A soap called ‘animal farm’

03 Apr 2020

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The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

IN normal circumstances, the lions of Lahore’s safari park would have been a good topic to write about. They are in surplus. There are more of them than the park administration would want to entertain under their watch. Some of them are not 100 per cent fit; a few have actually been categorised in news reports as ‘cripples’. As a beastly group, these lions were in the news recently for mortally wounding a young man who had trespassed their territory for cutting grass. Yet they have takers. Private farm owners are willing to purchase them from the safari park for breeding purposes.

The idea may sound odd in a country less prone to visits by the weird and intimidating. But, then, we are part of an ever-running soap made up of man, beast and animal desires. Breeding lions can be a very expensive project. Any number of reports by the overworked zoo reporter can be recalled to prove that the king of the jungle is a creature of lofty habits and impossible to please at the dining table. Even so, if some enterprising souls out there are interested in cultivating the next generation of lions, this means that they sense a good demand.

These animals could well serve as exhibits of man’s power, as caged pets displayed proudly by the shauqeen or those with taste. Some could find their way into the circus entourage, even though it must be said that the once regular fixture has to be really very lucky to be allowed a performance in this age of increasing social distancing. And given past trends, the beast could well be summoned by the more passionate among the PML-N supporters to express their love for their party and leadership.

The PML-N poll symbol is the tiger. However, it seems that the tiger doesn’t quite fulfil the concept of grandeur that the party’s politicians associate with it and their leaders. It has to be a lion, put inside a cage, or better still held by a leash, paraded through the crowded streets to instil the fear of the ultimate victor, of the perennial king, in the hearts of the subjects.

The born-to-rule Sharif lions are aghast at Prime Minister Imran Khan’s insistence on stealing the PML-N poll symbol.

There’s a finality to the way the lion is placed on the throne. To the PML-N mind, all other actors, men and animals are an aberration, a detour, until the Sharifs are allowed back into what they do best: rule. It is only in the worst-case scenario that a Shahbaz Sharif would allow an impression to hold that he is willing to lend a helping hand, a responsible opposition leader ready to join forces with the government. But even this impression is short-lived.

The born-to-rule Sharif lions are aghast at Prime Minister Imran Khan’s insistence on stealing the PML-N poll symbol and using it as a sign of his resolve to fight Covid-19. There is only one word to describe what the debate the introduction of these ‘corona tigers’ in the already chaotic Pakistani scene has led to: crazy.

The opponents say that the prime minister cannot use the term since he had given the same name — ‘tiger’ — to other groups which performed other chores for him in the past. That is absolutely true, but how it disqualifies anyone from using the same title for a force now meant to provide relief to those marooned by the coronavirus is a baffling question.

No one has come up with a good enough explanation to this, least of all the party whose leader always wanted taskforces to do things, those who were always so keen to associate their own pictures with any worthwhile scheme they launched in Punjab. So much so that in some places even those using public toilets would be reminded through pictures of whom they needed to thank for the provision of this basic relief.

Speaking of stuff like that, quite a lot of ‘dirty’ lines have been thrown into this long and unnecessary argument about Imran Khan’s tigers, who cannot be evaluated before they perform. Particularly, in one clip that has caught the fancy of the IK-bashers, an old lieutenant of his recaps an episode from the past. The Imran follower is shown as saying how he tore his own tiger badge when he learnt that ‘tiger’ was the name with which Mr Khan addressed one of his dogs.

The entire episode could well serve as a lesson in how wrong some can get it. It’s about getting the relations right. Of course, the muckrakers are applying the old local idiom which treats the dog as an untouchable to forward their designs here. Otherwise, the protagonist’s own sentiment about the animal — his tigers and his sheroos — as loyal companions and faithful friends is well known. Thus any attempts to embarrass him by insinuating that he was guilty of calling human beings by animal names would be doomed from the beginning.

A more reliable strategy to pin blame on Prime Minister Imran Khan would be the one where he is held to account over his hard-line attitude. Even in this hour of need, with the satisfaction of having somehow defeated his opponents in an election, he is still unable to display the victor’s quality of appearing magnanimous, even if deep inside he doesn’t concede anything significant to his opponents.

That seems to be a huge obstacle for him. Often, it is identified as an ego issue. Let’s refrain from such identifications, but surely the responses by the prime minister in the current corona-ridden atmosphere do lead to some farcical situations. Citing only one — there cannot be a lockdown since PTI opponents have been wanting it, only for Asad Umar to claim how the lockdown has worked. How can something that was never approved or imposed by the federal government ever work to its benefit? How can anyone else claim credit for something first attempted against great odds by big brother Murad Ali Shah?

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

Published in Dawn, April 3rd, 2020