Changing political culture
KARACHI: The Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) has called off its sit-in in the provincial metropolis after negotiations with the Sindh government over the Local Government Amendment Act. Nearly a month after the protests continued, the political party and the provincial government reportedly agreed that education and health facilities would be handed over to local bodies.
However, what was remarkable about these protests was the changing political culture of the city. Popular dishes, traditional kebabs, masala dosa, barbecue, delicious biryani, fast food and more were available at the rally organized by JI at his venue outside the Assembly of the Sindh. A large number of people, including women and children from all walks of life, came to the political rally.
At the sit-in, a woman who was there with her family said she heard about the rally from the news. She knew that the JI protest was going on for several days and remained a peaceful protest, so the family decided to join the rally and they “had a lot of fun there.” She was of the view that the JI’s demands seemed justified and that the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) government should pay attention to them.
Contrary to what is normally expected during protests, the sit-in area turned into a foodie spot from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. for two days during the protest where protesters enjoyed different tasty cuisines. There was a good seating arrangement in the “food festival” so that people could comfortably enjoy the delicacies. Despite the fact that the mercury dropped and there were cold nights for the people of Karachi, crowds were seen at almost all the makeshift stalls of this unusual gathering.
A touch of color
A fireworks display was also held at night at the JI Gathering. The JI called on the PPP government to address the megacity’s civic issues and make the elected mayor “powerful” in the Sindh Local Government (Amendment) Act 2021. Besides, the JI also held Mehfil-e-Naat, mushaira (poetic symposium), boxing, martial arts events and art competition during its sit-in which ended on January 27.
A song specially composed and prepared for the demonstration and the sit-in was played with pauses to arouse the enthusiasm of the participants. The lyrics are appealing and relevant — “dharna ho ga, dharna ho ga” — to attract people. Contrary to its tradition, the JI had the song composed with music and people also felt this change in the protest culture of the JI.
A senior member of JI Public Aid Committee, Karachi Mir Arshad Khan said, “It is correct that the music is included in this song for the first time as it was composed and prepared by one of the members of our social media team. We didn’t refuse to play the song during the sit-in. Although we are not in favor of it, we let him play because we are more open to the public now.
Asked if competing in art or drawing living things is against JI’s position, Khan nodded in affirmation and said, “Although it’s not be it not JI policy, the event was basically calligraphy where some kids drew sketches of their family members; these things are ignorable. It’s not our position but as I said, we are more open to the public.
The party previously said the protest would continue “for an indefinite period” before announcing an end to the sit-in. Therefore, it was apparently a tactic to involve people in the sit-in by introducing them to different activities. Besides, the JI also launched protests in different crowded places in the city to make people aware of the local government issue.
Such sort of long-term turmoil has never been JI’s identity, said senior analyst Shoaib Ahmed Khan, who has a deep understanding of JI’s politics. Perhaps the JI Karachi had been inspired by Maulana Hidayatur Rahman’s long-term turmoil in Gwadar.
The General Secretary of JI Balochistan has gained national fame for his protests and sit-ins in Gwadar. The Gwadar protest lasted 32 days and was the longest protest by a JI leader. It ended after successful negotiations with the government. This protest gave impetus to local leaders in JI Karachi.
JI in Karachi has had an interest in making his voice heard on civic issues for some time. Since JI Karachi President Hafiz Naeem Ur Rahman took office in 2013, he has been interested in listening to people’s issues. Over the past few years, JI has been protesting Karachi’s long-running power outages, gas shedding, land grabbing and civic issues.
Khan said the problems in Gwadar and Karachi were not comparable as the dynamics of the two cities were totally different. “We have already protested public issues in front of KE office, SSGC office and Cooperative Societies office and Sindh government by introducing LG Amendment Act gave us an opportunity to hold a long sit in.”
Shoaib Ahmed was of the view that JI’s policy mainly revolved around the Palestinian issue or the Indian issue of illegally occupied Jammu and Kashmir, as the party played its cards on both of these issues. Until recently, they had not indulged in micro-level public issues such as water draining in front of houses, dilapidated roads, power outages, land grabbing or other civic issues.
Khan said: “Maybe that’s why people weren’t attracted to JI politics because the party usually didn’t talk about their immediate problems. Now JI at all levels have made a major change in policy and decided to reach out to the public and raise their voice for the solution of their problems.
However, since the MQM lost its position as the dominant party in the city, the JI Karachi began to attempt to fill the political void in the city. Khan said that after the 2018 elections, the PTI and MQM won the majority of seats in Karachi, but they disappointed the people. The JI was able to fill the void and own the city, he claimed.
The protests and sit-ins appeared to be part of the JI’s long-term planning to seize seats in the provincial and national assemblies in the upcoming elections. How successful the JI will be in his attempts, only time will tell.
“Our fight is constitutional, democratic and logical”
KARACHI: Regarding the JI event that just ended, News Bowl discussed key issues that fueled the protest with Hafiz Naeem Ur Rahman.
- The JI challenged the Local Government (Amendment) Act, but what was the reason for challenging it?
Look, it’s very simple. Section 140A of the Constitution states that all political, financial and administrative powers shall be vested in local government. In the verdicts of the courts, it was defined that it was about a transfer of powers. However, the law evolved the powers instead of [devolving] which is unconstitutional.
- So we challenged it in court. Tell me now if the mayor does not have authority over water supply, garbage collection, development, transportation, education, health facilities, then what will the mayor do?
In other countries, the mayor has the power [over] all civic institutions so that it can manage affairs and solve civic problems independently.
- Did JI succeed in putting pressure on the government?
Yes. We are lobbying the government. Besides the sit-in in front of the provincial assembly, we recently organized a protest rally on Shahrah-e-Faisal which was historic. Another women’s rally on University Road was also successfully organised. Small events in various places in the city [were] also staged. Our activities raise awareness of the unjust law of the local government which, in turn, works in our favor.
- Have you been assured of support from other political parties?
Yes, many workers from different parties including PML-N came to see us. PSP leader Mustafa Kamal assured his support and I appreciate his gesture. As for the opposition in the Sindh Assembly, which includes members of PTI and MQM-P, I think their response and behavior is very disappointing. They have 52 MPAs in all but they haven’t played the role of opposition that they [should] had played. Instead, they fomented ethnic strife in the province. I think there is a hidden hand to incite ethnic clashes in the province.
- It is said that JI has only one seat in the provincial assembly and they have no say in the affairs of the people. What do you say about this?
Look, it’s not a question of the number of assembly seats. It is a democratic process. PPP is going to hold a protest in Punjab, now tell me how many seats does PPP have in Punjab? So we are a party, we talk about people’s problems and in the democratic process you have every right to demonstrate for the solution of people’s problems.
Second, for those who have the majority in the assembly, when they try to go against the collective political will of the peoples and attempt to make autocratic decisions that are unconstitutional, those decisions will remain unconstitutional. Our fight is constitutional, democratic and logical.