LAHORE: A huge crowd gathered on Saturday around the Minar-i-Pakistan for the Namaz-i-Janaza of Khadim Hussain Rizvi, by all accounts the biggest ever funeral prayers in the history of the city.
The prayers were led by the late Rizvi’s son, Saad Hussain Rizvi, who was then chosen by the party’s shura to lead the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) that has emerged as a big player on the politico-social scene of the country in recent years.
Maulana Rizvi’s remains were later buried in the compound of his Multan Road mosque where he was a prayer leader for long and which served as the base for his blitzkrieg on the Pakistani stage between the years 2017 and 2020. There has been a lot of speculation as to what shape will his Tehreek take after an exit that matched his fiery, perennially shocking presence in the country’s politics and in the everyday life of its citizens.
The TLP went the simple, standard way of tackling the issue that confronted it in the middle of a campaign that it is running against blasphemous caricatures and Saad Rizvi as the natural successor began with the regular line: ‘I will fulfil the mission of my father’.
It was sea of people which filled the vast spaces at the Greater Iqbal Park, the venue of the funeral which with its adjoining open areas has in the past has held million-man rallies of most popular politicians at their peak as Benazir Bhutto and Imran Khan.
On Saturday, too, the crowd, overflowed on to various tributaries of the Circular Road and Ravi Road that skirt the Iqbal Park on the north-westerern side of the Badshahi Mosque. Some witnesses said that the number of people who had collected at the funeral prayers ran into many hundred thousands.
In between steady rhythmic chanting of ‘Labbaik, Labbaik, Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah’ announcements were made on the public address system that informed people even three hours before the scheduled prayers that the gates to the park had been closed after it had been filled to capacity.
Soon, the mourners filled the Badshahi Mosque, then adjacent grounds of Minar-i-Pakistan, next came roads around the venue and by the time the funeral actually took place, at least three-kilometre radius around the venue had been turned into a venue for the prayers.
The party had directed workers, coming from all over the country, to directly reach the funeral prayers’ site rather than accompanying the procession that brought the remains of Maulana Rizvi to Iqbal Park. Police did not allow any vehicle to enter the city from the GT Road and all vehicles were parked at Shahdara.
The body of Maulana Rizvi, which was to be placed at a marked site in the Greater Iqbal Park, could not reach the spot due to the rush of the followers. The organisers decided to place it on the overhead bridge next to the Iqbal Park. However, the plan was dropped as it could have taken another hour or so. Things were already moving a few hours behind schedule. The time of the funeral prayers was fixed at 10am and the procession set off at around 9am from his residence — its length growing along the 10km route.
By the time it reached the funeral place some four hours behind schedule, the procession had grown into around three kilometers in length, with a multitude of people waiting in and around Iqbal Park.
The TLP men, in uniforms, kept metres-wide ring around the ambulance, and no one was allowed to come too close to it. This was in addition to the heavy presence of police. According to the DIG operations, more than 1,000 policemen, including three SPs, 13 DSPs, 31 SHOs, and 116 upper subordinates were on duty for the day. The Elite Force, Dolphin Squads, Anti-Riot Police, and snipers on buildings along the route were maintaining the security of the mourners. Police also claimed to have undertaken sweep and search operations during the night to secure the route and venue of the funeral.
Though organisers and police kept telling workers to observe coronavirus SOPs, it was neither possible nor observed due to the number of people. It was very rare for someone seen wearing a mask, stoking fears of the Covid-19 spread in the country.
Published in Dawn, November 22nd, 2020