Lahore is brimming to its maddening political edge as political parties battle it out in the streets. Loyalists branding party emblems are gathering everywhere. The Mall is a political boulevard where all parties deem it necessary to make their presence felt.
Such a “battle” brought me to an eventful PML-N rally on The Mall on 26 February. Armed with my camera and its bag; I walked hesitantly into the rally, a potential terrorist strike target. I freelance as a photojournalist, an interesting but risky job.
Here, the workers of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) had blocked The Mall for over five hours in their protest against the Supreme Court (SC) verdict that disqualified the Sharif brothers from contesting the general elections.
Unrest prevailed as the protest intensified when aggressive party workers marched towards the Punjab Assembly building to break the locks after PML-N parliamentarians had to sit on the staircase to conduct the session.
Anti-Zardari slogans were chanted, tyres were burnt tyres and banners containing pictures of PPP leaders were brandished. The protesters held placards and banners that condemned the SC and the PPP-led government.
During the protest, a worker climbed a streetlight to hoist a PML-N flag.
Addressing the workers, PML-N leader Hamza Shahbaz said the SC had disqualified PML-N leadership on the directives of President Asif Ali Zardari and alleged that “The decision was a raid on democracy”.
The other side:
Amid the noise at such ralies, a series of fortunate and misfortunate events also take place. A rally is a world in itself, in addition to the main political activity, there is a lot that goes on.
Pickpockets have a field day, robbing unsuspecting spectators of their cell phones, wallets and whatever they can get their hands on. I lost my cellphone as a man smuggled his way into my pocket and disappeared into thin air.
Hawkers scramble about the gathering, selling water, food and the bare necessities. You’ll find people munching on goodies, browsing lottery tickets and offering free political analysis to everyone around them.
Amid the commotion, one also gets assaulted by “pushy” people who force their way towards the stage. I was elbowed and my sunglasses fell to the road. Before I could pick them up, a “footful” of people stomped their way through and reduced it into a mere wire mesh! Why was I wearing sunglasses? Well the smoke from the burning tyres can be quite tearful at times!
“Zardari chuha”/Zardari Kuta
Animal rights everyone? Protesters hanged a live mouse from a board that read out “Zardaru chuha” (Translated: Zardari is a mouse). I couldn’t help but capture this one. Is this freedom of expression of abuse of expression? The little mouse was trembling and paying with its life for someone else’s crimes.
Men wearing horror masks and holding placards inscribed with Zardari Kuta (Translated: Zardari is a dog) are rampant throughout these anti-PPP rallies. These men get a lot of press attention, though such images may not be published, but they remain an irresistible catch for any photographer.
The political circus brings with it many characters. Activists try to steal the show by using their theatrical abilities to catch everyone’s attention. Here men beat their chests, “mourning” the SC verdict.
It seems that as things become increasingly complicated in this political turmoil, it is advisable to witness the events from the safety of your house. The Mall shall remain choked and tense until things settle down. Lets hope the anarchy simmers down and Lahore is restored to its glory.