The perfect opportunity was presented, and all Khadim Hussain Rizvi had to do was seize it
Chaos prevailed for at least a week due to the large-scale protests in which not only property was destroyed, but the daily lives of citizens was disrupted, holding them captive in their own homes. As if that was not enough, violent clashes between the protestors and the police forces resulted in the deaths of at least seven people, not to mention the hundreds who were critically injured.
How exactly did it come to this? Was it just the amendment in the clause of the oath that resulted in the rise of Khadim Hussain Rizvi, and hence the bloodshed?
The answer is a big no.
Rizvi didn’t just become an overnight sensation, stealing the limelight and causing frenzy in government circles – the storm had been brewing for at least the past two years.
Just two years ago, Rizvi was an ordinary “khatib” of a mosque in Lahore – one among many but an ambitious one, someone looking for a cause to champion. He didn’t have to wait long; he got one in the form of Mumtaz Qadri. It gave him his much-awaited break into the mainstream clergy, and he was in luck because his sect had long lost the visionary leadership of the likes of Maulana Shah Ahmed Noorani and Israr Ahmed.
On the other hand, Tahirul Qadri was both a good speaker and a leader, but his constant U-turns and a lack of practice of what he preached soon paved way for the passionate Rizvi, who effectively used his rebellious nature and an informal style of speaking to gather crowds, mainly comprising of the youth.
Whether we like it or not, Rizvi filled the void of leadership by campaigning for Qadri and later, against his hanging, with his movement gradually gaining momentum across the country. However, there were even better opportunities waiting for him to take advantage of in the future.
To end the protest, the demands made by Rizvi included the resignation of law minister, Zahid Hamid, and the restoration of the Khatm-e-Nabuwat clause. The government had maintained from the very beginning that it was because of a mere clerical mistake that the amendment had come into being, and as ridiculous as it may sound, the government had nothing better to offer in its defence.
Let’s not forget that Rizvi was depending upon his emotionally-charged supporters to lay siege to the country’s capital. If the government had satisfied the public by addressing their concerns appropriately, it would have weakened Rizvi’s stance and rendered him unable to garner support.
The government, however, initially refused to accept that a mistake had taken place at all. When the protests increased, it accepted that an error had taken place and an inquiry committee was established, followed by the restoration of the clause. But the government still couldn’t explain exactly what happened and how it happened, and most importantly, who was the chief culprit. The government’s refusal to reveal the Raja Zafarul Haq report further deepened the mystery and paved way for Rizvi to allege that a conspiracy had taken place.
Its failure doesn’t just end there. A huge contradiction was seen in the statements of the federal government and the Punjab government, almost as if Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) was playing both sides. On one hand, we had Ahsan Iqbal saying that Hamid was not at fault and hence shouldn’t resign, while on other hand, Shehbaz Sharif was urging Nawaz Sharif to oust the responsible ministers from the federal cabinet.
Additionally, Captain (retired) Muhammad Safdar – one of the foremost leaders of the PML-N and Nawaz’s son-in-law, had come out in full support of the dharna, declaring it their right and even going to the extent of saying he would “participate in the sit-in if invited”. Indeed, it was a baffling situation, in which who was supporting whom within the government was difficult to ascertain. But one thing was perfectly clear – the government was not on the same page, and was much divided on how to handle the situation.
Another question raised by some journalists was how the dharna managed to reach Faizabad from Lahore. The government could have killed the snake’s head in the very beginning, stopping it from growing further. The last time I checked, PML-N has a government in Punjab too.
Considering all the aforementioned facts, it becomes clear that PML-N’s failure to handle the protest efficiently and it’s surrender to Rizvi’s demands ultimately, arose out of its own shortcomings and no third party can be blamed for that. If Rizvi is a monster, then Iqbal, being the representative of the government, has got to be the Frankenstein behind the monster. Had it not been the case of wrong priorities on the government’s part, situation wouldn’t have gotten to this point, and a few emotionally-charged protestors wouldn’t have lost their lives in the heat of the moment.
The criminal incompetence displayed by our national religious leadership made Rizvi’s journey way easier than it should have been. When the committee for the amendment was formed within the National Assembly, the representatives of the religious parties had adequate representation. These same members later claimed that they objected to the changes to the oath but the government didn’t budge. They either supported the changes or simply looked the other way. If it was something against their religious beliefs, why didn’t they raise their voices then and there? Why didn’t they resign and walk out of the assembly?
