Lessons of ‘long march’

By Zubeida Mustafa

DR Tahirul Qadri’s long march to Islamabad is over and done. It shook the political spectrum — at least for the five days that it held the nation in thrall. Whether it will produce any long-lasting impact and change the direction of Pakistani politics is doubtful.

As people continue to speculate about the ‘who, wherefore and what’ of the long march it is time to focus on one incontrovertible aspect of the event, namely, Dr Qadri’s ability to mobilise a huge crowd. I will not even attempt a guesstimate of the size of the crowd and start a debate on that. The fact is that the crowd was bigger than what we generally see in rallies organised by activists, to whom Najma Sadeque, a journalist, likens Dr Qadri. He himself doesn’t lay claim to political leadership.

Long March participants. Photo Credit: minhaj.org
Long March participants. Photo Credit: minhaj.org
The social and economic environment at present is most conducive to a movement for change. Despondency surrounds us. Unemployment has broken people’s backs. Violence is endemic. Utilities are in short supply. And above all, there is no light at the end of the tunnel for the vast majority.

The question to be asked is how did the leader of the march manage to pull off this show of strength when others fail? Najma Sadeque’s answer is, “He is, like many of us, an activist, except that he has huge resources and tremendous organisational abilities. Not surprising when he’s got hundreds of institutions not only within the country but also outside.”

She also remarks, “Dr Qadri may have a different way of doing things, not the way some of us may have chosen … He may not represent all the marginalised of Pakistan — who does? But he certainly represents a sizeable number who are suffering. He’s got people to take a stand, and put a rotten government on the defensive. Isn’t that what every activist and people’s movement, big or small, tries to do?”

Najma Sadeque’s analysis is spot on. But the key issue that needs to be studied — and it would be instructive for many activists of the left — is how could Dr Qadri mobilise such a sizeable crowd? True, they were people who have many grievances. But so do those who gather for protest marches and vigils called by the drawing room liberals (to quote I.A. Rehman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan). How come Qadri’s supporters braved a cold and wet Islamabad to join the long march voluntarily? Why can’t activists, especially those claiming to speak for the marginalised, accomplish a similar feat?

To answer this question we need to understand what social mobilisation is. It basically needs a leader with organisational skills who is trusted by his followers, has a network of person-to-person contacts, and is able to offer sufficient incentives (not necessarily financial) and provide his followers a sense of participation. That proved to be the forte of the leader of Minhajul Quran International.

Technically speaking, political parties should be best equipped for this task. Regrettably, they are not as they have lost credibility. They do not deliver on their promises. The Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf enjoys an advantage in terms of credibility because it is untested so far. But Imran Khan’s strategy to build up services as an incentive — his cancer hospital and Namal College — is too limited in scope.

Dr Qadri’s focus is on the middle class and he aims to penetrate the social sectors where he has unlimited opportunities. His website makes impressive claims. Even if they are exaggerated they couldn’t be entirely untrue. The Minhaj chartered university in Lahore, 572 schools, 42 colleges, numerous cultural centres at the Union Council level, 3,000 libraries, 102 free clinics and blood banks all over the country would be connecting millions to the “Shaykhul Islam”. More are in the offing, it is promised.

Although Islamic teachings and rituals form a major point of reference, the man is clever. The education offered is also directed at teaching temporal skills. For instance, the Minhaj University has five faculties, apart from Islamic Studies, that offer over 30 courses ranging from Business Administration and IT to mathematics. He knows how desperate the middle-class youth is for affordable education that can be a stepping stone to a good job.

It is the only organisation of its kind that has an ongoing relationship with its members, although I do not feel too excited about its approach to religion. But the relationship it forges with its members certainly helps the organisation in mobilising them. Many religious parties, especially the Jamaat-i-Islami, have similar structures. They have a welfare wing to provide services and indoctrination that facilitates penetration. But they lack credibility because of their past performance.

This explains why advocacy groups fail to mobilise more than a few hundred to their protest rallies, although they also need to demonstrate their popular strength to make themselves heard. With a fire-fighting approach, they respond only when a crisis occurs. They do not have permanent linkages based on trust with the marginalised. This lack of permanent and credible structural relationships makes it difficult to mobilise people at the grassroots. Neither do the marginalised classes identify themselves with the numerous activists and advocacy groups who have only promises and nothing tangible to offer.

