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Fleeting moments

December 12, 2017

A silent majority


December 12, 2017

The end of the three-week dharna at Faizabad brought much relief to the citizens of the twin cities. The majority of the citizens whose daily routines were disturbed had little to do with dharna politics – or any other kind of politics at all. And a large segment of society that suffers because of dharnas, strikes, rallies and roadblocks constitutes the silent majority. When will its troubles end? When will the state ensure that the fundamental rights of the silent majority are not violated?

As it goes, staging protests to press for acceptance of demands is citizens’ democratic right. But when a few hundred zealots occupy a main thoroughfare to exercise their right, they disrupt the daily routine of thousands of men, women and school-going children; that is nothing but lawlessness. When a main road in a crowded city is blocked, the rest of the roads experience huge traffic jams. On many occasions during the recent dharna, the protesters also blocked the main Multan Road that serves as the entrance to, and exit from, the capital. Even the motorway was closed for traffic for a few days.

Allama Tahirul Qadri can claim to be the pioneer of dharna politics in the last few years. He started the first dharna in 2013 from his comfortable container placed at an advantageous point in Islamabad. Even though his dharna failed, Imran Khan liked the dharna-style of politics and, with better preparation along with Allama Qadri, staged a 126-day dharna in Islamabad. The two publicly embraced each other even though they are poles apart in deportment and appearance. And now recently, Allama Khadim Hussain Rizvi jumped into dharna politics. Between the Allamas, the silent majority has suffered immeasurably. Trade and businesses have suffered losses worth billions. Some commercial buildings near the Faizabad dharna were set on fire. What was the fault of the property owners other than that their properties were located near the site of turmoil?

When Allama Rizvi called off his dharna, a breakaway faction of his party headed by Allama Ashraf Jalali continued to dig in its heels on the busy Mall Road in Lahore. The leader of the dharna at Mall Road demanded for the resignation of Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah, after the federal law minister had bowed out under the pressure of Islamabad dharna. Mall Road traders, like their community in Islamabad, also suffered huge financial losses. Who will make up for their losses? Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, who belongs to the business community, would know how competitive the private trade and industry is, and how shutdowns and loss of time damage it. Will the government give relief in various taxes to make up for the losses suffered by the trading community because of dharna politics?

So far, the silent majority is unaware of the ‘terms and conditions’ settled between the government and the dharna leaders. Believably, the government has been asked to relent on the use of loudspeakers. It’s a touchy subject; and affects a large number of residents. If each mosque has half a dozen high-power loudspeakers, one can imagine the fallout that would have. Preferably, each mosque should have one or two loudspeakers with low volume to invite for prayers the faithful who live close by.

Moreover, by surrendering to the demands of the dharna clerics, the government has not only encouraged them but also indirectly promoted their mission. Nobody would be against religious education, but along with that teaching of modern subjects must be mandatory, so that seminary-trained young men can find jobs to earn their living. The young men trained in seminaries consider themselves on the righteous path but are deprived of good jobs. This sense of deprivation leads them to frustration and extremism, rendering them exploitable by manipulative handlers. Better yet, the government should allocate a dharna arena in each big city where dharna enthusiasts can sit for months, without disturbing the silent majority.

The writer is a freelance columnist based in Lahore.

Email: [email protected]

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