Sunday, July 15

Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan Deserves Fair Play

It’s normal for views and perceptions to be affected by prevailing notions. Sometimes we even put aside our very own creeds and start liking someone who is frequently talked about in positive sense, and vice versa.

Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan Deserves Fair Play

The same thing happened to me. Last week I planned a face-to-face interview with Khadim Hussain Rizvi, head of the religious-cum-political party Tehreek Labbaik Pakistan (TLP). I presumed that Rizvi was an arrogant, rowdy and rude person. I was expecting a strict security check by gun-toting, eagle-eyed guards who would scan me inside and out before I reached Rizvi.
It was natural to have these views after the November 2017 sit-in in Islamabad, where Rizvi was seen blaring at the government of Pakistan, mainstream political leaders, religious speakers, and judges. Rizvi’s words and gestures were given grave attention by electronic and print media. He was presented as a villain.

The media tried hard to declare TLP a terrorist organization. I am not sure if the media were doing this for the sake of increasing viewership or if there were other motives. Nevertheless, the party and the government sorted out issues gracefully after an agreement. The sit-in ended, but not before it had given Rizvi another identity of being a rowdy and abusive person.

General elections are due on July 25 in Pakistan and the TLP is going to contest them. It was quite surprising in the regional scenario that a party considered to have rigid beliefs opted for a democratic way to gain authority. And this was the reason I decided to give Rizvi an opportunity to be heard. There were a lot of questions in my mind regarding his personality, ideas, and the party’s manifesto that could only be answered by Rizvi himself.

When I reached the TLP’s secretariat I was shaken by surprise as there wasn’t a single person with a gun or horrifying eyes. Usually in the offices of religious organizations in Pakistan, you observe people with long beards and typical body language. But here, there were people with caps on their heads and typical prayer beads running between their fingers and others dressed in jeans and T-shirts at the same time. In other words, there was a unique blend of conservatives and liberals.

The party’s central media adviser, Peer Eijaz Ashrafi, took me to Rizvi without any hindrance. Rizvi was busy interviewing potential candidates for the general elections. There wasn’t any personal security guard either.

I asked Rizvi what made him think of contesting elections. His reply was way beyond expectations. He responded that he was a follower of the Prophet, who advocated for the peace of the world and whose ethics were exemplary, so how could he follow him by practicing violence?

He said that during the sit-in he was subjected to a trial by media, being declared an extremist and a terrorist. He added that he would try his best to make Pakistan a peaceful state for public welfare without crossing the limits set by law and religion.

He said Islam was the religion of peace and he knew no way other than love and peace.

Rizvi said people from diverse schools of thought were contacting him from all over the Pakistan for election tickets and a total of 600 candidates would represent the TLP in the general election.

In contrast to his image, this introduction to Rizvi was extraordinary to me. It is quite remarkable for a party founded a mere two years ago to nominate this number of candidates in its first contest.

It is often alleged that religious parties favor extremism over a democratic and political option. But at the same time, in order to facilitate a few other political parties, when this party apparently finds a mainstream position among other political parties, the TLP is restricted by blocking its social media promotional pages and accounts. This is not justified. In order to play fair, the TLP must be given an equal chance by reinstating all of its social accounts to continue its promotional campaign.

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