ISLAMABAD: There was palpable excitement in the air as bowls and plates of soups, daal, rice and chicken curry were dished out to marchers on grounds close to Saudi Pak Tower in sector G-7.
However, even as the organisers facilitated the visit of thousands of men, women and children to Islamabad, very few marchers saw eye-to-eye with Dr Tahirul Qadri’s charter of demands that he had delivered two days before.
He had asked for the Election Commission to be dissolved and reconstituted, and general elections be held according to Articles 62, 63, and 218 of the Constitution.
In fact, Dr Tahirul Qadri’s demands had changed so often that his followers could not cope up with them.
Thus as Dawn correspondents mingled with the attendants at the rally, it was quite obvious that if anything the long march is a testament of the discontent the masses feel about the current state of affairs in the country — nothing more and nothing less than that.
For instance, a participant Qalander Khan claimed to be a staunch Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) supporter from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
“I support the PPP but I have come to create pressure on government that it should care about the issues of common people,” he said.
“A bag of 20kg flour is being sold for Rs1,000 in KP. The government should resolve the issues of common people,” he added.
His sentiments were echoed by Shaukat Haroon, a local businessman from Kasur, who said that his participation in the long march was only meant to bring in change.
“There is no gas, no fuel and no electricity so I have joined this march and came on my own,” Mr Haroon said.
He hoped that Dr Qadri’s long march would “bring a revolution in the country which I have been dreaming for decades.”
On the other hand, Jasim Khan, 25, a factory worker from Abbottabad, was pushed to attend the march by the owner of his factory.
“He said he will not deduct my salary because I would be going for a better cause. There was also free transport, three free meals and the fact that I could visit different places in the federal capital including Faisal Mosque,” he said.
When asked to share his opinion about Tehrik-i-Minhajul Quran (TMQ) chief Dr Qadri, Jasim answered: “We have been suffering because of the policies of our rulers but Allama Qadri has given us hope that he will bring change. When I was offered by the owner of the factory regarding visit, I decided to come because I also wanted to join the march.”
Meanwhile, Mariyam Khalid, a university student in London flew all the way to Pakistan to attend the procession.
“I am here to bring a change in the system. We need an Islamic system which runs on the Holy Prophet’s defined lines,” maintained Ms Khalid, who was wearing a black hijab.
Saima Mushtaq, 23, seconded Ms Khalid: “We are looking for an Islamic government system in Pakistan which is not in place at the moment.”
When it was pointed out that Pakistan is already an Islamic Republic, she said: “Yes but there are looters and plunderers who are running the state and not the true people.”
Quite ironically, just a few days before, Dr Qadri was quoted by an international media agency to have said, “I can’t say that Pakistan will become America or Canada in a couple of years. But we want a reflection of America, to put the process on track.”
Like any political rally in the country, there were also some marchers who had joined in to see the proverbial tamasha.
“I am here for fun,” said Hamza Faheem, 26, a student of Quaid-e-Azam University.
Wearing jeans and a jacket, the event was a good way to kill time.
“I live in sector G-7, which is parallel to where this rally is being held. The sound from the loud-speakers could be heard very easily in my home, and because I had no other option to spend my time, I came here.”
“I am a liberal and don’t need any system other then a democratic system which is running and its better to have it instead of having a dictatorship,” he asserted.
On the periphery of the march, small and large businesses both made quick profits.
Muhammad Murtaza, who runs a restaurant in Blue Area that provides low-cost lunch to office workers, made sure he produced extra cauldrons of rice and pulses for dinner.
“I have done good business because lots of participants of long march purchased dinner from my stall. I sold a plate for Rs 50,” he said, visibly happy.
If a parallel were to be drawn about the rally yesterday, then it was very much like the initial rallies of the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf where people would gather en masse for the simple reason that they were unhappy with the socio-economic and political affairs.
Dr Qadri has consistently missed out on the larger picture relying purely on rhetoric like the PPP did in the 1970s, the PML in the 1980s and then the military dictatorship of 2000s. Merely demanding reform does not bring change.
What it does require is long-term sustainable thinking - the so-called ‘vision’ – and then people who believe in it and who can make it a reality.
With unlimited funds at his disposal to drive his march, one can only hope he has unlimited resources to live up to his slogans. Otherwise he will be nothing more than what we call in pop culture: a one-hit wonder.