Maulana’s march: On the anti-Imran protests

Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s ‘Azadi March’ to Islamabad, demanding the resignation of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, is perhaps the biggest political crisis the cricketer-turned politician is facing since he came to power in August 2018. Mr. Rehman, leader of the Islamist party Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (F), has said that his supporters, tens of thousands of whom have camped at the capital, will continue their dharna (sit-in) till their demands, which include fresh elections and an end to the military’s intervention in politics, are met. The main Opposition parties, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), have offered half-hearted support. The Khan government was earlier dismissive of the march. The JUI (F) is not a major legislative force and its leader was not expected to mount a serious political challenge to Mr. Khan, who, over the past one year, has outwitted the Opposition on many occasions. But Mr. Rehman mobilised an army of supporters and entered the capital peacefully. With the backing of the Opposition and a very loyal crowd, Mr. Rehman has suddenly emerged as a national figure who put Mr. Khan in a bind. The protests forced the government to come to the negotiation table. The deadlock, however, continues as both sides failed to reach any agreement.

For Mr. Khan, this is a déjà vu moment. In 2014, he launched an indefinite dharna in Islamabad, demanding the resignation of the then Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif. His supporters brought the capital city to a standstill for weeks. Mr. Khan didn’t succeed then. And Mr. Rehman is unlikely to force Prime Minister Khan out today. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government is still a favourite of the establishment. The main political Opposition remains weak. And there are different voices even within the Maulana’s movement. Sections within the PML-N and the PPP were opposed to joining hands with Mr. Rehman as they do not approve of the dharna politics and the cleric playing the religious card for mobilisation. So Mr. Khan’s position as the Prime Minister appears to be stable, for now. But it does not mean that he can ignore the challenges rising from the Opposition any more. Mr. Khan came to power on promises of overhauling the economy and eliminating corruption. A year into power, the economy still remains on the brink. Critics call him the “selected Prime Minister”, not an elected one, referring to his close connection with the military establishment. His government’s “fight against corruption” is largely seen as a campaign to silence most of his political opponents. The government is also facing criticism for cracking down on dissent, free speech and independent media. Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s rally is an unlikely answer to all these problems Pakistan is facing. But he is tapping into the growing public resentment against Mr. Khan’s government. Unless he realises it and takes actions to address the actual challenges, he will only be setting the stage for more Maulanas to rise.

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Printable version | Nov 22, 2020 2:31:22 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/maulanas-march/article29902794.ece

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