LAHORE - In a narrow library on the first floor of a two-story mosque, sits Allama Khadim Hussain Rizvi, founder of the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan, a party that emerged as the third most popular in Sunday’s NA-120 by-election.
The TLP was founded on February 29, 2016, on the day Mumtaz Qadri, the security guard who murdered Punjab Governon Salmaan Taseer, was hanged on the orders of the Supreme Court.
With 7,130 votes, the TLP candidate, a local trader, was far behind the PTI’s 47,000 votes, but after getting more votes than Hafiz Saeed’s Milli Muslim League and the Pakistan People’s Party in Punjab’s heartland, the party has evoked interest and raised eyebrows.
Those who have given us votes are those who struggle for the sanctity of the Holy Prophet (pbuh),” Mr Rizvi says. “And those who have love in their hearts for Mumtaz Qadri.”
Historically, Islamist parties in Pakistan garner more votes when mainstream political party leaders have been compromised, like the religious alliance of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal in the 2002 Musharraf supervised general election. Generally however, religious parties have never fared well in mainstream politics.
However, it is the speed and efficiency with which both the TLP and MML have carried out their election campaigns that are cause for worry in most progressive quarters.
It would appear that nobody is more surprised by the election results as the TLP itself. They claim the party even has a Deobandi voter base which is a major reason they got the vote boost to challenge the MML.
Mr Rizvi lost the use of both his legs in a car accident, and is carried from place to place by his devotees and party members. He belongs to the Barelvi school of thought, which generally follows a version of Sunni Islam traditional to South Asia with a focus on Sunni mysticism. Though Mr Rizvi can recite the poetry of Allama Iqbal and Rumi by heart, and speaks fluent Arabic and Persian, it appears this is where his Sufism ends.
The TLP is an openly hardliner group which calls for Sharia Law and the execution of all blasphemers, including Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy, and the figure behind the misconstrued controversy that eventually led to Governor Salmaan Taseer’s murder.
“We cannot bear the blasphemers,” he says, but insists that with his agenda to enforce Sharia Law, he plans to work for minority rights in the light of Islam if they get the chance to come into power.
Mr Rizvi is clearly the ideological fountainhead of the party, but is unable to answer when asked questions of a logistical or political nature regarding the party structure. Instead, his workers answer for him and are quick to speak about their grievances with the media and the Election Commission.
Party workers insist that the mandate of the party has been “stolen,” and many of their voters were not allowed to cast their votes.
“We shall adopt every lawful way to challenge this result, and we don’t accept the victory of Kalsoom,” says Waheed Noor, a TLP worker.
This thirst for political struggle has increased overnight, after the vote count, and has led to an ideological boldness within the party.
“After these election results, we are now planning to work throughout the country for the 2018 general elections,” says a beaming Mr Rizvi, as those around him chant loud praises for Islam. –Editing by Amal Khan