A tale of three rallies: “Altaf Bhai is in our midst”

Published: November 6, 2011
Meanwhile in Karachi, the MQM stages not one, but two events in two days.

Meanwhile in Karachi, the MQM stages not one, but two events in two days.

While other political parties may have had one major rally each, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement organised two events in two days. First, a workers’ gathering at the Lal Qila Ground and then a rally at Tibet Centre in Karachi. The second was only made possible after the Home Department lifted a ban on rallies in Karachi — just a few hours after they had in fact extended the ban without informing the Sindh government. A call from high-ups then reportedly led to a two-day lifting of the ban, just enough time to allow the MQM to stage their rally.

And those rallies were staged with event management skills that would put most of Karachi’s social doyennes to shame. They went off without a hitch, but followed an identical and now familiar pattern.


Saturday night fever

Lal Qila Ground begins filling up at around 5 pm on Saturday. By 6:30 pm, I realise its time to cancel any evening plans since the meeting is only just getting underway.  MQM supporters start filing into the venue, battling the evening traffic. Young men wearing dark sunglasses and clutching large photographs of Altaf Hussain try to get as close as they can to the enclosure as party songs lauding their leader and the spirit of revolution fill the air. The crowd is told to settle down and sit in orderly lines — a command they hardly need as this is a familiar pattern that the workers have learned from years of attending rallies.

Before MQM chief Altaf Hussain begins his speech, there are short speeches by other party leaders. The real show begins when it is announced that “Altaf bhai is in our midst”, prompting the DJ to play the party’s anthem “Saathi”. Party workers and leaders scramble to their feet and sing and clap along.

Hussain begins to speak and offers a ‘sketch’ of what the party’s stance is on the issue of Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif allegedly using derogatory language about President Asif Ali Zardari.

Hussain remarks on the Sharif family’s wealth, praises President Zardari and says criticism is a valid right, as long as it is done in a civil manner.

Iconic revolutionary poet Habib Jalib’s poem “Dustoor” gets another reworking at the event by Hussain. Jalib’s quite the hot ticket these days, as Shahbaz Sharif sang his words at the PML-N rally, and now Hussain — after first apologising to the late Jalib’s soul — sings another version, with the lyrics changed to critique Shahbaz’s ‘Sasti Roti’ scheme and his home in Raiwind. It’s a crowd-pleaser to be sure.

He reminds workers to be on time for the next day’s rally, where he will go into detail about the issues he’s touched on today. As the crowd makes a swift exit, I spot a journalist clutching a samosa for dear life, a snack that has been served at press conferences for decades, with the practice even being spoofed by the television show “Fifty Fifty”.

Afternoon anthems

The next afternoon, the same coterie of reporters find themselves back together at the MQM event on MA Jinnah Road. There isn’t a building, window, pole or wall that doesn’t have a picture of Altaf Hussain or an MQM banner. The pedestrian bridge serves as a ‘stage’ — carpeted for the occasion — and is home to cameramen, reporters and party leaders all offering their two cents on the Sharif-Zardari issue.

MQM songs keep blaring as an emcee shouts out slogans in quick succession — Jiye Altaf, Jiye Muttahida, Yeh kis ka sooba? Altaf ka!

Hundreds of people start filling in, pouring out from buses, rickshaws and motorcycles. The crowd starts stretching out to Mazar-e-Quaid and it’s a challenge to figure out just how many people are there. The afternoon stretches on amid speeches by MQM leaders and the arrival of other political parties. The PPP delegation is all smiles and hugs, but their speeches fail to do much for the crowd. Even a call of ‘Jiye Bhutto’ by Agha Siraj Durrani barely elicits a response (but ‘Jiye Altaf’ does, leaving many smirking at Durrani). PML-Q leaders arrive, leaving the crowded pedestrian bridge looking like an old-school political reunion, while cameramen and photographers try to click them sitting amicably together.