If they manage to get oppressive laws changed, the impact does not trickle down to the grassroots fast enough for the people to relate the change to the democratic process and the liberals’ strivings.

Source: Dawn

9 thoughts on “Lessons of ‘long march’”

  1. Ironically I would say that search is always on to find a good one. Landlord searches for a good tenant and tenat always search for a good landlord. Teacher searching for a good student and student for a good teacher. Customers looking for a nice shopkeeper and shopkeeper nice customers. Similarly public looking for a leader as a true representative and leader looking for a quality followers.

    In 2011 similarly happened in India. Anna Haare was little known person but when he resolved to fight with corruption that he himself was amzed to get too many followers and crowd every where. All type of media also joined. Now-a-days Anna Hazare is family member of each and every house. But it is another issue that present Govt did not or could not honor its own promise to enact stong law, named as LOKPAL to minimise if not eradicate corruption.

    So my analysis is that public is looking for their true/honest representative.

  2. million dollar question; what is it that catches the fancy of crowds at any given time in specific regions and histories?
    why did gandhi succeed where the left largely failed?
    my own very tentative argument would be that appeals to reasoned debate on issues
    of concern alone do not succeed in situations where tribalisms of all sorts remain the
    effective glues of community and collective security; where hierarchies of knowledge and power are as entrenched as in the
    subcontinent, the Left continues to have a most uphill task.
    badri raina

  3. Nobody really assessed how Dr. Qadri managed gather so many people. The article portrays the Long March not in isolation but years of developing the organisational infrastructure of his movement.

  4. well as an activist of the pakistan movement and having experiance of such situations i think it was a big show-especially of people staying for several days in the same place-some people think that it was a bareilvi show against the deobandis-but deobandis who opposed the pakistan movement and bareilvis joined early but deobandis after the creation of pakistan with their madressahs took over soon -and during the afghan jihaad it were the deobandis who were in the forefront-so it was also an effort to organise the barelvis against the deobandis and against the ttp but i think taliban are too strong in afghanistan and shall come in power there-the taliban and deobandis internationally are too strong
    than the bareilvis-what i am now afraid and worried about is the french involvement in mali.

  5. Like imran,Qadri has a limited scope but has done well to highlight the prevailing impression about our political milieu,particularly among the youth.

  6. Congratulation on your article. I have watched Dr Tahirul Qadri on TV. He is a good orator, excellent organiser and very cleverly avoids disputes. He has excellent command on language. He distances himself from worldly things but is sure about what he talks. He took the lead and the middle class, lower middle class and some intelligentsia imposed by the organisers of the march followed him and braved the cold. Civil society failed to appreciate this. Politicians condemned the march.

  7. I couldn't agree with you more. What a wonderful analysis. What mattered more than the sheer number of the protesters was Dr. Qadri's ability to pull the crowd and make them stay on the roads in the biting cold of Islamabad. The credit truly goes to him for this extraordinary display of resilience and discipline on the part of the people who'd gathered from across the length and breadth of the country. I believe the leaders of this country–liberal, secular, religious–should learn a lesson or two from Dr. Qadri's exemplary leadership.Not only did his followers show utter civility and behaved well even in the face of the negative propaganda and bad publicity their leader was constantly getting from both the media and biased TV anchors, but also set a noble precedent that grievances can be aired without resorting to hooliganism or show of force.

    I am deeply impressed by Qadri on two counts now: his eloquence and rhetoric; and his capacity to draw women, infants, and the elderly for a cause even in extreme weather conditions.

    All this, however, should not be taken to mean that I'm a Qadri fan or something like that. Far from it. But I couldn't help but commend his excellent leadership and his charismatic personality that force one to agree with most of his demands, though some of which may well be outlandish.

  8. The march shows how fragile is the government. If it cannot stand a movement of such a low magnitude, a stir created by just a single man. How can we expect it to fight the multi dimensional terrorism, unemplyment, guns, drugs etc.

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