November 14, 2019
Sit-in: a comparison
Polybius, the Greek historian, propagated the notion of historic recurrence and the historic cycle of striking similarities. In other words, he believed that history repeats itself. However, his soul would be restless to see the repetition of political history and events in such a short span of five years in Islamabad.
In 2014, Imran Khan marched over Islamabad and staged a sit-in at D-Chowk to protest alleged rigging in the 2013 election. Today after five years, Maulana Fazlur Rehman is leading a sit-in for the same reasons – rigging in the 2018 elections. Imran Khan stood on a container demanding the then prime minister’s resignation. Maulana too has a container and the same demand.
In 2014, when Imran Khan was assaulting the capital with protest, Pakistan was facing daunting challenges on the national and international fronts. Internally, terrorism was playing havoc with deadly suicide bombings on a daily basis. Military operations had been launched in North Waziristan resulting in the displacement of hundreds of thousands Pashtuns. Externally, relations with India and the US were strained. However, in such a testing time, the Chinese president was coming to Pakistan to inaugurate the CPEC project. Unfortunately, this historic visit was postponed due to Imran Khan’s sit-in.
Similarly, today in 2019, Maulana Fazlur Rehman has come to Islamabad with his highly charged but well disciplined followers at a time when the Jammu and Kashmir issue has become a tragedy and the Afghanistan issue has entered a decisive stage. On this account, it seems that there is no difference between Imran Khan and Maulana’s politics and sit-ins. However, in some respects, there are glaring differences between the 2014 and 2019 sit-ins.
First, Imran Khan’s sit-in was legal as long as it remained at Abpara Chowk, since it was permitted by the then government. But it became illegal after moving ahead towards D-chowk by breaking its promise. Maulana’s sit-in is democratic and legal as long as they stay at H-9 Park and do not break the agreement which they have respected so far.
Second, police officers were assaulted and government officials were threatened during Imran Khan’s sit-in but nothing such has happened yet in Maulana’s sit-in. Third, in Imran Khan’s sit-in the sanctity of state institutions was violated with impunity: dirty clothes were hung in the premises of the honourable Supreme Court, and parliament and the PTV center were attacked. But in Maulana’s sit-in, nothing of the sort has happened yet.
Fourth, Imran Khan’s sit-in did not even spare the media. They pelted the Geo office with stones and misbehaved with female journalists like Sana Mirza and Farhat Javed. But in Maulana’s sit-in we have seen touching scenes of a female reporter who is reporting in the rain while Maulana’s supporter is holding his own umbrella over her to protect her from the rain. Moreover, Imran Khan’s sit-in split the media while Maulana’s sit-in helped, albeit for some time, with a slight decline in media censorship.
Fifth, Imran Khan’s sit-in was widely alleged to be a scripted show and fingers were also raised towards the umpire but Maulana’s sit-in is free from such allegations and impression – and in some aspects has even been seen as the opposite. Sixth, Imran Khan’s sit-in was dominated by the middle class, mainly from central Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). Maulana’s sit-in has brought the poorest class of society from KP, Balochistan, Sindh and the Seraiki Belt. However, there is no meaningful participation from Central Punjab. Similarly, Imran Khan was seen on the container along with citizens of Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom, but there is no one of dual nationality on the container with Maulana.
Seventh, Imran Khan’s sit-in was more like a party with full entertainment for participants. But nothing of that sort is happening in Maulana’s sit-in. Only poems and Naats are being played. Except for Eid, there were no congregation prayers in Imran Khan’s sit-in, but in Maulana’s sit-in prayers are held five times a day on a daily basis.
Eight, the Imran Khan sit-in was a single political party show and there were no leaders of other opposition parties with Imran Khan. Even the Chaudhry brothers, who supported the sit-in, used to go stand with Tahirul Qadri – the imported political cousin of Imran Khan. Ninth, no opposition parties – like the PPP, ANP and the MQM – supported Imran Khan’s sit-in. On the contrary, opposition parties like the PPP and ANP backed the PML-N government despite their own grievances against the system. But now all of the opposition has stood with Maulana on the container and demanded the resignation of the government and fresh elections.
Tenth, Imran Khan’s sit-in benefited Musharraf and his successors and damaged the democratic forces. But Maulana’s sit-in has been a great test for Musharraf’s successors and rejuvenated the democratic forces. Last but not the least, the PML-N faced the main brunt of Imran Khan’s sit-in but now the PML-N seems to be the main beneficiary of Maulana’s sit-in.
This is the difference which is visible between the two sit-ins. However, what hasn’t changed is the stance of students of politics like us. In 2014, we accepted Imran Khan’s right to protest but opposed the toppling of an elected government though coercion and sit-ins. Today, we also support Maulana’s right to protest but strongly oppose any forced overthrow of the government.
In 2014, we were requesting Imran Khan that, while he had a right to protest, he should not take the law into his hands. But he was not in the mood to listen. Now we make the same request to Maulana. He has listened so far. Let see what he does next.
The writer works for Geo TV.
Email: saleem.safi@janggroup. com.pk