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Lessons of ‘long march’

Published Jan 30, 2013 12:20am


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DR Tahirul Qadri’s long march to Islamabad is over and done. It shook the political spectrum — at least for the five days that it held the nation in thrall. Whether it will produce any long-lasting impact and change the direction of Pakistani politics is doubtful.

As people continue to speculate about the ‘who, wherefore and what’ of the long march it is time to focus on one incontrovertible aspect of the event, namely, Dr Qadri’s ability to mobilise a huge crowd. I will not even attempt a guesstimate of the size of the crowd and start a debate on that. The fact is that the crowd was bigger than what we generally see in rallies organised by activists, to whom Najma Sadeque, a journalist, likens Dr Qadri. He himself doesn’t lay claim to political leadership.

The social and economic environment at present is most conducive to a movement for change. Despondency surrounds us. Unemployment has broken people’s backs. Violence is endemic. Utilities are in short supply. And above all, there is no light at the end of the tunnel for the vast majority.

The question to be asked is how did the leader of the march manage to pull off this show of strength when others fail? Najma Sadeque’s answer is, “He is, like many of us, an activist, except that he has huge resources and tremendous organisational abilities. Not surprising when he’s got hundreds of institutions not only within the country but also outside.”

She also remarks, “Dr Qadri may have a different way of doing things, not the way some of us may have chosen … He may not represent all the marginalised of Pakistan — who does? But he certainly represents a sizeable number who are suffering. He’s got people to take a stand, and put a rotten government on the defensive. Isn’t that what every activist and people’s movement, big or small, tries to do?”

Najma Sadeque’s analysis is spot on. But the key issue that needs to be studied — and it would be instructive for many activists of the left — is how could Dr Qadri mobilise such a sizeable crowd? True, they were people who have many grievances. But so do those who gather for protest marches and vigils called by the drawing room liberals (to quote I.A. Rehman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan). How come Qadri’s supporters braved a cold and wet Islamabad to join the long march voluntarily? Why can’t activists, especially those claiming to speak for the marginalised, accomplish a similar feat?

To answer this question we need to understand what social mobilisation is. It basically needs a leader with organisational skills who is trusted by his followers, has a network of person-to-person contacts, and is able to offer sufficient incentives (not necessarily financial) and provide his followers a sense of participation. That proved to be the forte of the leader of Minhajul Quran International.

Technically speaking, political parties should be best equipped for this task. Regrettably, they are not as they have lost credibility. They do not deliver on their promises. The Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf enjoys an advantage in terms of credibility because it is untested so far. But Imran Khan’s strategy to build up services as an incentive — his cancer hospital and Namal College — is too limited in scope.

Dr Qadri’s focus is on the middle class and he aims to penetrate the social sectors where he has unlimited opportunities. His website makes impressive claims. Even if they are exaggerated they couldn’t be entirely untrue. The Minhaj chartered university in Lahore, 572 schools, 42 colleges, numerous cultural centres at the Union Council level, 3,000 libraries, 102 free clinics and blood banks all over the country would be connecting millions to the “Shaykhul Islam”. More are in the offing, it is promised.

Although Islamic teachings and rituals form a major point of reference, the man is clever. The education offered is also directed at teaching temporal skills. For instance, the Minhaj University has five faculties, apart from Islamic Studies, that offer over 30 courses ranging from Business Administration and IT to mathematics. He knows how desperate the middle-class youth is for affordable education that can be a stepping stone to a good job.

It is the only organisation of its kind that has an ongoing relationship with its members, although I do not feel too excited about its approach to religion. But the relationship it forges with its members certainly helps the organisation in mobilising them. Many religious parties, especially the Jamaat-i-Islami, have similar structures. They have a welfare wing to provide services and indoctrination that facilitates penetration. But they lack credibility because of their past performance.

This explains why advocacy groups fail to mobilise more than a few hundred to their protest rallies, although they also need to demonstrate their popular strength to make themselves heard. With a fire-fighting approach, they respond only when a crisis occurs. They do not have permanent linkages based on trust with the marginalised. This lack of permanent and credible structural relationships makes it difficult to mobilise people at the grassroots. Neither do the marginalised classes identify themselves with the numerous activists and advocacy groups who have only promises and nothing tangible to offer.