Hussain’s arrival is announced again amid cheers and a repeat of “Saathi”, with tens of thousands clapping and singing along. The song ends and Hussain begins his speech, more or less a repeat of Saturday’s fare. The crowd listens, claps at appropriate moments and then the speech ends. Drivers of the Land Cruisers and Pajeros that have brought the PPP and PML-Q delegations to the venue rev up the engines as the politicians jump in, some lighting up cigarettes instantly. The MQM supporters meet their leaders — some ask for photographs — and others make their way back to their buses and motorcycles, still clutching party flags.

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, November 6th,  2011.

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Reader Comments (19)

  • Nov 6, 2011 - 1:32PM

    Hightime for Jazbaati PTI kids to think why PPP that has deep roots and majority seats in Sindh assembly is dependent on MQM when it comes to Urban Sindh.


  • Adeel759
    Nov 6, 2011 - 1:58PM

    With thus article, I font know what are you trying to say. What was the need for this article since his whole speech was played live and well covred in print media , as well. If you are to prover their discipline, well, its a captive crowd, if you look at their faces they seem like being held hostage. Jubilance, enthusiasm, freedom and passion are at the core of a Rally. Do not even try to compare with what happened on Minar-e-Pakistan, please.Recommend

  • Nov 6, 2011 - 2:58PM

    Adeel: The crowd gets jubilant either in concerts or if get paid to. Giving PTI benefit of the doubt I would go by the former analogy and give full credit to Shehzad Roy and Strings for igniting passion and jubilation in the rally. The non-seriousness of PTI crowd also proves that people attended that concert cum blah blah not to listen Imran but to jump into the band wagon of Imran Khan fad. Rallies can’t be judged by the shrilling crowd but by the content of speech and how people seriously listen to their leaders. In PTI Jalsa such indicators were missing. For attendance 10/10 but conversion into votes 2/10.


  • Nov 6, 2011 - 10:04PM

    Jealousy is a green eyed monster my friend. AND a failed attempt to sarcasm is Frankenstein, It will destroy you.


  • Mohammad Ali Siddiqui
    Nov 6, 2011 - 10:36PM

    PTI is going to be an emerging party in Sindh after PPP and MQM.

    Youngsters who have become sick and tired of “open and shut door” politics are waiting for PTI to make its stronghold position in the province of Sindh.

    I can see that many PPP and MQM workers who could not get jobs will not only join PTI but in the forthcoming elections will also vote for PTI.

    Slowly and gradually PTI is becoming symbol of success. Though I am not a PTI worker, but it is my gut feeling that PTI will be able to show its strength in its upcoming rallies and political meeting in Karachi and interior of Sindh.

    The unfortunate part on the political canvas is that neither PPP nor MQM have been able to deliver according to their respective manifestos.

    The time for change in the mindset has come. The young generation can see that by standing behind PTI, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.


  • Salman ALi
    Nov 6, 2011 - 10:45PM

    Great Saba, Good One. Appreciated.


  • Ali Tanoli
    Nov 7, 2011 - 12:11AM

    Good Bhai of karachi and Bad Bhais are in Mumbai.


  • Nasir Jamal
    Nov 7, 2011 - 1:01AM

    The discipline of the MQM has been praised by friends and foes alike. This is not something new. This has always been there. Altaf Hussain and his charisma captivates the crowd. They are certainly not the captives. The discipline of the MQM is exemplary and I think it should be praised with open heart. Altaf Hussain has but to say 1, 2 and 3 and a roaring crowd descends into pin drop silence.

    The MQM has the potential to give a sincere and disciplined leadership to the country but unfortunately every time it makes plans to increase its presence in other parts of the country, conspiracies start and Karachi falls into the abyss of violence in killings. The MQM was making rapid progress in Punjab but the recent spate of violence impeded its forward march substantially.


