Masala servings

Updated 30 Oct 2020


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

SOMEONE like Senator Sirajul Haq may be happy at not being a part of the ‘political biryani’ that the PDM is, according to him, but that doesn’t take away from the impression that, three jalsas into the course, the old masala is kicking in.

The one major, maybe the biggest, objective of the alliance was to help at least some things return to their original state for a smooth and natural functioning of the order. This was necessary because the emerging scheme with its fresh exemptions and exclusions was not making sense. Signs are that this could well be the direction things are moving in for some big components in the grouping.

Shahid Khaqan Abbasi is back to talking dialogue after trying his hand at playing the angry young man. The role was likely thrust upon him at a time when his party thought it couldn’t afford to even send the slightest signal of reconciliation to anyone on the other side.

Only two speeches by Nawaz Sharif later, Mr Abbasi has rediscovered in full public view his original range. Mian Sahib himself was a bit more careful with his words in Quetta after his bombardment in Karachi. Not that he appears ready for the application of reverse technology that could restore his old position to him.

Secret parleys and feelers for talks by bigger parties in the grouping are going to put pressure on the PDM.

The Sharif elder may have actually been disqualified permanently for that experiment, but even this realisation would be some kind of forward movement if the objective is to emerge from the narrow path the PML-N specifically has taken. If it is possible to do opposition politics by remote control, there is no dearth of examples of rule by proxy.

There has been another rehabilitation of sorts inside the Sharif household that brings Shahid Khaqan Abbasi’s admission about the importance of dialogue as the ultimate arbiter into perspective. Shehbaz Sharif, on trial and confined within imposing prison walls, has been seeing figures. And the curtain on this mystery has been lifted by Prime Minister Imran Khan himself.

The prime minister decided to act as the original source for journalists reporting the secret huddles involving Shehbaz Sahib and senior PML-N leaders in one of his most impassioned speeches. The emotion could well be explained as an acknowledgment of Shehbaz Sahib’s ability to open doors on new possibilities in impossible situations.

The lock-up meetings were certainly reassuring for his party that was busy celebrating his model of modern life at the PML-N’s own inauguration of Lahore’s Orange Line a few days afterwards. Khawaja Asif, one of the PML-N politicians who confirmed his presence in the jail contact, said a NAB official was there during the meeting. This signified either the presence on the spot of some kind of an official ear to listen to what the reconciliatory face of the PML-N had to say or at least that of a postman to relay the message.

This was big news if there had been reluctance earlier in granting the younger Sharif brother his wish to play diplomat. The Imran camp, it would be presumed, realises the dangers in trying to show this Shehbaz development as proof of how divergent the interests of the PDM components are and how divisive their agendas. Any publicity of the activities no matter how desperate the government’s camp is to expose breaches within the PDM, and this PML-N plank, could play against PTI interests.

In that context, Imran Khan’s side is far better off limiting its attacks strictly to the differences in the PML-N and PPP approach. There are plenty of gaps to be exploited. The three PDM jalsas are proof enough that for anyone willing to rise above the banal human quality of making fun of those raising demands and the standard of equal rights there is life and misery beyond what Maryam Nawaz and Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari have to endure.

The utter contempt shown to those accused of selling their souls for a day’s meal and a few hundred rupees or those who are projected to have been herded as animals to rally venues is shocking considering that respecting these people’s ability to discern and decide is the basic criterion for the point about everyone being equal. Just like that pinning them all on one party or one slogan is wrong. There’s no doubt this is a diverse group.

Listening in to a conversation in Lahore, the three PDM rallies corroborate another point: even when politicians appear to be contesting for the honours of the boldest speaker on the podium, it may be easier to target parties which do not have a faith-based nucleus. Maulana Fazlur Rehman puzzles a few here with his ability to escape serious censure despite being very original in his warnings. Maybe he enjoys greater leeway because the idea is to isolate but one thing stays unchanged after this first round of the PDM protest campaign. Maulana Fazl is the man who needs to be reinstated in the system, presuming that the system has already ruled out politicians such as Mohsin Dawar.

There’s always something that the main power chasers such as the PML-N and PPP would find worthy to settle for as they negotiate with the kingmakers or their rivals, the wish to negotiate having just been renewed by Mr Abbasi. It is the smaller groups some of these politicians are so keen to pose with right now who are let down at the time power deals are sealed.

These secret parleys and feelers for talks by bigger parties in the grouping are going to put pressure on the PDM. The alliance has to convince everyone that the one-point agenda of a new election is enough reason to bind the group together.

The attack is on. The loaded remarks pertaining to how the PDM parties can never agree on resigning from the assemblies are getting louder. Jamaat-i-Islami leader Sirajul Haq talked of en masse resignations in Lahore earlier this week — managing to perform the astonishing act of simultaneously echoing the line of two former allies who happen to be the two parties at the heart of dispute here, Maulana Fazl and Imran Khan.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

Published in Dawn, October 30th, 2020