If they manage to get oppressive laws changed, the impact does not trickle down to the grassroots fast enough for the people to relate the change to the democratic process and the liberals’ strivings.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (12) Closed

Amer Ali Jan 30, 2013 12:19pm
Dr Tahir ul Qadri has drawn a line among voices of Real Change - Royal Change - Ritual Change ( RasaKushi Change) and Rocket Change .... Only Real Change will be positive if it comes out of electoral reforms ...if we don't want to agree and support with his movement least on moral and ethical bases We must salute Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri to rise up electoral reforms in its proper time before elections ...time & history will justice with his dynamic move InshaAllah..!
Mian Kashif Jan 30, 2013 03:16pm
Dr Qadri is visionary leader and great reformer of the current era.
Cyrus Howell Jan 30, 2013 05:12pm
"There is but one light by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience. I know not how to judge the future except by the past." Patrick Henry
arju Jan 30, 2013 05:41pm
I think he came with good intention but local politician fooled him easily. Rest apart, he could also fool masses of his followers, most gullible poor folk, into suffering- and he broke the trust of the canadian government pledges at his asylum application. It is the same story, a politico makes a mess here, flies to a foreign country, and tries to save Pakistan from that foreign country. If he had any morals, Dr would have stayed in Pakistan, faced the music as every one faces, and still make changes. This is the worst type of mockery of moral principles but it's a game as usual in Pakistan!
Genie Jan 30, 2013 10:04am
Dr Qadri has successfully managed to mobilise the people to go down to assemble in Islamabad but nothing is likely to come out of it. Why? He has not been able to motivate the people to do the right thing i.e. to obey Lord Almighty as He has commanded the faithfuls to come together to work to create the His authority. The right thing to do is to respond to Lord's command "Wahtusaymoo.... walah taferruqoo". For as long as the mankind will disobey the Lord it will continue to endure trouble. So where should people go to join hands with each other in obedience to Lord? They should organise to assemble regularly in the localities where they live. Another of the commands in this respect is "When you come to decide those matters that affect the people, do consult them and remember, uphold "Justice" at all the times. So the idea of coming together regularly is to organise to work for the material and moral uplift and progress of the people of the locality and consequently of the whole nation through participation and consultation of all. Anyone who is obedient to the Lord must, display upholding of justice in his/her deeds among many other of qualities that will make non Muslims interested in the way Muslims lead their lives. Remaining aloof and unconcerned with what goes on in the neighbourhood is not in the habits of Muslims. Every Muslim must come out to join hands to work to make their environment safe of material and moral pollution. We are seeing catastrophic disasters afflicting people known as Muslims only and only for their ignorance and thus disobedience of Lord's commands as above. These commands put every Muslim under the obligation to organise as explained above.
Alvi Jan 30, 2013 06:09pm
Nice analysis! The amount of propaganda done, primarily focused on the character assassination of Dr Qadri, shows that status quo forces are really afraid of him. It seems that: Electoral Reforms + Tahir ul Qadri + Imran Khan = Some serious change in Pakistani politics
Aslam Khan Jan 30, 2013 08:35pm
Why shouldn't it be termed a conspiracy to derail the democratic process in Pakistan at the time when elections are nearing. The time chosen for the grand spectacle, uniterrupted flow of required resources, inability to achieve anything concrete at the end of the day other than stirrng the minds of an entire nation, all point towards a mere conspiracy. I commend the genius of that mind who scripted it from start to finish. I fancy his selection to jolt the nation on an agenda which is close to our hearts but cannot be achieved through a five days dharna. It needs much more than that. I think the strength of the state was tested but eventually a miscalculation in actual strength of judiviary and the armed forces saved the day for Pakistan.
Mustafa Razavi Jan 31, 2013 12:43am
The nation has endured five years of worst corruption and repression because we were told that the current setup conforms at least to the letter of the constitution if not the spirit. Dr. Sahib has demonstrated to us that this setup does not conform to even the letter of the constitution. We have also been told to be patient and let the system reform itself, Dr. Sahib has shown us how we are waiting for doves to hatch from vulture eggs. Waderas can only produce more Waderas. Oxbridge education does not convert any vultures into doves, it only teaches a vulture how to be a more efficient vulture.
Malick Jan 31, 2013 01:18am
The implementation of 61 and 62 is the need of whole nation, this is a great credit to DR Qadri who spoke. stood and launched a huge crowd, which no body could do and perhaps no one will do, slow and steady these reform will take place, we should appreciate.
kalim ullah khan Jan 30, 2013 01:59pm
salam,no doubt, Dr. Qadri is a multi-dimentional personality in this era.He is not only the international Islamic Scholar, intellectual and philosopher but he is also outstanding international politician.He is the embassdor of peace. May he live long,amin.
NDChawla Jan 30, 2013 06:54am
Long March of Dr Qadri was a shot in the arm for democracy and voice of reason. The political leaders who negotiated with him will gain credibility if they implement the terms of agreement signed with him. And if this helps in successful conduct of elections, it will be a big achievement for all in Pakistan.
zaheer Jan 30, 2013 06:05am
i think dr qadri made a history by doing this but at the end this whole practice gone vain.