GIVEN the JUI-F’s religio-political credentials, the main participants in the party’s forthcoming march on Islamabad will comprise former or current students of madressahs affiliated with the outfit. It is true that if all goes according to plan, the representatives and supporters of other parties will also take part. However, the religious colour will be hard to miss, ie, the focus will be on the JUI-F cadres. Commentator after commentator on television and in the print media has warned JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman and his followers against the dangers of raising faith-based slogans. The interior ministry has already written to the cabinet, asking for a ban on the uniformed stick-wielding razakaar or voluntary force called Ansar-ul-Islam. In fact, the government, right up to Prime Minister Imran Khan, has referred to the ‘religious card’ while discussing the JUI-F march, even if this mention has been limited to cautioning the organisers against resorting to any such option. Politicians supporting the maulana in his anti-government crusade, such as Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, have also voiced their concern on this count.
Alleged poll rigging was the original theme the march was to be woven around. Maulana Fazlur Rehman has been working to create an opposition protest movement around that single point from the day he suffered an ignominious defeat in the 2018 general election. Later, as he wooed his party supporters and followers of the particular sect he represents, he let slip remarks linked to emotive religious issues such as Khatm-i-Nabuwwat. Other JUI-F representatives have also ensured that the religious element in what is purely a political issue is not diluted. They have publicly disparaged the prime minister’s original plan to include an economist from the Ahmadi faith in his finance team and have also criticised him for the acquittal and subsequent release of Aasia Bibi who had been charged with blasphemy. The maulana should know better than to allow his representatives to make remarks that can be construed as hate speech and to use religion for political gains.
Published in Dawn, October 22nd, 2019