Protests — the one word that can define Lahore over the past few months. Yes, read months. Officially starting on June 17, 2014 when 10 activists of Minhaj-ul-Quran were killed in clashes with the police. The clash took place in Model Town. The reason was mundane enough to have been forgotten in what ensued afterwards: Qadri was returning to Pakistan, his beloved home, to once again protest a 10 point agenda for his own ‘Green Revolution’.
According to most media reports it was because of this that the government ordered the removal of barriers from Qadri’s office and house. The government seemed to have its own reasons — the foremost was calling the barriers illegal. And so began the sit-in, as Qadri’s followers and supporters gathered in Model Town demanding justice.
It is from here that PAT’s mass political movement started. After Qadri’s announcement on August 1 it gained more momentum. And as Youm-e-Shuhuda neared (Aug 10) people began collecting at Minhaj-ul-Quran to mourn the killings. Meanwhile, the government reacted — well over reacted — as containers were setup and cell phone signals were blocked in Model Town.
Lahore and its population is no alien to political movements. The Mall Road has seen its fair share of violent and non-violent protests. Be it Bhutto’s revolution against Ayub Khan, the PNA against Ziaul Haq or the more recent Long March or the Lawyers movement for the restoration of Judiciary — The Mall has seen leaders stand and fall.
But this was perhaps a first for the otherwise peaceful residents of Model Town. And for the general population of Lahore a first taste of the movement that would eventually affect the entire country. The entrances to various lanes were blocked and local business owners and residents expressed concern over the hue and cry which was causing them financial loss.
And then the protests spread to Zaman Park as PTI initiated its Azaadi March. The PTI’s case stands slightly different. Imran Khan along with his supporters began protesting electoral rigging and blamed inaction on the part of the government for the final call for his Azaadi March on August 14, 2014.
PAT’s Inqilab March moved from Model Town to Ferozepur Road and then onto G.T Road via Garhi Shahu station. Qadri’s vast entourage was organised, serious and systematic. They exited the city a lot more silently than PTI.
Khan, on the other hand, stepped on to the historical Mall Road. The atmosphere festive as his convoy moved at a snail’s pace — dancing, shouting, jeering as children munched on ice cream cones.
The hope of many that the two would come together at some point remained unfulfilled.
Under normal circumstances August 14 would have been an opportunity for the entertainment starved youths of the city to come out on the streets, freeing their motorbikes of silencers. During the day this privilege was taken away from them but at night once the two marches had exited city centers they came out with a vengeance.
From that day on the city of Lahore has been held hostage by various protests. It also became home to the government’s Istehkam-e-Pakistan rally — an answer to the earlier protests. Observers couldn’t help but notice the lack of women on the streets, a sharp contrast from the earlier rallies witnessed by the city. And so this time motorbikes flooded the Charing Cross as Hamza Shabaz stepped on to express his grievances.
PTI continues its sit-ins at Liberty Chowk and Lalak Chowk, and once in Model Town. PML-N workers, such as the PML-N Lawyers Wing along with the business community, Taxi Drivers Association, Muslim Youth Orgainsation and the JUI-F continue to come out in support of the government to challenge them. The venue for these has ranged from the GPO to the Press Club — far away from the areas where PTI holds more ground.
Perhaps this is better, because when these groups have come face to face there has been violence. For instance the first sit in by PTI at Lalak Chowk where the police intervened, pulling apart protestors from both sides or rioting at Shah Mehmood Qureshis’s house.
Amid all this a small group of individuals, otherwise known as the civil society, get together once and twice at Liberty to protest for democracy. They have been largely ignored. The people of this city are struggling towards a greater goal — a goal which places them with either PML-N or PAT/PTI.
As the sit-ins continue at the capital a reminder of how and where all this started from is in order. The murder of Qadri’s people in Model Town and for Khan it was electoral rigging. Two of the initial four constituencies Khan wanted vote verification in, belonged to Lahore (NA-122 and NA-125). It is also the main stronghold of the Nawaz League, their seat of Power in Punjab.
Perhaps, this time Lahore has more to lose.