LAHORE: The 47-year-old Maryam Nawaz and 32-year-old Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari have now formally become part of the club of famous Pakistani politicians, who have addressed huge public rallies at the historic Minar-e-Pakistan in Lahore, which was designed and supervised by a Russian-born Pakistani architect and civil engineer, Nasreddin Murat-Khan, and constructed by Mian Abdul Khaliq and Company.
The Greater Iqbal Park or the Minto Park, which houses the Minar-e-Pakistan, was named after Lord Minto Gilbert Elliot (1751-1814), the ninth Governor General of India between 1807 and 1813.
Research shows that the 203-foot high Minar-e-Pakistan was built between March 23, 1960 and October 21, 1968 at an estimated cost of Rs7,058,000 (over 7 million).
The money for the cause was raised by imposing an additional tax on cinema and horse racing tickets on recommendation of Akhtar Hussain, the then governor of West Pakistan.
However, the vast grassy stretches around the Minar-e-Pakistan are more famous for hosting the All-India Muslim League’s gathering that had passed the March 23, 1940 Pakistan Resolution - the event that had provided the decisive impetus to the movement leading to the division of British India in 1947, as espoused by the two-nation theory.
Renovated over a period of 13 months by the then Punjab government at a cost of Rs981 million on November 9, 2016, the Greater Iqbal Park is surrounded from all sides by the 13 gates of the centuries-old Walled City that happens to be the cultural heart of Lahore.
Since the All-India Muslim League gathering of 1940, the Greater Iqbal Park has witnessed nearly every political entity, ranging from the All India Muslim League, the Khaksar Tehreek of Allama Mashriqi, the PML-N, the PPP, the incumbent PTI, Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s JUI-F, Tahirul Qadri’s Pakistan Awami Tehreek and the MQM to the Gen Musharraf-led PML-Q etc, displaying its popularity among masses on its 125-acre lawns.
Presided and addressed by Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the auspicious and august March 1940 All-India Muslim League function had seen Sir Shahnawaz Khan Mamdot presenting the welcome address, while the resolution for a separate Muslim homeland was moved by Moulvi AK Fazl-ul-Haq, the then chief minister of undivided Bengal, after Liaquat Ali Khan had finished presenting his annual report.
The Lahore Resolution was endorsed by Ch Khaliquz Zaman from the united provinces, Zafar Ali Khan from Punjab, Sardar Aurangzeb Khan from North-West Frontier Province, Sir Abdullah Haroon from Sindh, Qazi Muhammad Essa from Baluchistan and an eminent religious cleric Mohammad Abdul Ghafoor Hazarvi.
Pakistan’s sitting premier Imran Khan, by the way, has succeeded in pulling massive crowds at the Minar-e-Pakistan thrice during the last nine years.
Imran’s October 30, 2011 rally, dubbed a “tipping point” for his political career by eminent Western media outlets like “The Telegraph,” had literally gone a long way in rejuvenating and
revitalising the incumbent PTI, following years in wilderness.
Imran had also addressed his supporters and voters at this spot on April 30, 2018, ahead of the general elections that had helped him in assuming power.
Greater Iqbal Park was also the site for the fantastic reception accorded by the citizens of Lahore to country’s late premier Benazir Bhutto, on April 10, 1986, upon her return from exile during Gen Zia’s regime.
MQM founder Altaf Hussain had also addressed a rally at this place on March 23, 1990. The inaugural function of former president Pervez Musharraf’s referendum was also held at the Minar-e-Pakistan in April 2002.
The Pakistan Defence Council, an umbrella group of 44 right-wing entities, clerics and personalities, had also held a successful rally at this particular venue in December 2011, whereby a resolution to defend the country against external aggression was passed.
Spearheaded by the now-convicted Jamaatud Dawa chief Hafiz Saeed, this rally was viewed by Indian and Western media as a gathering of Jihadists, sectarian warriors, orthodox mullahs and Islamic revivalists.
Interestingly, on April 25, 2010, the MQM had planned to hold a party convention at the Minar-e-Pakistan for its Punjab-based workers, but was denied permission by the authorities at the helm of affairs. Research reveals that on May 28, 1950 and later in 1956, the fiery speeches of famous mathematician and political theorist Allama Inayatullah Khan Mashriqi (1888-1963), had attracted large crowd at this location too.
Allama Mashriqi had established the “Khaksar Tehreek” in 1930 and within years, it had emerged as the most organised movement in the history of India.
History shows that on March 19, 1940, or just four days before the March 23, 1940 Pakistan Resolution was passed at the Minto Park, a clash had occurred between the 313 Khaksar workers and the police in the nearby Heera Mandi, where an England-born Assistant Superintendent of Police was killed.
The Khaksar Tehreek’s Lahore headquarters were consequently raided, resulting in arrests of many Khaksars. During the raid, Allama Mashriqi’s son Ehsanullah Khan Aslam was fatally injured by a tear gas grenade hurled by the police.
Ehsanullah Khan later succumbed to his head injuries. At the time of Ehsan’s death, Mashriqi was in Madras Jail and was not allowed to attend the funeral of his young son.
Allama Mashriqi then wrote a poem in memory of his son in his book “Hareem-e-Ghaib”. A hell was let loose thereafter by the rifle-trotting policemen, killing over 50 young followers of the jailed Allama Mashriqi.
In his book “Jinnah faces an assassin,” noted Indian barrister, philanthropist and educationist, Akbar Peerbhoy, had revealed that on July 20, 1943, Quaid-i-Azam had escaped an assassination attempt launched by one Rafiq Sabir, who was assumed to be a Khaksar Movement worker. The murder attempt was condemned by Allama Mashriqi though.
Later, Justice Blagden of the Bombay High Court, in his ruling on November 4, 1943, had dismissed any association between the attack and the Khaksar Tehreek leadership.
Situated adjacent to the Greater Iqbal Park are the tombs of great spiritual thinker Allama Iqbal and Hafeez Julandhari, the poet who wrote the lyrics for the national anthem. Greater Iqbal Park is also famous for breeding innumerable cricketing gems.
Along with Pakistan’s Cricket legend Fazal Mahmood (1927-2005), with whom American actress Ava Gardener (1922-90) had requested to dance and whose fans included former Indian premier Indira Gandhi.
Hollywood sensation Ava Gardner was in Lahore in 1955 to shoot for her film “Bhawani Junction”, which had Stewart Granger as the hero.
Minto Park had seen numerous Indian and Pakistani cricketers like Lala Amarnath, Abdul Hafeez Kardar, Imtiaz Ahmed, Nazar Muhammad, Mudassar Nazar, Saeed Ahmed, Salim Altaf, Saleem Malik, Amir Sohail, Saleem Pervaiz, Sarfraz Nawaz, Shafqat Rana, Azmat Rana, Javed Burki, Majid Khan, Imran Khan himself, Zulfiqar Ahmed, Shuja-ud-Din, Amir Elahi, Gul Mohammad, Dr Dilawar Hussein, Ameer Hussain, Maqsood Ahmed and sub-continent’s quickest fast bowler of the time, Muhammad Nisar, etc had polished their skills on these grounds.
Minto Park has hosted only one first class cricket match. This was the December 9, 1944 prestigious Ranji Trophy fixture between Northern India and Delhi. MR Bhide of Northern India had scored 114 runs in one of the innings, while his team-mate and Pakistan’s first cricket captain, Abdul Hafeez Kardar, had taken seven wickets in this match. Imtiaz Ahmed of Delhi had held five catches as wicketkeeper. Dr Jahangir Khan and Fazal Mehmood had also played this match.
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