It is easy to think that inadvertent religious controversy sparked by the Election Bill 2017 had died its natural and well-deserved death. The government fixed the change, made the proper condemnations against the hate speech, and the issue fell away from the public’s gaze.
Away from that gaze, however, and partially because of that fact, the controversy rages on in the Punjab Assembly (PA). Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) MNA Captain Safdar’s unhinged tirade against the Ahmedi community in the National Assembly (NA) has invited copycat conspiracy theorists, and they are spewing their vitriol unchecked in legislature of the most populous province of Pakistan.
On Monday, Abu Hafs Maulana Muhammad Ghiyas ud Dinn, a PML-N leaders from the PA, rose from his seat to address the Chair and highlighted how the state was under attack by the Ahmedi community. He pointed out that they are taking over important positions in the government and are also trying to control the education system of Pakistan. By this, he was referring to the handing over of the public schools to non-governmental organisations (NGOs) by the Punjab Education Foundation (PEF).
Another PML-N lawmaker, Al Haaj Muhammad Ilyas Chinioti, a couple of weeks ago, addressed the PA in order to expose his own interpretation of the Ahmedi agenda. He even went ahead to force Law Minister Rana Sanaullah to change his stance on the issue. He made him say that they have no rights compared to other minorities, and they do not deserve any mercy for their belief. Maulana Ilyas Chinioti reminded everyone that in the last Senate elections (2015) he did not vote for PML-N candidate Pervez Rashid, as he believed that he was an Ahmedi by faith.
The divisive and hate driven narratives of people like these are undoubtedly false and malicious, and blame must be placed where it is due. However in this instance the provincial PML-N leadership is more deserving of condemnation for its irresponsible and craven behavior than the narrative peddlers themselves.
Federal leaders, like Nawaz Sharif, Prime Minister Khaqan Abbasi, and the Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal, all rose to the challenge and condemned hates speech and bigotry publically and forcefully; assuring every citizen that they have equal rights.
The provincial PML-N government is shamefully silent – and hence tacitly agreeing to every comment being made. The Law Minister was never known to be a paragon of principle, so his capitulation comes as no surprise, but PML-N leaders on the provincial level - such as Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif – need to step up and put a halt to this vitriol.
If Shahbaz Sharif, and Hamza Shahbaz for that matter, have aspirations to be leaders at the national level, they need to own up to their responsibilities and show leadership now.