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Rise of barelvi politics in Pakistan

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#1 [Permalink] Posted on 4th December 2017 10:16

Before November, only a few people had paid attention to the wheelchair-bound cleric with a flowing white beard. His newly registered political party, Tehreek-i-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYRA), had certainly drawn the interest of political analysts and journalists after its unexpectedly strong showing in recent by-elections, but by and large, Maulana Khadim Hussain Rizvi remained a marginal figure in the public consciousness.

However, by the time his dharna — which had paralysed Islamabad over almost three weeks — had brought about an unconditional capitulation of the state to his demands, almost everyone in Pakistan had become familiar at least with his visage and his firebrand style of oratory.

But few still know exactly who Khadim Hussain Rizvi is, where he came from and what he represents.

The narrative of these times is that Rizvi has emerged out of nowhere, that he is the poster boy of the mainstreaming of jihadis that is marking national politics these days. These assumptions are simplistic and short-sighted.

Leading the mob that held the capital hostage was a relatively unknown cleric. This is the story of the man who has become the new face of Barelvi politics

Rewind to January 4, 2011, when a police officer named Mumtaz Qadri opened fire at the man he was supposed to protect, Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer. Although large swathes of the citizenry condemned the murder, men such as Rizvi justified the act on the pretext that Taseer had termed the blasphemy law as a “black law.”

At the time, Rizvi was serving as an auqaf official in the Punjab government. He was served warning notices to cease and desist from spreading his venom, and when he didn’t, he was removed from public service. Those close to him claim that Rizvi not only accepted his termination orders but also refused attempts by the Punjab government to pay his outstanding dues as well as a job offer for his elder son.

Relieved from his duties, Rizvi found greater time and liberty to preach his views. He became deeply involved in organising public support for Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code, which deals with blasphemy committed against Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), and travelled the length and breadth of the country for the cause. Simultaneously he continued to raise his voice for the release of Mumtaz Qadri.

In January, 2016, Rizvi organised a rally in Lahore at the mausoleum of Allama Mohammad Iqbal, without obtaining official permission. As a result, the Lahore police dispersed the crowd with the use of water-cannons and baton charges. Later in the year, in March, after the government hanged the convicted Mumtaz Qadri, Rizvi along with some other Barelvi groups (including Sunni Tehreek Pakistan) led a march to D-Chowk opposite the parliament in Islamabad. Although this too was marked by violence, the four-day-long sit-in came to an end after Owais Noorani, son of the founder of Jamiat Ulema Pakistan (JUP), late Shah Ahmed Noorani, brokered a truce. The government allowed the protestors safe passage while accepting some of their demands, but before that, it had also made life difficult for protestors by stopping any supply of food and water.

In his last speech before dispersing from D-Chowk, Rizvi announced he would counter the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) at every forum. It was only later on that he established his party, TLYRA, and applied for registration from the Election Commission of Pakistan.

His persistent championing of the matter earned him the nickname of “blasphemy activist” in religious circles. And it is the same issue that propelled him to prominence over the past two months.

Developments after the launching of the Faizabad operation also show that there is more to the sit-in than just pressuring the government or to gain political mileage for TLYRA. The scope of this ‘dharna’ seems to be much broader and hints at the revival of Barelvi politics which had seemed to have fizzled out for more than a decade.
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