Archive for April, 2011

Altafisms galore

Abid Hussain attends MQM’s historic rally in Punjab Stadium, Lahore

When the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) held its first public rally at Minar-e-Pakistan in Lahore five years ago, they called it a breakthrough the party needed to enter politics in Punjab. Claims were
made about the advent of a new political ideology in the province, and MQM declared itself the party of the ‘98 percent oppressed population’ of Pakistan.


This happened in August 2006, a mere two years before the 2008 general elections. Five years later, MQM has organised what is so far its biggest rally in Punjab – two years before the general election. Campaigning started in the beginning of April as roads in Lahore were dotted with MQM banners and flags. Most of the Rabita Committee members were present in the provincial capital to oversee the proceedings.


For the neutral and the sceptics, the interest in MQM’s Istehkam-e-Pakistan rally was out of curiosity. The last MQM rally in Lahore was labelled a “rental rally” and there were accusations that activists were flown down from Karachi and Hyderabad. MQM had initially planned to stage this rally at Minar-e-Pakistan but the venue was moved to the Punjab Football Stadium because the Punjab government had security concerns.
On the day of the event, roads leading to stadium were blocked with containers and Ferozpur Road was made the only entry point. Heavy police contingents guarded the event. MQM activists from Karachi were
part of a vigilance committee that primarily took care of security. There were at least 13 different checkpoints from Ferozpur Road to the stadium entrance. Body scanners and signal jammers were installed around the venue. MQM’s trademark discipline was particularly visible at the Punjab Stadium as thousands entered the stadium in an organised manner. There were MQM flags all over, the crowd was enthusiastic, and speakers
blared out remakes of popular Punjabi songs that praised the party and its founder-leader Altaf Hussain.


Not everybody spoke or understood Urdu very well. M Sajid from Muzzafargarh said his love for ‘Altaf Bhai’ had brought him there. “I have been part of the party for over a year and we brought along 120
people from our village Shah Jamal.” Many said they had seen MQM perform in Karachi, especially during
Mustafa Kamal’s tenure as the city nazim, and believed the party could bring a change. “We have tried so many leaders but none of them ever helped us,” said Rizwan Ali from Bhakkar. “We believe the MQM will
provide us justice.” A few did confess having been dragged along by friends or relatives, but none said anything about allegations of violence on the MQM in the past.\


Lahoris were clearly not interested in the rally, primarily because of the perception here of MQM’s links to organised crime — allegationsthat the party has always denied. Speaking to TFT, some expressed fears MQM’s arrival might lead to increased crime or violence in the city.


The MQM leadership was satisfied with the turnout, which according to conservative estimates was 10,000 to 15,000 inside the stadium. There were scores of MQM supporters outside the stadium as well.
“The MQM is here to stay in Punjab,” said Faisal Sabzwari, minister for Youth Affairs, Sindh. “We are making a long-term strategy which may not show immediate results,” he told TFT. “Over the course of time, we will develop our organisation and structure in the province and gain a foothold in the politics of Punjab.” Sabzwari said the MQM was looking forward to the 2013 elections and promised “a few pleasant surprises for our supporters”. It was evident during the rally that MQM definitely piqued interest in people who travelled from far-off places, and most certainly none of them were from Karachi. However, what remains to be seen is whether they will achieve any tangible success in the upcoming elections or will this again be an exercise in futility, much like the last rally in August 2006.





The advent of social media has changed the watching of cricket forever. Abid Hussain narrates this new experience of the world cup.

Six weeks after it began with much fanfare in Dhaka, the protracted and ultimately successful cricket world cup is about to end. By the time you read these lines, the remaining two teams will be preparing
for the final showdown, set to take place at Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai.

The unofficial entertainers of the World Cup were, to the surprise of many of us, the English Cricket team. Yes, those men with stiff upper lips. Lighting up the world cup with its only tie match (against
India) and five other absolutely electrifying, nail-biting finishes, which included losses to two minnows (Ireland and Bangladesh), the English team’s journey was a thrill-a-minute till it got to that damp
squib of a quarter final against Sri Lanka.

However, personally speaking, despite all the spectacular action seen on the cricket field, this world cup kept me entertained mainly by the way its covered on new forms of social media.

The last world cup was played in the Caribbean in the 2007. In those days (they seem so far away already), internet streaming was slow and unreliable, twitter was just a year old and facebook was just opening
up to a global audience. Four years later, things have changed. Andhow!

For every match that I saw during this world cup, I made sure I was logged in to my twitter account and facebook profile, as well as the ball-by-ball commentary on and the Guardian over-by-over
coverage (everyone should follow it religiously). The life I’d known for a quarter of a century as an avid cricket enthusiast had undergone an unprecedented transformation.

There was no fun following cricket matches without telling the world what was on my mind in approximately 140 characters (this is, for those of you who are still resisting the pull of social media, the
maximum you can type in a twitter update). 300 balls every innings amounted to at least 600 twitter updates. And this was in normal circumstances. When Shoaib Akhtar bowled that ripping inswinger to
Mahela Jayawardena in the match against Sri Lanka, I can swear I cyber-screamed “OMG SHOAIB I LOVE YOU #ShoaibILoveYou!” seven times till the next batsman came in.

In the old days (yes, a few years ago is ‘old’ now), the trend was to watch cricket matches at home with your family. Now you have an army of online followers and friends with whom you can ‘watch’ the match,
scream in ecstasy and yell in agony, as well as interact through regular status updates. And if one wants to watch the match in a bigger setting with 200 hollering fellow cricket fanatics, just log on
to the greatest modern-day event management tool, aka, and join the event of your choice. Till Monday night, I had received at least 19 different event invitations from my friends who were planning to watch the mouth-watering Pakistan-India semifinal at various places.  (For those of you who wish to know the outcome, I ended up watching the match at the conference room at a friend’s office. Yes, that’s what happens when you work in addition to tweeting.)

Aside from the big matches, which were seen with friends and such, the latest surprise came in the form of watching cricket on online streaming channels. What a joy it was! With hardly any of those
annoying advertisements which attack your senses at perfectly-timed, all-too-brief intervals during TV-aired matches, online streaming has made me a believer in the power of alternative media.

Throughout the world cup, there have been some consistent themes among the timelines of twitteraties and facebookers in Pakistan. In fact, before the world cup began, there was a bunch of people who initiated
a #MakeAfridiCaptain campaign to ensure that the beloved ‘talisman’ was chosen as captain of the team. During the world cup, Kamran Akmal, the man with iron gloves and butter fingers, was labeled with some
hilarious-but-unprintable nicknames. After Shoaib Akhtar was dropped from the team, his loyal supporters began a #BringShoaibBack mission. Then of course there was this horde of Afridi lovers, men and women
alike, who all declared their unconditional love and desire for him post his 4-wicket performance against the West Indies in the quarter finals.

However, as far as pure entertainment goes, the Pakistan Australia match on March 19 was absolutely brilliant. The timelines during that match perfectly showcased the unpredictability of the Pakistan cricket
team and its legion of followers. Skeptical and incredulous in equal measure, even though the target was down to 10 runs in some 70 odd balls, the variety of internet statuses and comments ranged from
downright witty to absolutely moribund.

The odd banter with Indian fans while unleashing a barrage of videos on youtube to celebrate the man that is Afridi, the writing of blog entries on why Ian Chappell is the sourest loser on the face of the earth, to listing 10 new commandments on How To Watch The Greatest Match Ever – cricket-watching will never be the same again. At least for those of us who are logged in. #CricketWeLoveYou!

*: The hash tag #FF is used on microblogging website twitter as an
acronym for Follow Friday.