Wednesday October 20, 2021

Azadi March and 2014 sit-in: Political alignments, justifications for protest remain the same

October 11, 2019

ISLAMABAD: Political alignments that existed during the 2014 sit-ins of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) almost remain the same on the eve of Azadi March of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F).

Last time, the PTI, PAT and Pakistan Muslim League-Q (PML-Q) were on one side of the divide while the then ruling party, the PML-Nawaz, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), JUI-F, Awami National Party (ANP), Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) and PML-Functional partnered against them.

At the time, the Mutahidda Qaumi Movement (MQM) was bitterly opposed to the PTI because of their severe confrontation with Altaf Hussain being in complete control of his party and had backed the latter’s rivals though half-heartedly. Thus, it was close to the government and against the PTI.

Now, the MQM-P is a coalition partner of PTI and has got its share in the government. Besides, the ruling party has with it the Sindh-based Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA), which has the Functional League as the main component. However, neither the MQM-P nor the PML-Functional have ever made any endeavour to counter the opposition as the PTI keeps doing.

On the eve of the Azadi March, the PML-N, PPP, ANP and PkMAP are reluctant to become active participant in the protest, but do stand behind it “morally and politically” but not materially. As the planned agitation will draw close, their strategy will further crystallise.

However, whatever their final decisions it is obvious that they will remain sympathetic towards the JUI-F protest and will continue to be strongly anathematic to the government. Despite their differences, the opposition parties have kept holding joint consultations.

At present, the JUI-F doesn’t have the solid support of a political entity like the PAT that the PTI had. Allama Tahirul Qadri’s followers reinforced the PTI’s sit-in and made it a huge, menacing event.

Back in 2014, all the major and minor parliamentary forces backed the government saying that they will not allow attack on the legislature. Among them, the PPP subsequently kept reminding the PML-N with vengeance that it had saved the government from collapse because of its democratic principles.

To blunt the onslaught of the sponsors of the sit-ins, a joint session was then called on the proposal of the opposition parties. It had seen fiery speeches against the protesters’ leaders. Senior PTI stalwart Shah Mahmood Qureshi had also attended the sitting and declared that he considers the parliament his “political Kaaba” amid boos and jeers from several MPs and can never think of denigrating it.

The situation emerging from a joint sitting or separate session of the National Assembly and Senate if called by the government to discuss the Azadi March on the pattern of 2014 will reflect the political divide unlike before.

The PTI, PML-Q and GDA joined hand in the July 2018 general elections to a great extent. However, their ally, MQM-P, contested the polls independently and became their partner after the electoral exercise.

On the contrary, the PML-N, PPP and JUI-F did not cooperate too much in the elections except a few seat adjustments and that too between the PML-N and JUI-F. After the polls they got together under one umbrella, putting up a loose alliance.

Before its sit-in, the PTI had done a massive public mobilisation involving its workers and activists. JUI-F head Maulana Fazlur Rehman has also done the same for several months.

There is stark difference between the ground realities prevailing now and in 2014. The JUI-F has embarked upon this adventure on its own and chosen the apparent solo flight after receiving confusing signals from the PML-N and PPP for months.

Prime Minister Imran Khan holds the opposite view that stated last week that the PML-N and PPP are in reality in collaboration with the JUI-F which they have put on the front.

If a close comparison is done between what the PTI had repeatedly publicly voiced justifying its sit-in five years back and what the JUI-F leaders are now reiterating, there is not a slight difference between the two narratives. Only there is reversal of roles while the words, slogans, phrases and threats remain the same. “It is our democratic, constitutional and legal fundamental right to protest in a peaceful manner,” is what is being untiringly harped now like it was equally forcefully emphasized last time.