Firebrand cleric ‘set for emphatic Karachi mandate’

Karachi (HRNW): “Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLP) will sweep Karachi. A stunning victory awaits,” supremo Khadim Rizvi says. The firebrand cleric-turned-politico made the comments while speaking exclusively to The Express Tribune. “The TLP will eradicate crime in Karachi,” Rizvi, who claims widespread support across the city, said. The people of the city have nothing to fear [from the party]. They should be afraid of boribandh laashein (corpses in gunnysacks). Scores have been compelled to relocate both, business and families elsewhere. I fail to fathom why Karachi denizens would be scared of us, he said. Rizvi’s TLP has ‘succeeded’ where others have failed with the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) in disarray. The party became the first to execute a Karachi-wide lockdown in November, 2017. Similar attempts by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) proved in vain. For someone claiming widespread support in Karachi, however, Rizvi has little to show in terms of tackling its woes. Fret not. I count some great thinkers among followers. They will devise plans to overcome challenges, he said.

Clad in his trademark attire, a visibly tired Rizvi answers queries while remaining seated on a bed. Two party workers hold a black sheet in the background. The one-time Auqaf official has granted the interview at a well-appointed Karachi apartment. The venue brims with ‘devotees’ eager for a blink-and-miss audience. “I pray I get to see you once again,” a young man tells Rizvi as he takes leave. “It’s not as if I’m going to die [anytime soon]. Of course you’ll see me,” the TLP supremo replies. Rizvi has had a full day. He addressed newsmen at the KPC and was scheduled to rest. A power show at Mazar-e-Quaid which commenced in the form of a rally from the city’s airport concluded a day earlier. The TLP chief has always remained reticent about his personal life. Apart from a near-fatal road accident and his penchant for both, poetry and prose, Rizvi largely remains an enigma. The cleric-turned-politico was travelling from Rawalpindi to Lahore when his chauffeur fell asleep at the wheel near Gujranwala. “Both of us were lucky to have escaped alive,” a visibly uncomfortable Rizvi replied in a manner that precluded the possibility of further conversation on the topic.

That Rizvi is a voracious reader which can be gauged by how his replies brim with literary references, especially couplets by poet-philosopher Allama Iqbal. “I always keep a book at hand. I start another when I tire of one,” he said. While the TLP supremo says he has always been a lover of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), the publication of blasphemous caricatures across Europe was a watershed. Something greater than organising protests and delivering condemnatory statements ought to be done, Rizvi said. When then Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer was assassinated in 2011, Rizvi was employed at the Auqaf Department. He was time and again counselled to desist from delivering hate speeches and speaking on ‘blasphemy’. “I never did what I was told to do.” Once, the government wanted him to deliver a speech on dengue control. Rizvi, on the other hand, wanted to talk about ‘blasphemy’. Ultimately, he was asked to leave.

He also dismissed the widely-held perception of the ‘establishment’ being involved in the Faizabad sit-in. Rizvi said the military had realised the gravity of the situation for the first time in over 70 years. “They delivered a statement. We will educate both, the bureaucracy and the military on religion once elected.” Talking about the pugnacious conduct of many TLP activists, Rizvi attributed their behaviour to religious diktats. “That is for religion. It is not as if they want to kill just about everybody. This is what Islam commands.” Explaining the party’s knotty relationship with the press, he said poor media coverage despite “popular support” left many followers livid. “The reporter is not that bechara (gullible). But, we will train party activists on how to deal with media personnel, Rizvi said.

Asked if the TLP would be open to joining hands with other parties following the forthcoming general elections, the one-time Auqaf functionary remained non-committal, quoting an Iqbal couplet. “Only if our manifestos are congruent,” he later added. On the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) posing a threat to TLP’s electoral fortunes, Rizi said time would tell who gave tough competition to who. Nizam-e-Mustafa Mahaz, a united Barelvi front composed of parties including the Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan, JUP-Niazi, Sunni Ittehad Council, Jamaat Ahle Sunnat, Markazi Jamiat Ahle Sunnat to counter the MMA he claimed ignorance of. With the PTI, however, he did not rule out the possibility of forging an alliance. “Our fight is not for seats (in the provincial and national legislatures). This is a battle of ideologies. Our demands were accepted despite the TLP having zero representation in Parliament. The kind of power we will wield after securing seats is beyond one’s imagination.” The party has fielded candidates across all 22 national and 44 provincial assembly Karachi seats.

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