Not all dharnas are created equal. They differ in length, intensity and outcomes. Dr. Tahir-ul-Qadri’s dharna in January 2013 was the loudest one; Imran Khan’s in Aug-Dec 2014 was the longest one; Khadim Rizvi’s in November 2017 was the most paralyzing one. But where is to one place the Molana’s, which just concluded on an ominous day number 13, in the agitation chronicles?
Differences aside, what unites the sundry dharnas is that they are all long on rhetoric and short on results. A crack in the wall they all achieve to some degree – such is the power of camped zealots and partisans inspiring fear among the public. But the immediate change of guard that recent dharnas promised didn’t come to pass. However, the drop-scene of the Molana’s dharna wasn’t expected to be so abrupt.
The aftermath of the latest attempt to force a change has again produced a binary in opinions. Some observers feel that the dejected cleric had no way out but to go home as a face-saving. But doesn’t face-saving involve some form of a public display of a give-and-take arrangement? And the JUI-F has received no public reassurances at all, from those who matter, that a demand or two will be met in time.
The opinion on the other extreme isn’t willing to give an F-grade to the JUI-F, suggesting (or hoping?) that the clever Molana still has something up his sleeve. This view points out that the Molana looked and sounded really confident as he turned his armada of diehard followers towards immobilizing the highways and motorways. Another supporting argument is that the party had spoken of a Plan-B long before Plan-A started proving inconsequential.
What both sides perhaps fail to consider is a possibility that the Molana’s hand was forced more by climate than politics. The dharna participants camping along the vast expanse of Kashmir Highway were being affected by more than the usual discomfort and fatigue of staying put for so long. After last week’s thunderstorms and with nights becoming colder in the open, another spell of rainfall this weekend would have made matters far worse. The last thing the Molana needed was a mass exodus of his supporters.
After this episode, politicians of all stripes may learn the limits of dharna politics. But the work is still cut out for the PTI-led government, which is jubilant that it has withstood the first blow to its legitimacy without spilling a drop of blood, to peacefully see through the next leg of Molana’s agitation. Unlike the dharna, transportation jams may produce enough made-for-TV moments to provoke a heavy-handed response.