Rajyasree Sen used to run the restaurant Brown Sahib in New Delhi and is a foodie. Much of her time is devoted to writing on pop culture and TV. She also maintains a blog foodforthoughtindia. blogspot.com, where you can order some delicious food from her catering outfit. And we can’t believe we’re plugging her catering business on a news site. Who approved this copy?
Tuq Tuq Gaadi
I turned on the TV the other day and heard someone ask me to “expose their tatoos”. Aah, that must be the new season of LA Ink.
You wish? What greeted me was a white bearded strident old man with a wish-list like no other. The Ten Commandments? Heston was wonderful in it.
Forget Moses. This is Pakistan’s messiah of the masses. Come to demand the rights of the people. Tahir-ul-Qadri. Aah, that explains the lousy Tahrir Square jokes I’ve been hearing. So who’s this Tahir?
Affectionately called TuQ while rallying the revolutionaries in Pakistan or #TuQ on twitter. He’s no ordinary messiah. He’s the best kind, the well-travelled foreign-returned variety. Qadri just got back from Canada, to save his country from what he thinks is a rotten government. Strange how he doesn’t think they have a rotten military. I saw his picture, his bifocals might be making him a little near-sighted.
So where’s he popped up from? North America. Where all “changemakers” in Pakistan land up from. Everything is imported from there. Remember the imported Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz who came straight from (Citibank) New York to Pakistan as Finance Minister, became Prime minister and after he finished, left the country again? Chances are the imported revolutionary will do the same. So Qadri, realising that something is rotten in the state of Pakistan, suddenly appeared with hordes of the lost people of Pakistan and decided to squat on Jinnah Avenue.
And what are the wise man’s demands? He’s demanding a better world – and a corruption-free government and that the government should quit and a caretaker government be set up in consultation with the judiciary and the military to implement electoral reforms which should include establishing a new election commission and banning corrupt candidates. Aha, India and Pakistan are really conjoined twins. One man’s Anna Hazare is another man’s Qadri!
But he must be quite a hardy sort to be camping out in a tent in the cold and rain? Don’t be stupid. Messiahs mustn’t get wet or cold. He’s been sitting in a bulletproof glassed-in container looking out at his people.
And on Monday he rambled on and on for three hours. Wept a little and even said, “Our chests are ready for your bullets…The first shot should be fired at me and not my followers”. Nice, especially since he’s in a bullet-proof container.
So what are his credentials? He’s a Pakistani political activist? Well, he’s earned his political chops as well as the right to be called a moderate Muslim. He’s the son of ash-Shaykh Dr Farida’d-Din al-Qadri, who was considered a spiritualist and intellectual in his time. And Tahir-ul-Qadri is known for studying Islamic and secular sciences simultaneously. He also founded the Minhaj-ul-Qur’an International (MQI), which promotes peace and harmony between communities and has branches in over 90 countries. And was a professor of Islamic Law at the University of the Punjab and the youngest person to have ever been awarded a professorship in the history of the university.
An academic come to herald in a new dawn with no Birkins or Bhuttos in the horizon? Well, his concept of who is considered corrupt is a little suspect, since he was quite the vocal supporter of Musharraf at one point.
It’s those damned bifocals, I’m telling you. But does he have an understanding of politics? More than most. In 2002, he contested the National Assembly elections from Lahore and won a seat for his party, the Pakistani Awaami Tehreek.
So where does Canada come into the picture? Well, being a sensitive sort, in 2006 he resigned from the National Assembly and moved to Canada since he was most dismayed by the level of corruption in Pakistan’s government and in its politics.
And what brought him back to Pakistan? Well, in mid-December 2012 he suddenly returned and made a speech in Lahore on December 23. He spoke against corruption in government and about Zardari not being able to stop terrorism or improve the economic stability of the country. In fact in March 2010, he’d announced a 600-page fatwa against terrorism.
So he’s been working towards this for a while then?Well, like all good activists even he decided to court a little controversy when he came to India to release his book, Fatwa, last year. While it was understandable that he dropped into Ajmer Sharif, no one’s yet been able to fathom why he paid Modi a visit.