At a time when Pakistan is at the verge of economic collapse with its net foreign debt touching unprecedented levels with $79.2 billion outstanding, having grown by 30%, and continuing to grow and new loans being acquired to service the outstanding debt, was the Khatm-e-Nabuwat clause really something that needed to be disturbed? Instead of discussing how to repay the debt and implementing effective policies in that regard, the government deliberately touched a nerve by making a law pertaining to one of the most sensitive issues of the society. Perhaps to divert attention from its mega corruption scandals?
Imran Khan should be concerned. His followers are vocally and visibly standing in support of Khadim Rizvi.
— Syed Ali Raza Abidi (@abidifactor) November 25, 2017
The followers of Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) were in full support of Rizvi’s dharna, for the same reason that Nawaz’s followers turned into the pall-bearers of women rights overnight, in the wake of Ayesha Gulalai’s allegations of harassment against Imran. Imran may have largely stayed neutral during the matter, but it does not come as a surprise that his followers had pledged support to Rizvi’s cause, since it was against the government. As the saying goes, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.
Thus, the perfect opportunity was there, Rizvi just had to seize it. He had already been establishing his narrative by warning people of the pro-Indian, pro-western, liberal policies being adopted by the government, basing it all upon the hanging of Qadri, and deeming the government responsible for it. The change in the law proved to be a catalyst for his cause, as the same government whose actions made Rizvi emerge as a sole protector of the finality of Prophethood was later ordering the use of force to quell his dharna.
Khadim Rizvi has already achieved what he wanted from the Dharna. He established his relevance with votes in NA120 & NA4 and has now branded himself and his radical views as the new face of Barelvi political leadership forcing the older & relatively peaceful grps to fall in line.
— M. Jibran Nasir (@MJibranNasir) November 24, 2017
Rizvi’s movement had already gained traction once he had started voicing strong opinions against the government’s hanging of Qadri. However, it was unclear how well he would do in mainstream politics. But in the advent of the dharna, Rizvi got what he had come for – action to back his talk. Now he can show Hamid’s removal as a praise-worthy feat, allowing him to successfully brand himself a hero among the ultra-religious public of Punjab. Even if he does not contend in the next elections himself, it’s unlikely that the power hungry PML-N and the PTI won’t approach him, seeking an alliance. Of course, the fact that Punjab’s politics has always revolved around the mainstream parties relying on local religious and sectarian groups to secure a larger vote bank, only works in Rizvi’s favour.
Fun fact: Over 1,800 of Khadim Hussain Rizvi's Twitter followers created their accounts in 2017.
Over 450 in October and 400 in November of 2017
— Popà̷̬̻͓̳͔̬͔͍̮̥̿̌̈̄̿͒̏̒̕͜ͅl̴̢͔̤̥̬̥̳̲̱̥̮̳͂̔̈́͠zai̸̾ (@spopalzai) November 27, 2017
In no time at all, Rizvi’s following among the impressionable youth has increased, as evidenced from the extraordinary support he has been garnering from social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. His informal style, such as his tendency to swear, can be cited as one major reason for this support. His young followers on social media lie in two categories – the trolls who make him the target of their jokes, or those who are disappointed in the religious leadership and see him as the only saviour of the finality of the Prophethood. However, in either case, Rizvi wins, because he successfully became the prime focus of the conversation and stayed in the limelight throughout this protest.
We can criticise Rizvi and ridicule his behaviour, but if we really look at his story without taking sides, it’s the story of a man who found himself in midst of a huge following in a matter of no time. He thus lacks what any seasoned religious leader has had – a diplomatic, dialogue-friendly attitude. Instead, we have someone who says whatever he wants and whenever he wants, all the while creating anarchy. Had he gone through a proper political process every step of the way like his peers, such as Maulana Fazalur Rehman, he wouldn’t have shown such rigidity. This way, an agreement could have been reached that upheld the dignity of both sides and nobody would have had to die. His unwavering, gutsy approach may have surely gained him a mass following, but at the end of the day, Rizvi is still politically immature and has yet to learn civility.
However, the million-dollar question that remains to be answered is: who really gave this amateur leader his rallying cry – a tool to intimidate the system to his advantage? In my opinion, the government, and only the government is responsible for that.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.