- From Jinnah to Wali Khan, almost all significant leaders have addressed at the venue
Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) leader Manzoor Pashteen has joined an exclusive list of leaders that have spoken at Lahore’s famous Mochi Gate, and became the first Pashtun nationalist leader to speak at Mochi Gate in 32 years at PTM’s rally in Lahore on Sunday.
Once famous for being the ‘speaker’s corner’ of Lahore, the space to the right of Mochi Darwaza is now a large parking space for trucks and cars. But despite its unimpressive stature at present, Mochi Gate has a rich history as a public gathering point. It was once the go-to spot in Lahore for political speakers, and was at its peak during the struggle for independence in the Indian subcontinent, and has also hosted speeches by Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Mahatma Gandhi, and Jawaharlal Nehru.
An integral part of the walled city of Lahore, the 16th century Mochi Gate saw a gradual transition from housing Mughal cavalry to the speaker’s corner it eventually became. It was in 1849 that the British knocked down the southern part of the gate’s wall and filled up the moat which had been built around Mochi gate by Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The newly created flatland was then turned into an exquisite garden.
The famous garden became a significant feature of colonial Lahore, and once the embers of independence began to grow, the portion outside Mochi Gate, known locally as ‘Bagh Baroon Mochi Darwaza’ became famous as a ‘Speakers Corner’.
Even as the embattled Manzoor Pashteen faces criticism and censure from the establishment figures, it is interesting to note that the choice of Mochi Gate is apt given that it has always been host to figures fighting battles rather than people in power.
In the Indian struggle for independence alone, almost all significant national leaders fighting against the colonial rule addressed crowds at Mochi Gate.
After the Declaration of India’s Independence was passed in 1930 at Bradlaugh Hall on Rattigan Road, it was at Mochi Gate that the resolution was presented to the people by Jawaharlal Nehru.
Other speakers at Mochi Gate have also included Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, who is someone that Manzoor Pashteen can take serious inspiration from.
The popularity of Mochi Gate as a rallying point did not wane after the creation of Pakistan either, and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto spoke on multiple occasions at the spot during the Ayub era. His speeches at Mochi Gate became so popular that every time he came to Lahore the PPP jiyalas in Lahore would all raise slogans of “chalo chalo Mochi Gate chalo”.
The last Pashtun leader to have spoken at Mochi Gate was Wali Khan, who spoke in a mammoth gathering at Mochi Gate during the MRD days in the 1980s.
After the Zia dictatorship ended, a period in which the tradition of speaking at Mochi Gate was nowhere to be seen, it was at this point that Qazi Hussain Ahmad spoke at the spot, becoming the next Pashtun to speak at the venue even though he was not a Pashtun nationalist. Mochi Gate was also host to the grand alliance of the right-wing parties that was announced by former Prime Minister Muhammad Khan Junejo.
The embattled former Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif too has found great support at Mochi Gate in the past, and it was one of the first places he spoke at after becoming the leader of the opposition.
The tradition has since fallen through, and the last significant public gathering at the spot was the Asif Zardari-led PPP’s rally in Lahore during 2017.
The PTM holding their rally at Mochi Gate is a decision full of historical implications. That they had been denied permission by the district administration only adds another layer to what is already complex. With the PTM’s run in Lahore done and dusted with, quite successfully, what can be said is that it brought to life the tradition of Mochi Gate once again.