  • Adeel759
    Nov 7, 2011 - 4:18AM

    @MA Sidiqui. Totally agree with you except Rural Sindh. Its very tough retrain. Biggest losers are going to be PMLN in Punj and MQM in Karachi. MQM is now left with less than 40% die hard party workers rest of the number is up for grab for a party that would play pluralistic, inclusive, tolerant, hopeful, decisive and pragmatic politics, since Karachiites feel held-hostsge, captive, betrayed, failed, humiliated and deceived by MQM, which was suppose to be the party of Middle Class, and designed to uplift their livelihood and promote politics of tolerance and common objective, yet it adopted tactics that even feudals did not. The tactics of fear, hate, acrimony, violence and torture. Good coming Imran this country needs change, need mentioning, I belong to no party, just a tolerant political pakistani.


  • Wasay Jalil
    Nov 7, 2011 - 8:56AM

    Fair analysis is MQM is n was the pioneer to provide young leadership. Along with the leader Mr Altaf Hussain and his cabinet in early 80’s provided young energetic workers, educated and main thing was middle class phenomenon was introduced. Today this phenomenon still prevails. MQM is the hope for pakistan and inshallah it will be seen thru out.


  • Iqbal Malik
    Nov 7, 2011 - 9:49AM

    Any honest struggle for the empowerment of common people is welcome.


  • Mazhar Abbas
    Nov 7, 2011 - 10:05AM

    Excellent write up Saba..I really enjoyed it. Keep writing more frequently


  • Junaid Khan
    Nov 7, 2011 - 1:26PM

    We are very much impress to the activities of the middle class party MQM and its leader Altaf Hussain to deal and manage the massive people and having the ability to better serve the country…..no one can compete this level of abilities and eligible to manage this system with their expertise.


  • Shayan
    Nov 7, 2011 - 2:42PM

    @Junaid Khan. First of all I hope this middle class this MQM seems to represent actually start paying some attention in school rather than typing incoherents sentences. And if MQM is adept at “manage the massive people” they should stick with event management and not ruin the beautiful city of Karachi.

    @Tanzeel On the contrary MQM was also missing their “Quaid” from the rally and that is something that will always be there. Recommend

  • Wasay Jalil
    Nov 7, 2011 - 4:24PM

    MQM made the city. The prime examples are dr Farooq Sattar and dynamic Mustafa Kamal. They didn’t ruin the city rather then did work which wasn’t done inn the 60 years….keep this forum academic rather then using bad language. Plausible attitude required here pls….


  • inam qureshi
    Nov 7, 2011 - 10:21PM

    As far as i understands after this articals and rally arranged by MQM one of the biggest and educated political party shows that people of pakistan and spacially the most eduacated people in pakistan support democracy and reject who use any words or sentences just to fulfill their own intrests and its only shows their own characters and their own mantal state.


  • Salman Orangiwala
    Nov 8, 2011 - 12:29PM

    @Adeel , keep your hypothetical Pegasus hovering over the utopia .The Paradigm shift you are dreaming of , wel…u see it is absurd in the case of Karachi .

    The dynamics of Karachi’s politics , the agony , pain ,deprivation are quite ( I repeat quite ) different than the rest of this country .A few of you quasi intellects cannot simply fathom it .

    Keep your fingers crossed as long as you can for Imran .This aint gonna happen in Karachi , trust me . I am from the masses . MQM will hold its ground . Just wait and see .


  • Arsalan Alam
    Nov 13, 2011 - 8:59PM

    This is a good column and keep it up pls write something 4 Railway wreckage
    its Arsalan Alam (Sec Information Youth Wing PML(Q) karachi) GA Pak Army o3002310916


  • Danish Iqbal
    Nov 16, 2011 - 6:59PM

    Known all men by events held; Altaf Hussain Bhai & his party MQM belongs to middle class & all poor & middle class sees Altaf Hussain Bhai in their hearts. No issue he was not available in front of peoples, he was/is in their hearts & minds.


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