From TV talk shows to social media, WhatsApp groups to newspapers, all opinion pushers and spin doctors are cursing the “religious card” coarsely, with a special spotlight on Maulana Fazalur Rehman. They are also attacking liberal secular parties of the Opposition for joining Maulana, saying this raises questions about their liberal credentials.
The sudden awakening of liberalism and anti-clergy sentiments over the Idiot Box and social media is mainly directed against Maulana Fazalur Rehman, who has been holding huge public meetings across the country. He calls them “Naamoos-e-Risalat Million Men March” and is hitting Imran Khan’s government hard. These public meetings were happening even before the convening of the All Parties Conference of the Opposition which Maulana hosted on June 26. Maulana began holding these rallies soon after the controversial elections of July 25 last year. Now suddenly, the screaming gladiators of the Seth Media are creating a loud chorus against what they call the “religious card” being deployed by Maulana Fazalur Rehman.
During the APC meeting on June 26, Maulana tried to add some religious tones to the final draft of the APC, but there was strong opposition by PPP’s young chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari on this issue. Hence the overall character of the campaign remained without any religious tint.
In the past, Maulana and the PTI led by Imran Khan have gone against each other many times, each attacking the other with outlandish accusations. While Imran Khan has called Maulana corrupt, the latter has accused him of being an agent of the West and has mocked him over his ex-wife who has Jewish ancestry. The fact that Imran Khan publicly supported his former brother-in-law during mayoral elections in London against Sadiq Khan did not help Khan’s case in a country that thrives off small talk and petty accusations.
Efforts are also reportedly afoot to calm the firebrand cleric down. So far, he is not budging
Maulana uses his religious tones in his rallies to keep his constituency intact and has attacked secular parties for years. But his toxic rhetoric against Imran Khan and the powerful miltablishment has ruffled some feathers, especially after the formal launch of the APC after June 26.
In Quetta on July 25, while addressing a public meeting, Maulana gave an ultimatum to Imran Khan to resign by next month or he would bring his supporters from all over the country to Islamabad in October to paralyze the seat of power. This is making both Imran Khan and his backers nervous and edgy.
Besides attacks on Maulana and his secular allies, efforts are also reportedly afoot to calm the firebrand cleric down. So far, he is not budging. His intentions to come to Islamabad with his followers do not augur well for Imran Khan who has used religious edicts, metaphors and threats against leaders of PML-N when he came to the national capital five years ago, along with firebrand cleric Tahirul Qadri who is now chilling in Canada.
It is truly amazing to see supporters of Imran Khan crying foul at the use of religious symbolism by Maulana Fazalur Rehman since the PTI not only used the same rhetoric against the PML-N at the start of the Islamabad dharna in 2014, but also more recently on the issue of the minor changes in nomination forms under Election Act 2017. The PTI was part of the process of creation of the act and their representatives were signatory to all committee proceedings. The party did not raise any objections in the National Assembly and in the Senate. Trouble started only after Hafiz Hamidullah of Maulana’s JUI-F raised an objection in the Senate but it was overruled by all parties, including the PTI. This was later used against the PML-N and its leaders by the PTI and its allies and a dangerous situation was created much earlier than the elections in 2018.
When Nawaz Sharif was attacked with a shoe, Sheikh Rasheed, a vociferous ally of Imran Khan, mocked the former prime minister. He said next time he could face bullets. Mian Javed Latif was attacked at his house, another attacker threw ink on Khawaja Asif’s face and worse, Ahsan Iqbal was shot. In all these moments, religious slogans were raised against them and PTI leaders cheered on these hateful actions, rather condemning them.
When Khadim Rizvi brought his zealots to Islamabad-Rawalpindi interchange in November 2017 and parlaysed the six million residents of the two cities, he was fully supported by the PTI and its allies. The Faizabad Dharna report of the Supreme Court penned by Justice Qazi Faez Isa is an eye opener on the role of the PTI, Sheikh Rasheed, some media organisations and state agencies.
Imran Khan was on record saying that his party workers wanted to join Khadim Rizvi and supported his cause. Khan also held several conventions and congregations with clerics, accusing PML-N leaders of blasphemy. Khan has accused the PML-N of working with the western countries to change laws of Pakistan on many occasions. Now that the shoe is on the other foot, a cabal of TV anchors and PTI leaders are up in arms against Maulana, even though they used religious slurs against the PML-N and endangered lives of not only PML-N’s leaders but also minorities of Pakistan. The good thing is that unlike the PTI, the PPP and the PML-N have not used the same tactics. Given the history of the PTI and the religious symbolism used by the party day in and day out, the party leaders and their spin doctors should first apologize to victims of their hateful words and actions before lecturing others. They must ask how Imran shed tears over the death of Osama Bin Laden, pledged to open offices for TTP, opposed operations in Swat and areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. They should also remember the eviction of prominent economist Atif Mian from the Economic Advisory Council over his faith before giving sermons on their newfound liberalism.
The writer is a journalist based in Islamabad