Maybe they were pen pals. Well, while on the one hand he did say – during this visit – that India and Pakistan should reduce spending so much on padding up their defence forces and should instead focus on the welfare of poor people, on the other he did manage to put his foot in it. While hob-nobbing with Modi, he also advised Gujarat’s Mulims to “move on from their sense of victimhood” because of 2002. He got such flak that he had to make a statement clearing the air that he had meant that people should live in peace and such “unfortunate incidents” should not be repeated.
So now that we’ve established Qadri’s secular credentials and excellent taste in friends from Musharraf to Modi, let’s get back to today. Why such anger at the government and not an unkind word for the army? Your guess is as good as mine. There’s been a lot of conjecture about whether he’s a military stooge or not, and why he’s suddenly popped up months ahead of Pakistan’s general elections. Some are saying he’s helping the army put a caretaker administration in place and delay polls. To add a further twist to the tale, the apex court has asked for the Prime Minister to be arrested, so now he could be a judicial-military puppet.
The plot thickens. But then again, he’s also said he’s not interested in heading a caretaker government, because as he said modestly, he’s the “caretaker of the nation and of 180 million people”. He’s anyway not eligible to contest elections because he has Canadian citizenship.
So now what? Well he’d given the government a deadline of 3pm to meet his demands on the fourth day, but keeping with the flexible sub-continental timings we are used to, it was extended to 3:45 pm. Realising that he has managed to garner quite a bit of support, a 4-member committee was set up by the government to talk with Qadri. And he was kind enough to allow them into his bullet-proof container where he was holed up with them for 5 hours.
What about the playboy politician of Pakistan, where’s he in all this? Well, he claimed that Imran Khan’s party was supporting him, but none of the Opposition parties have been seen at the protest. Qadri even gave an open invitation to Imran’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) to join the crowds in front of Parliament. Maybe Im The Dim realised that he’s been ousted from his position as trusted “outsider” to the corrupt political establishment in Pakistan, and has decided to eat some sour grapes. So while there’s no sign of the Opposition parties joining hands with Qadri, lots of people wearing caps and badges with his charitable organisation’s name on them have been seen though.
Sounds like a very calm and collected crowd. He had asked Pakistani citizens to “Come out of your homes to save Pakistan, save the future of your children”. And it is quite well-organised. There’s ample free food which was being doled out by food trucks which came and went. People were taking the food in an orderly manner. Women and young children were camped on one side of the road, and men on the other side of the divider. Mamata Banerjee would be proud that the genders were not “freely mixing”.
Qadri’s sounding quite divine right now – messiah and peaceful protest organiser rolled into one. No chinks in his armour? Well, no one is very sure where his funding comes from. It’s not cheap to build a bulletproof bunker after all. Unless Modi gave him the number of the chap who’s building Modi’s Rs 150 crore bulletproof office for him, and got his pal Qadri a discount. Qadri’d also launched a massive TV campaign to gain support for the protest, the funding of which is estimated to run into millions of dollars. He hasn’t revealed the source of that funding either.
So what next? Well, according to tweets from Pakistani journalists, after more than 5 hours of negotiations with two prayer breaks, Qadri announced that “The Long March Declaration has been drafted. [Government representatives] will now take it to the Prime Minister’s house for signing. It will be signed there, brought back here, and read out to all of you”. We have to rely on tweets from across the border, now that our channels have lost interest in reporting on Qadri. Of course, let’s not give all credit to Qadri. It could also be the weather gods who have played mediator. Both Qadri and the government were getting criticised for making the protestors sit in the cold rain. So Qadri shouldn’t take all the credit.
And has the Declaration wiped out corruption, the government and Shaitan Malik in one fell swoop? Nope. It basically said nothing new and Shaitan Malik has been M.I.A. through the entire protest. The main “decisions” being that he National Assembly shall be dissolved at any time before March 16, 2013, (due date), so that the elections may take place within the 90 days. And that the treasury benches in complete consensus with Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) will propose names of two honest and impartial persons for appointment as Caretaker Prime Minister.
So basically the government promised him what they’d already said they’d do? Well, he did get them to come visit him in his bulletproof bunker and at least put down some decisions on paper. Now the Qadri caravan and circus can trundle off into the horizon, (not to Canada though since he’s been summoned by Canadian police who have sought an explanation from him for violating his asslum oath), leaving a lot of debris and some very cold people in its wake. Long live Democracy!
Don’t ask: Would you like to watch Dial M For Murder?
Do ask: Is it spring in Pakistan?
Image By: Swarnabha Banerjee
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