LAHORE: The JUI-F crowd, accompanying its chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman for the last three days in his ‘Azadi March’, could well rank with the rarest of combinations due to their political views, determination, enthusiasm and discipline.

The Greater Iqbal Park, where the marchers stayed for a few hours on Wednesday on their way to Islamabad, witnessed it all on Tuesday, along with dispelling some myths built around it in the run-up to the march – like the expected overwhelming presence of pupils from the seminaries.

Predominantly from Sindh and Balochistan, a majority of the participants looked mature – ranging from late twenties to much older.

“The JUI-F has never used teens from seminaries for protests. It was all propaganda, which stands dispelled as one can see,” Amir Mahmood, in his 60s and from Pishin in Balochistan, said.

“The party has been on the roads for the last nine months, holding a total of 15 ‘million marches’. Not in a single case they were accused of using adolescents from seminaries. It has a strong political base among a cross-section of society, and in all age groups.”

All those Dawn spoke to knew what they were up to. “Imran Khan is bad for the country,” said Mahboob Rehman, also from Pishin. “Look at the economy, price hike and unemployment. For how long can the PTI and Imran Khan be allowed to play with the fate of 220 million people? He must go as our leader has demanded.”

Other marchers said theirs’ was logical demand, “proven” by the events of the last 14 months. “Leave everything alone and look at the media. Do you want to live under these curbs? If not, what kind of explanation the media needs from us for this march of ours?” he asked.

Committed to the cause of their leader and the party, the marchers said they were prepared to stay in the capital for as long as it takes. “Camping anywhere for a few months is more of a routine for the party members,” says Abdul Qadir Soomro from Larkana.

“Our people regularly host millions of people at Raiwind. Going on months-long preaching excursions is a regular activity for all. So, staying at any place even for months is absolutely no issue. If our leader decides to hang around in the capital, say, for the next three months, no one among the marchers would have any issue with it.”

The protesters maintained a strict discipline. They went about their demonstration in an exemplary fashion, sending an important message about their intent across to Islamabad. Yet there was plenty of intensity and will on display.

Niaz Ahmad Banglani, from Jacobabad, Sindh, said each participant in the march was carrying enough ration and clothes to see him through for the next few weeks. “You can go and check our cars, they are laden with all these things — edibles, clothes, tents and bedding. Since we were not told how long we will have to stay [in Islamabad], we tried to carry as much luggage as possible,” he said.

The marchers from Sindh and Balochistan were happy with the frequency and warmth of the receptions they had been given in Punjab. “This shows widespread support for our demands,” said JUI-F’s Jacobabad district chief Abdul Kareem.

Published in Dawn, October 31st, 2019