Great wall of Multan

The Pak Banker - - Front Page - Asha’ar Rehman

IF you have been to Multan in re­cent times you must have seen the bridges that have been erected there and the new, ‘La­hore-like’ roads that have been laid. You would prob­a­bly have also been ap­prised of a cer­tain im­pos­ing wall in the city. Ear­lier this month, Pres­i­dent Asif Zar­dari had to ven­ture out of his own se­cu­rity zone in an ef­fort to en­sure that the per­son on the other side of this wall does not feel so iso­lated that he de­cides to cut him­self off from the PPP.

Syed Yousuf Raza Gi­lani’s res­i­dence — more the thick con­crete wall that has been thrown around it in re­cent times — means dif­fer­ent things to dif­fer­ent peo­ple.

If you take Jail Road from the high court’s side, a bar­ber’s shop to your right an­nounces the ap­proach of the Gi­lani house in no un­cer­tain man­ner. The shop is lit­er­ally drowned in the PPP’s red, black and green. The wall that has in­deed been the talk of the town in re­cent years it­self has a fes­tive, tri-colour look to it.

The slo­gan on the out­side of the right flank is par­tic­u­larly eye-catch­ing. Here, some am­bi­tious per­son pos­sess­ing at least a po­etic li­cence has tried to cre­ate catchy lines by a rhyming mar­riage be­tween ‘Gi­lani’ and ‘Jani’.

The con­crete wall is a me­mento from Gi­lani’s time as prime min­is­ter. It is a re­minder of the ter­ror­ist threat the coun­try has been faced with in re­cent years, find­ing a rather scary man­i­fes­ta­tion in the so­lid­i­fied de­fences around our rulers — just as it cre­ates envy and a sense of dis­con­tent among the less for­tu­nate and the more dan­ger­ously ex­posed. Only yards away, there is a car ser­vice sta­tion. Then there are small shops and amidst them a rather shoddy at­tempt at set­ting up a de­part­men­tal store has, not sur­pris­ingly, failed to give im­pe­tus to a facelift.

Be­hind th­ese shops are nar­row lanes and small houses. Across the road from the shops is a vast open space used by the army for var­i­ous pur­poses, in­clud­ing a spot des­ig­nated for slaugh­ter­ing an­i­mals for meat.

All th­ese out­side re­al­i­ties seem to con­verge on the fa­mous Gi­lani wall to deny its oc­cu­pants the ex­clu­sive­ness that most of those who are or have been in power de­sire.

The Gi­la­nis’ house in La­hore would in com­par­i­son ap­pear to be lo­cated at a greater dis­tance from the pub­lic. Ask around in Multan, and you would likely be told the con­cept of aloof­ness and iso­la­tion that has taken deep root else­where is as yet alien to the city and its neigh­bour­hood.

You would likely be told that an ef­fort to clean up the en­vi­ron­ment by the more wor­thy in­hab­i­tants of the lo­cal­ity could not be un­der­taken as it could cost them votes.

Clearly down in the city of saints they em­ploy a dif­fer­ent for­mula at get­ting the peo­ple’s bless­ings than the one which is in vogue else­where in the coun­try.

To many, though not all, worldly and spir­i­tual rep­u­ta­tions among the liv­ing have been well-earned. A few call for a crit­i­cal probe.

The pirs and the feu­dals are a source of great dis­com­fort to th­ese crit­ics and if their word is to be fol­lowed the Gi­lani con­crete wall should serve as a po­lit­i­cal metaphor sig­nalling a block­ing of the old and the un­wanted.

Th­ese de­trac­tors of con­ti­nu­ity are ap­palled at the sight of a con­vict ac­corded a hero’s wel­come upon his re­turn from the prime min­is­ter’s of­fice — the fear be­ing that the peo­ple might re­peat their mis­takes the next time they are re­quired to cast bal­lots. More prag­matic and less ide­o­log­i­cal souls are not in­clined to read too much into the con­vict tag that Gi­lani now wears. They are more in­ter­ested in find­ing out how ‘Yousuf Raza’ is go­ing to scale the ob­sta­cles he wit­tingly or un­wit­tingly cre­ated around him­self dur­ing his term as prime min­is­ter.

The con­sol­i­dated Gi­lani house to them rep­re­sents Gi­lani Inc. whose ob­jec­tive had been to con­cen­trate power in the fam­ily.

This strat­egy, which re­sulted in the Gi­lani fam­ily mem­bers dom­i­nat­ing the scene for some years, went against the grain of Yousuf Raza’s pol­i­tics which had thrived on small al­liance-mak­ing that re­quired give and take.

This im­pres­sion of one-fam­ily dom­i­na­tion had to be dis­pelled in the run-up to elec­tions to neu­tralise the heavy­weights who are likely to close ranks against the ris­ing Gi­la­nis.

How­ever, there is a counter im­age which makes Yousuf Raza Gi­lani’s pres­ence on the PPP stage ab­so­lutely vi­tal. No mat­ter how long the list of com­plaints may be against the PPP government and its con­victed prime min­is­ter, one usual re­frain still casts the former prime min­is­ter as the city’s great bene­fac­tor.

‘Only if he had been al­lowed an­other six months’ is a line that echoes ev­ery­where as Mul­ta­nis proudly take the vis­i­tor across all th­ese bridges and along all th­ese roads built un­der the Gi­lani devel­op­ment plan.There are a few such projects that are still un­der way and it is be­lieved Gi­lani would have surely seen them through had he been al­lowed some more time.

There are ru­mours and ac­counts that should bother the Gi­la­nis, but the devel­op­men­tal-pri­or­ity ar­gu­ment that em­pha­sises the funds spent on th­ese con­struc­tions could and should have been di­verted to pro­grammes for greater pub­lic good is not very pop­u­lar in their city. In­deed, many there would have you think that they didn’t just want this devel­op­ment for their sake but also as re­venge on those who had in the past self­ishly gone about gift­ing one bridge af­ter an­other to their own city and their own vot­ers.

This brings us to the PPP’s main plank where it seeks to first play vic­tim and then saviour, or plays both at the same time. As the man be­hind the Multan model, Gi­lani has a very cen­tral role in this scheme. Thus Pres­i­dent Zar­dari’s visit to the Gi­lani house and his re­minder about the value of the former prime min­is­ter to the PPP was well worth the trou­ble.

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