaign.

Then again, he was up together with the boys working as waiters at one of the Kotha Pind eateries when their employer delayed payment of their salary and his group beat up a restaurant owner for raising the price of roti. There are those who remember how offended he was by remarks about his now nationally famous moustache and how he once hit out at those had been accused of harassing a woman.

On another occasion, he installed banners to welcome the appointment of a police officer to local thana. According to some, the officer was on the scene on the morning of June 17 as Gullu went on his smashing spree, according to the television footage, in the presence of a large number of policemen.

The residents tell Dawn that Gullu was a regular at the PML-N meetings of late and never shy of offering his help in getting someone’s issue solved. The PML-N crowd is said to be keeping a safe distance from him since the Model Town incident. A young PML-N activist says this is in sharp contrast to when, “after returning to the chief minister’s position in 2008, Mian Shahbaz Sharif had called Gullu Butt Sher-i-Punjab (the Lion of Punjab). Officials, including police, would oblige him because of his connections in the party.”

“After the imposition of the governor’s rule in 2009, Gullu Butt tried to set himself ablaze. That was the first time he made it to the pages of the newspapers,” the PML-N activist, who says he is a friend of Gullu, told Dawn, insisting: “He has been made a scapegoat here.”

The friends’ description of Gullu Butt being a good-at-heart maverick is consistent with the sequence that has catapulted the man from being an exciting local talent to material worthy of national spotlight. The first image of him in the series was when he was venting on the cars parked around the PAT headquarters as policemen looked on, some of them even shown to be patting and hugging him. The pictures were used to assert that he was a police agent working under police patronage if not on police orders.

The next phase was where Gullu – and so many others around him – tried to rehabilitate his image. He insisted, and was so shown to be by sections of the media, to be a simple man held captive and yielding to his shifting moods, a victim that had in a bad moment given in to the deep, dark urges from within, also a victim who had succumbed under the force of the circumstances.

The anti-terrorism court judge who handed him his 11-year-long term on Thursday thought otherwise. The judgement pins the blame squarely on him, even though he still has recourse to higher courts. Gullu wants to build upon his star appeal to chart a career in films and he demands royalty on the computer game that casts him as the protagonist. He will remain in the news, but there is a raging debate how his act and his imposing multi-layered personality threatens to take the focus away from the real crime – the killing of 11 PAT followers by shooting on June 17 this year.

This is far from the presence Gullu Butt would enjoy around Kotha Pind. From being a prominent, often the central figure in many of the happenings up at the flats, he is in danger of going down as a distraction.

Published in Dawn, November 1st, 2014