KARACHI: Many people were surprised when a crown was presented to a lady who was fighting against a dictatorship. Benazir Bhutto was ‘crowned’ with a diadem in April 1986 on her return to the country after a long exile.
The PPP’s youthful chief was determined to restart her political struggle against General Ziaul Haq, who had been ruling the country with an iron fist after toppling the elected PPP government in 1977.
A big gathering was held in Daharki town of Sindh’s Ghotki district where a local leader of the PPP presented her the crown – apparently made from nine-tola of gold – amid slogans calling Benazir an icon of democracy.
Tears of joy had welled up in her eyes as she waved the crown to the crowd. Benazir later handed it over to one of her personal servants at Naudero, Benazir’s hometown.
“Benazir asked my father about our sister’s wedding ceremony and gave the crown to us. But we put it in a bank locker with intention to not sell it.
“Our family wanted to preserve it as a gift from our leader. However, after a few months we found that the crown had started to rust. It was not made of genuine gold,” the servant’s son told The Express Tribune.
Fake or not fake, crowns have continued to rule Sindh’s politics since.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Sindh’s former minister Sharjeel Memon, Opposition Leader Khursheed Shah, former home minister Dr Zulfikar Mirza, former army chief Pervez Musharaf, former chief minister Qaim Ali Shah and MNA Faryal Talpur have all been presented a crown in the recent past.
Last week a local trader, Rahamtullah Sand, attempted to present a gold crown to the prime minister, when he was visiting Hyderabad.
“It was a five-tola gold crown, but the PM’s security and personal staff did not allow me to present the gift,” Sand said, adding that he had prepared the crown because local leadership of the PML-N had promised that the PM would announce some packages and relief for business community.
“It was [made up of] genuine [gold] and I had paid around Rs250, 000 for it,” he said, adding that since PM’s security did not allow him to present it to Sharif, he returned the crown to the jeweler who deducted Rs35,000 instead of returning the full amount.
More recently, Sharjeel Memon – a PPP leader who has been facing graft cases – was presented two crowns at a rally respectively by a local PPP leader and a group of activists, who call themselves Janisaran-e-Benazir.
“Memon has emerged as a true leader giving us relief, providing various development schemes and employment to youth. That is why I presented a nine-tola crown to him from my own pocket,” said Mohammad Ali Shaikh, the PPP leader of Tando Jam, from where Memon won polls in 2013.
“It was a gold-embedded crown with gemstones. It is worth around Rs0.5 million,” he told the local media. Memon later donated these crowns to Ramzan Chhippa, a social worker running a big charity network.
A PPP leader of Hyderabad division – while requesting not to be named – insisted that no one presents gold crown to anyone and the gift presented to Memon were also not genuine. “I have personally presented three crowns and I purchased each one for Rs8,000 to Rs10,000,” he said.
Ahmed Mustafa – a jeweler who runs a shop in Saddar area of Karachi – said they mostly make silver crown with plating of gold. “Last month, we made three silver crowns and plated them with gold,” he said, adding that the price of seven-tola gold-plated crown is from Rs14,000 to 15,000.
“It gives the look of pure gold. No one can tell the difference,” he said.
Senior journalist and writer, Ishaq Mangrio – who has extensively written on political and spiritual dynasties – said crowns are presented to kings and monarchs during ceremonies marking the formal investiture of the monarch with legal power.
“People presenting crowns get various incentives in return. No one spends money to honour a leader. People are farsighted and it is like an investment for them,” he said, adding that not only politicians, but crowns are also presented to journalists sometimes.
“I was astonished when Afzal Butt – the then president of Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists – was given a gold crown by the Sukkur Press Club,” he said.
However, Lala Asad Pathan, former president of Sukkur Press Club told The Express Tribune that the gold-plated crown was presented to him by club members for advocating their rights and renovating the club. “Since Afzal Butt was also present in the ceremony, I presented the crown to him,” he said.
The disgruntled PPP leader, Zulfikar Mirza acknowledged that he had also been presented a crown.
“I have preserved it. In Sindh there has been a tradition that people are honoured with topi and ajrak and there is nothing wrong if a crown is given. But it must be presented to those who deserve it,” he said.