TRY, try again. These golden words uttered by Maulana Fazlur Rehman wrapped up a brief conversation with journalists outside his Ravi Road base in Lahore on Wednesday. Peach juice and much else were waiting for him and his delegation at Jati Umra, the Sharif estate. The place was going to be honoured with a potentially historic beginning — with one condition. It had to provide the missing links on the map that can ensure that the second try by the maulana to shake up the set-up in Islamabad did not go unrewarded.
The JUI-F chief had come knocking at the doors of the Sharif palace in Lahore but, during that ‘first try’, could not be duly reciprocated. The PML-N’s lukewarm response was manifested symbolically in the situation of its ailing quaid, Mian Nawaz Sharif, who was then jealously guarded against any intrusion by Maulana Fazl, wearing the smirk of a wayfarer who knew that he would return not too long afterwards.
That moment came in Jati Umra on Wednesday evening. These were an important couple of hours in the politics of everyone involved, not least Maryam Nawaz who has had the leadership mantle placed on her because of the manner in which the system runs its accountability drive and dynastic considerations.
The test has just begun. It has to be seen whether the biggest opposition party, which is still considered an alternative to the one in power by many, is desperate enough to go the whole hog and match the fervour of the JUI-F, the original agitator. Remember the maulana and his men may be motivated by a perception that they have little chance of being accommodated in a power set-up in the current scheme.
Is the biggest opposition party desperate enough to go the whole hog?
In a week from now, the PML-N is going to spearhead a rally in Gujranwala under the standard of the Pakistan Democratic Movement that, at its most thunderous, seeks to change not a government. The PDM groups together your usual hopefuls and those desperate for a re-entry into the power race represented by Maulana Fazl. The stated aim is to throw out an order that is said to run counter to the basic principles of democracy.
It’s a tall order, but nothing short of it could justify the coming together of opposition outfits. This collection of parties appears hardly eligible to graduate into a coalition in power, or even develop into a loose election alliance to confront the PTI camp.
There has been an effort in recent times to impart some ‘sameness’ to the opposition leaders by piling on PML-N leaders’ labels that were once reserved for parties at the other end of the spectrum. The N-League has been projected as a party of the corrupt; to this has been added the allegation of treason.
The list of ghaddars is diverse with the inclusion of new traitors. The more famous are politicians belonging to the PML-N, a party that at the top of its game was believed to be unfit for harbouring any souls with even harmless rebellious thoughts, let alone treasonous ideas of substance.
Mysterious men have been appearing in the area where Emperor Jahangir lies buried near his wife Nur Jahan and all his grand ideas of justice. They have been trying, successfully, to impress upon the poor station house officer of the 21st-century Shahdara the merits of booking PML-N workers on sedition charges.
The prime minister is said to be not pleased with the charge but then he is not prepared to do anything to let the alleged traitors off the hook either. Go solve this riddle about the politics in this magical country yourself.
The PML-N and PDM may be hoping this is a godsend opportunity at the start of the campaign. The expert rallyists will be striving to channel anger at the widespread bookings of those in the PML-N stronghold to energise the crowds at a time when people are up against a whole range of issues, most importantly economic problems.
More problematic is the reading of another aspect of the ghaddar debate, which could lead to embarrassing conclusions. The lines are still too deeply drawn to separate the ghaddar of this party from the ghaddar of that party, and the stage has not been reached where they can all be condemned equally. There may be a difference of nuances. Some original ghaddars may well be purer than their made-to-order clones.
Fresh from his Jati Umra reception, Maulana Fazl may still have a real task reconciling the new ghaddars in the PML-N with the old title holders in the PPP. There’s a gap between the two parties which shows at awakened moments for the alliance. It is almost impossible to deal with them as equals. The latest ‘revelations’ by an ex FIA director are more proof.
To begin with, former Bashir Memon’s ‘explosive’ interview has added little to what was already known about his rift with the Imran Khan government. Two, it is an out-and-out pro-PML-N show and at this crucial juncture for the PDM, it brings out a contrasting opinion about the PPP.
As the host, otherwise known to pounce on every opportunity to corner his interviewees even over minor slips, this time allowed it to pass with a mere uncharacteristic mumble, old jiyala complaints returned. Mr Memon does appear to be prejudiced against their leaders when he says the Asghar Khan case should be shelved just as his statements favour another, even bigger party in the PDM.
A viewer may think that it was a clever move by a retired police officer unhappy with a ruler whom he accuses of forcing him to quit early and holding his pension — and yet a police officer mindful of who the real powers were and who could still be easily targeted even if they were the aggrieved party in a 30-year-old case. This is how complicated it is. That’s the Pakistani langar for you. Everything into the boiling cauldron. It’s doubtful the PDM knows what it is going to get on its plate.
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.
Published in Dawn, October 9th, 2020