IF the times, conditions and the parties are not, at least the dates are comparable. Exactly 25 years ago, on April 10, 1986, Ms Benazir Bhutto had addressed Lahore’s biggest rally at the Minar-i-Pakistan. The rallying cry chosen by the MQM leaders was a slogan against feudalism — even though the word ‘feudal’ was largely missing from the discourse during their public meeting on Sunday, April 10, 2011.
The alternative was a resort to an attack on the law of inheritance that rules Pakistani politics and which perpetuates the hegemony of a few families on the levers of power. It was a masterstroke that sought to rid domestic politics of its Asif Zardaris and Shahbaz Sharifs in one go, and vested the powers with the deprived middle class.
The MQM had begun ambitiously and wanted to stage the public meeting in the shadow of the Pakistan Resolution minaret.
Later, they agreed to shift their jalsa to the Qadhafi Stadium square and on the insistence of the Punjab government, eventually ended up holding it inside a football ground which is part of the larger stadium complex.
News reports suggest the rally had been effectively limited but it is hard to contain voices, voices full of apprehension and fear, a few voices of hope and others betraying outright indifference. The whispers are making the rounds in Lahore seeking to probe the possibilities after the arrival of new players.
Inspired by a highly inventive transcript of an imaginary conversation between the prime ministers of India and Pakistan during last month’s cricket game in Mohali, a typical rather unhindered conversation to mark the old and new April 10 would have maybe run something like this:
First Man: “What’s going on here? Are you people here to demand a change of the name of the stadium? I know the colonel has fallen out of favour of late. Such a handsome pair did the two of them make at the summit here in 1974. Bhutto and Qadhafi, they were poised to conquer the world … I will tell you the story some other day, right now I need a masseur. No football for me…. I need a bit of body-pressing. I am so tired and fatigued … have been wandering around for the last 25 years.”
Second Man: “This is no Tahrir Square and this is no massage parlour. This is a rally by the MQM. And look around before you speak. A massage is too depressing a feudal gesture. But I do pity you, those who have been walking for 25 years, and that too without destination.”
First Man: “Longer, I have been walking longer, stranger. Well, I had come here to listen to Benazir, my leader. She promised me emancipation, well, she promised me power, a share in it. I was at this big rally, about the size of this city and we didn’t have this football ground back then and we had Nawaz while you have to be content with just Shahbaz. She spoke and a plane flew over a million raised heads and chins at the Minar.
“She shouted that the aircraft was carrying Gen Zia who was trying to escape people’s power … I thought my job was done and I wandered off.”
Second Man: “Oh really? That was easy. That was 25 years ago. We were then busy elsewhere and she was a feudal who doesn’t bother us now…. Our fight is against the feudals who have succeeded her.”
First Man: “Yes it’s been that long. You need not remind my aching soul. And I know that my BB doesn’t trouble any minds now, not even mine. Actually, I myself was a lefty within the PPP, a member of the socialist group if you have heard of one.”
Second Man: “Yeah suppose I have, then? Whatever the PPP had publicly stood for it has compromised in its lust for power.
Today, it is us, the MQM and Chaudhry Zaheeruddin and Sarfraz Nawaz who are present on the stage.…
“We epitomise the liberal values of Pakistan. Our collective wings are going to spread far and wide and it is a democratic revolution that we pursue….”First Man: “What did you say … Zaheer and Sarfraz Nawaz on a football ground???”
Second Man: “The rules of the game have changed. We had even asked Imran Khan over but he chose to miss the opportunity, sticking to his refrain of a certain imagined mayhem in Karachi. Mian Shahbaz Sharif and your PPP wallahs haven’t come for whatever their worth is. You seem to be losing touch with reality, Baba-ji. You are living in the past and since you have been so desperately looking for a massage, I have no doubt that you are a child of feudalism. An ageing, decaying offspring of feudalism you are.”
First Man: “Language … hmmm, I mean, which language does your rally communicate in? … and remember that I will be paying for the massage. The jagirdar who inspired Sultan Rahi and someone else to loudly roar on screen is gone. And it is different when you influence someone to press your feet as to when you are paying for the services. Isn’t it the difference between feudalism as you call it here and capitalism as the world practises it at large? Marx said feudalism is a prelude to capi….”
Second Man: “Stop this nonsense. Poor you, trying to give a sinister ethnic colour to a sincere effort at lifting the people and dragging Marx into it….”
First Man: “Hold it, hold it there for a sec. I am not finished. My cousin in Sindh tells me stories about….”
Second Man: “Oh them? They are the product of big-family politics if they are not downright feudal. Haven’t you all been accusing us of letting the Pakistani middle class down? Now stand by us …We will deal with Sindh when we go back. This is Punjab and we know what the people here want besides an end to one family’s hold on power.”
First Man: “Now stop making these boastful claims, will you? Tell me about discovering Punjab. I have wandered far and hard on the land and I know a bit about the place and the places within.”
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.