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The Politics of Burning Tires

Black smoke rises in the air, in the middle of the street. A rusty old tire, a few drops of petrol and one matchstick are all you need to bring a city to a halt. Add some hooligans into this equation. Desperate for attention, aggressive in nature, impatient to get noticed. ‘Tabdeeliaanairahi! Tabdeeliaagayehai!’


What pleasure is derived from infringing the right of movement from an entire city? Is it merely a shallow display of raw power? Or is it something more sinister, more political? Either way, a very powerful message is sent to all the stakeholders involved in this grand charade. A school going child interprets it as a reason to relax at home and skip his exams. A laborer interprets it as one night his family will go hungry. A businessman interprets it as a day not worth wasting income but also as a day when security and safety is more important than a few bucks. He is frustrated because he has to choose between the two. A political worker whose party has given the call for the shutdown has completely different interpretations. He dances on the street, chants political slogans, stops cars from passing and occasionally rests to enjoy some hot tea in the cold weather. All the while, he has a big smile on his face and a great sense of accomplishment. If ‘Karma’ truly existed, the workers shutting the roads would see their own civil rights lambasted upon on another day, for another cause, by another political party.

It is hard to see educated people engaging in lawless behavior and infringing the rights of their fellow citizens. Who could have imagined this in 2011, when the apolitical, regular folk joined this cause? Is this what it was all about? Power? Influence? The ability to put an entire city to a halt? It was hard to expect such people to stoop so low but this is what happens when a leader is blindly followed and his ambitions are merrily fueled. Any criticism leads to a smear campaign, mostly on social media. One of which, an ordinary writer like myself has been a victim of but that is a story for another day.

Nothing seems to shock me anymore. No new low seems that surprising. The cost of human life seems negligible. On 14th August when ‘Azaadi March’ started, a dozen of PTI supporters died in a tragic car accident yet the show went as planned. The families of the deceased received nothing from their leader, except for a Tweet. So much for tabdeeli. Some time later, a few supporters died in a jalsa in Multan. It was evident how much the political bosses cared about the lives of their workers. When DJ Butt used the microphone to ask for help, he was silenced. How could he dare to interrupt the mighty leaders? Are the lives of a few citizens nearly as important as a political speech? The answer itself lies in the daunting question.

Agitate, burn, destroy. Do what you promised on the container. Earn the wrath of your entire support base in the process. But remember that in the end, these hobbies will not amount to anything productive. The maximum it would be able to achieve is to serve as a display of street power. The real show actually happens in the negotiation meetings when the leaders of the opposing parties meet and discuss what to do. The real issue was allegedly ‘systematic’ rigging. Then, out of a genie’s lamp came the demand for the PM to resign. Parliament was attacked, along with the PTV office. So many days of waiting in the capital, the time wasted by all the folks present did not actually amount to anything. If something meaningful was achieved then it could only be the enjoyment of the youth when they heard Attaullah Khan sing live along with other festivities.

In the end, everything can be negotiated. Ask a former President to enlighten you further.

I wish not to engage the politicians but the people who blindly follow them. It is the job of the politician to do everything in his power to increase his political influence and space. However, it is not the job of ordinary political workers to blindly follow the commandments of their leader as if they were something written in stone. When calls to block a city are made, the entire population should unite and not let any politician infringe their civil rights. How would these politicians feel if the population did not allow them to move? What if some political workers block Imran Khan’s car and his family’s? What would be the reaction? Will it still be tabdeeli?

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