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Jail Bharo Tehreek - promises and pitfalls

Jail Bharo Tehreek - promises and pitfalls


Jail Bharo Tehreek - promises and pitfalls

By Zaid Malik

Jail Bharo Tehreek (Jail Bharo Movement) is an integral part of any country’s political history. Political parties and individuals in the subcontinent have resorted to this tactic from time to time to achieve certain objectives. PTI chairman Imran Khan’s recent announcement to initiate the movement is being perceived as a ploy to exert pressure on the powers that be to announce the general election at the earliest.

The movement calls for voluntary surrender to law enforcement agencies in reaction to the federal government’s lacklustre response to PTI’s demands – holding general elections being one of them. After the PTI-led Punjab government dissolved the Punjab Assembly to pressurise the government, National Assembly Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf accepted the resignations of 43 more PTI MNAs, and the law-enforcement agencies started ‘polivics’ (political victimisation) against the PTI and its allies, the PTI started mounting calls for general elections in the country as the constitution obligates the ECP to hold elections within 90 days of the dissolution.

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Some political commentators perceive the movement as the last weapon in Imran Khan’s ammunition against the government. However, leaving the fate of the movement to time, let’s have a look at similar movements in Pakistan and India and their impacts.

If perceived as a method of protest, the movement finds its origin in India when independence leader Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi announced civil disobedience movement against the British government. In a protest against Britain’s Salt Acts, Mr Gandhi led a march starting with 78 protestors which later swelled to millions culminating in the English government’s arrest of 60,000 Indians.

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Anna Hazare launched the "Jail Bharo Andolan" in 2011 as a protest against corruption in the Indian government. The movement was a response to widespread public frustration with corruption and a lack of effective measures to tackle it. The factors that led to this protest included:

Corruption scandals: A series of high-profile corruption scandals, such as the 2G spectrum scandal, the Commonwealth Games scandal, and the Adarsh Housing Society scam, among others, had eroded public trust in the government and fuelled demands for greater transparency and accountability.

Ineffectiveness of existing anti-corruption measures: The existing anti-corruption measures, such as the Central Vigilance Commission and the Lokpal bill, were seen as inadequate and ineffective in dealing with corruption.

Lack of political will: The lack of political will to tackle corruption at the highest levels was seen as a major factor contributing to widespread corruption.

Increasing public anger: There was a wave of growing public anger over corruption, which was fuelled by the media, civil society organisations, and other stakeholders.

In response to these factors, Anna Hazare launched the "Jail Bharo Andolan," which called for a stronger anti-corruption law and greater public participation in the fight against corruption. The movement gained widespread public support and helped put the issue of corruption at the forefront of the national discourse.

Since then, the movement has become a prominent tool for pressurising the government in India. It manifested itself in 2022 when large swathes of farmers took to the streets and kept the 20-point demands agenda before the government and gave it 10-day time to meet them. Otherwise, they vowed to call for “Jail Bharo Andolan”.

Moreover, The Maratha Kranti Morcha, a local outfit in Maharashtra that had been demanding reservations in government jobs and education for the community organised a "Jail Bharo Andolan" for their major demands in 2018. Thousands of Indians flocked to stage agitation which was responded to by the police’s stern action against them, ultimately turning the “non-violent” protests into violent agitations.

Pakistan’s history is also a witness to mass arrests made in response to people agitating against the government. One of the instances is the “Movement for Restoration of Democracy (MRD)” against former president Zia ul Haq in the 1980s. The movement also saw the participation of Fazlur Rehman who now heads the PDM. According to historian Khalid Bin Sayeed “As many as 50,000 followers of the Makhdum of Hala (spiritual leaders of the Sarwari Jamaat who exercise great influence in Hala and Matiari districts of Sindh) gathered to court arrest and blocked the national highway for several hours in late August [1983],” he writes in “Pakistan in 1983: Internal Stresses More Serious than External Problems”.

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Pakistan National Alliance’s (PNA) – an alliance of religious political parties – protest drive against the government of former prime minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto is regarded as a movement that was aimed at forcing the then government to introduce Shariah rule in the country. The PNA succeeded in getting its demands approved but there are reports which claim voluntary arrests by the protestors.

However, all the instances in Pakistan cannot be considered dedicated movements to stuff the jails of the country as the Jail Bharo Movement is specifically aimed at stuffing the jails to pressurise the government to err into arresting innocent people.

Other than that, if Imran Khan calls the public to roads for the movement, the same violent scenario (as happened in India) is not hard to foresee. Violence will mar the political battle thus, leaving the inflation-stricken masses at the mercy of petty politicians.