Not too long ago – much lesser than a decade, actually – this very column was a tad critical of the MQM in an edition. That, too, only tangentially. After a couple of days, the paper got a strong admonition from the party. The phrasing of the written communication was the predictable same (‘freedom of the press does not mean…..’) that all news outfits are used to receiving whenever any political party or organisation has a complaint. But in the case of the MQM, much like some state institutions, there was the implicit threat of violence that was between the lines.
This was at a time when a newscaster on a major television channel announced, while reading a Karachi crime story, “the arrested alleged target killers belonged to the PPP, ANP and another political party.”
In the past, the Muttahida has allegedly bumped journalists off. And, in one, well documented case, after a telephonic address by their Quaid, a procession of theirs went and raided the offices of two TV stations, resulting in several injuries and one death.
However, when the Lahore High Court slapped a broadcast ban on the speeches of the party leader, it was this very column that called it out for the infringement of freedom of speech and press that it was. Some within the liberati, who in their myopic world view, had begun to champion the party as some sort of liberal dream, kept absolutely shut, but we here at the paper, saw above the individuals, and saw the principle involved.
It appears that PPP co-chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has also come to the same conclusion when, at a recent rally he admitted that the political parties, including his, shouldn’t have kept quiet when the aforementioned gag order took place.
There is a gag order, of sorts, on opposition political parties these days. In specific, Maryam Nawaz Sharif and the coverage of her rallies.
What Ms Nawaz’s opponents – and here, I am speaking to supporters of the ruling party – need to realise is that though they may abhor her and whatever she and her politics represent to them, the existence of this press suppression cannot be denied. Other arguments, like where in the world do such leaders get coverage are not only stupid, but, when voiced by people with (presumably) a lot of global exposure, like Shafqat Mehmood, are downright dishonest.
I am pleasantly inclined to the political class of the country, including the ruling party and the main opposition parties. I might never vote for certain parties, but I will still support them in the broad cause of electoral democracy. Except two: one, the Jamat-e-Islami and the other, the MQM. They don’t quite fit in my definition of a ‘political party’; a harsh view, I concede, but one that could be discussed in another column. But I have found it in me to defend the Muttahida and its charming leader’s right to express himself and so should you for the parties you don’t support.
Post-script: ‘buffalo-theft’ is the gold-standard adjective used to describe a cooked up case against political party leaders or activists. It refers, of course, to the ludicrous case lodged against Chaudhry Zahoor Elahi by the the ZAB government. We saw another dubious cattle-theft-category case recently, in Rana Sanaullah’s bizarre ‘drug bust’, in which the national level leader was his own drug mule.
Well, add to that another example. That of League-friendly columnist Irfan Siddiqui, who has been arrested for not following the Tenancy Act to the T. He didn’t inform the police of his new tenant, so they’ve hauled the fellow up.
Is this a sign of the things to come?