It is time to focus on what Parvez Elahi is saying and to what effect
Anyone who has acquired a sudden interest in Parvez Elahi’s politics and the various stances he has adopted in the last few months probably knows how boring and clichéd he sounds.
In the past, with his party PML-Q’s minimal successes in each post-Musharraf election, bigger parties bagging more votes and seats have attracted more attention. Among those parties, you could be forgiven for thinking, the PML-N leaders, Sharifs in particular, had obtained the copyright to uttering clichéd speeches. Hearing Punjab Assembly Speaker Parvez Elahi a little more intently in recent weeks and months, it appears to be more of a Muslim League thing.
Yet, it is time to focus on Mr Elahi who is consistently upholding the permanently endangered cause of Pakistan’s ideological frontiers in every speech or statement he is making. His narrative is simple: this country was created in the name of Islam, and he will keep playing his role in bringing it close to the image of Riyasat-i-Madina.
He doesn’t care if the latter assertion brings him in direct competition with the country’s prime minister who is already at it, so to speak. Given that it has become a refrain with Mr Speaker, one isn’t sure if he is just trying to be a faithful coalition partner or wanting to snatch it from the ruling PTI’s mouth to make it his own party’s slogan.
This conflation of ideology of Pakistan with religion is nothing new. Political parties associated with the right wing have always leaned towards religion, to the extent of drawing their identity from it. But, the consistency with which Parvez Elahi has picked and put his weight behind religious issues in the last few months is certainly not as harmless as it might appear. He and cousin and partner, Chaudhry Shujaat, are considered more shrewd than many; they understand chessboard politics best, and can and will use it to their advantage any day. In their scheme of things, therefore, no statement and stance is without a purpose.
This became more noticeable as the country started counting its first Covid-19 victims somewhere in March this year. Despite the announcements of a lockdown across the country, the Tableeghi Jamaat (TJ) ignored all warnings and persisted with their public gatherings and preaching missions. When the federal and provincial governments tried to stop them, out came Parvez Elahi to speak in favour of the Jamaat, asking everyone to strictly refrain from propaganda against them.
In June, a PML-Q MPA proposed and got passed an amendment to Punjab Curriculum and Textbook Board Act, 2015, allowing an extraconstitutional Muttahida Ulema Board to approve all content related to Islam in textbooks of many subjects. Following this, about 100 textbooks taught in private schools were banned with one stroke of pen. In January this year, a minister belonging to the PML-Q had suggested and brought to effect, the banning of three significant books.
In June, a PML-Q MPA proposed and got passed an amendment to Punjab Curriculum and Textbook Board Act, 2015, allowing an extraconstitutional Muttahida Ulema Board to approve all content related to Islam in textbooks of many subjects. Following this, about 100 textbooks taught in private schools were banned with one stroke of pen.
In the beginning of July, Parvez Elahi was infuriated at the construction of a CDA-approved Hindu temple in Islamabad. The spiel was exactly the same: this can’t happen in Riyasat-i-Madina in a country that was created in the name of Islam. Having spoken in favour of the Tableeghi Jamaat, this was the next public posture that brought him into limelight.
But he became exceptionally prominent when he congratulated the Punjab Assembly members for having unanimously passed the Tahafuzz Bunyad-i-Islam Bill on July 22 (who drafted and presented this bill is still a mystery). “This bill will prove to be a milestone in the protection of Islam and its supremacy,” he had said, adding that the Federation and other provinces should follow suit.
The bill, draconian in scope both in its potential for fanning sectarianism and curtailing freedom of expression, soon backfired. When saner elements protested, even the legislature that passed it retracted and criticised the same bill.
Parvez Elahi, however, remains unrepentant and, given a chance, will try to get a similar legislation enacted. But he is cornered, alone, and under the radar. As per new strategy, he and Chaudhry Shujaat now issue joint, boring statements. Together they flayed the ‘song’ and ‘dance’ in Masjid Wazir Khan in, guess what, “a country that was created in the name of Islam”. To this they added in their August 14 message that Quaid’s principles of unity, faith and discipline will be followed in Pakistan.
Is all this some kind of political maneuvering by the one-time chief minister of Pakistan’s largest province who also has the singular distinction of having served as a deputy prime minister?
Analysts aren’t too surprised. They think that while most people regard Moonis Elahi as Parvez Elahi’s political heir, they are not aware about his other son Rasikh Elahi who belongs to the Tableeghi Jamaat. Hafiz Ammar Yasir, the PML-Q MPA and former provincial minister whom the speaker praised after the Tahaffuz bill, is also a Tableegi Jamaat stalwart. Maulana Tariq Jameel of TJ is very close to the elder Elahi and meets him regularly.
Besides this, there are two explanations for this overt religious messaging.
One, the PML-Q is seeking a unique identity for itself as a party, to appear different from other right-leaning parties like the PML-N and the PTI. It managed to get the speakership of Punjab Assembly and some ministries on the strength of just ten provincial seats. Now, by aligning with the cause of Islam, it wants to improve its electoral chances both at the federal and provincial level in the general elections. For the moment, however, it is eyeing the next local government polls where it wouldn’t mind full control over at least a few districts.
Two, in a country where commingling of politics, business and religion is an accepted fact, and where accountability is often used/twisted to gain political results, the sword of accountability now hangs on the Chaudhries of Gujrat. Will Pervaiz Elahi’s religion card act as a suitable shield? Perhaps.
As for the consumers of political discourse, brace yourself for more clichés from him and his party.