Long march – short span, big spin

Like all things Pakistani, including the country’s name itself, the “laang march” is deceptive, for it is neither long nor even a march of boots or bare feet.  Our “laang marches” are a very absurd and pathetic imitation of the real thing of foreign origin, though few of the participants know it.

(Daily Times, 23 January 2013)

Almost all Pakistanis have witnessed and some have taken part in at least one so-called “long march” in the last few years.  Few of the organizers and virtually none of the participants, however, know the origin of the term “long march”.  Those who do are probably smart enough not to take part in any of the many silly mini “long marches”.

Pakistanis call it “laang march”, which is as it should be, in order not to be confused with the historic Long March. The “millions” – which is less than 100,000 – who take part in these “laang marches” will be surprised if told that the genuine thing, the mother of all long marches, took place in China and it was led by the Communist Mao Zedong, a professed enemy of god and religion.  Somewhat ironical because the leaders and participants of Pakistan’s “laang marches” claim to be soldiers of Allah, baying for the blood of infidels, heretics and blasphemers, no matter where, including distant Denmark.

Most recently we had Professor Doctor Allama Tahirul Qadri leading a highly publicized “Laang March”.  Last year, the so-called Difa-i-Pakistan (Defence of Pakistan) Council had organized a “Laang March” which brought together, literally clasping hands, Imran the Great Khan and the self-proclaimed mentor of the Taliban, Maulana Fazlur Rahman, not to mention the Jamaat-e-Islami’s Munawar Hussain, inveterate enemy of all blasphemers and the godless, with the exception of the Chinese.

In 2009, it was Nawaz Sharif and the year before it was the lawyers, who created quite a law and order situation by taking the law into their own hands.  Both of these “laang marches” were for the reinstatement of the deposed Chief Justice.  Since his restoration, the twice-suspended honourable Chief Justice has resolved to keep the nation in a state of suspended animation for as long as it takes him to suspend the current political dispensation. 

All “laang marches” germinate in Lahore and terminate in Islamabad. Fair enough, for if Lahore is the historical, cultural and political heart of Pakistan, Islamabad is its administrative head, protected or threatened – it depends on who you ask – by the army’s top brass ensconced less than 20 kilometers away in Rawalpindi, guns ready.

But like all things Pakistani, including the country’s name itself, the “laang march” is deceptive, for it is not a long march at all, neither long nor even a march of boots or bare feet.  It is a motorcade of vehicles, from bullet proof SUVs to tractor-trailers, which trudges along at a snail’s pace along one of Pakistan’s best highways, the Grand Trunk Road, passing some of the country’s most populous and prosperous cities and towns, covering all of 303 kilometres, take or leave a few.  Well-fed and in a festive mood, the “laang marchers” are cheered on by crowds, some adoring, others curious and the rest for lack of anything else to do. 

Out of fashion, now, are hartals or general strikes, when everyone runs amok and strikes everything in sight, moving or stationary, animate and inanimate. In contrast, “laang marchesare considered prestigious and are increasingly popular, for everyone gets a free ride to lovely Islamabad, besides free food and some fun, which is as scarce as electricity, gas and water.

Pakistanis like all kinds of imported stuff, including culture and religion, which is why they don’t like Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Ahmadism, which are all native to the region, the last two being as Punjabi as sarson-ka-saag (a curry made from mustard greens). For their part, Indians have a fetish for things Hindustani.  Hence, they emphasise Hindutva while we pay homage to Arabia.  I suppose it all started with Gandhiji’s obsession with homespun Khaadi.  Or perhaps one could go as far back in Indian history as Ram Raj, if there was such a thing.

Be that as it may, Bombay is now Mumbai, Madras Chennai, Bangalore Bengaluru and Trivandrum Thiruvanthapuram. I don’t know whether it is for fear of fundos or out of respect for history and Islam that Allahabad, Ahmadabad, Mohammadabad and Hyderabad (to name a few) continue to be called by their old (and sometimes not-so-old) names. “Long march” they call yatra, just as Suzuki is Maruti, Vespa is Bajaj and 1962 model Morris their proud Ambassador.

In line with the Pakistani penchant for imports, Imran the Great Khan tried to introduce a foreign word in our political vocabulary by calling his recent failed attempt to topple the government a tsunami. But the word didn’t catch on, either because he has copyrighted it (through his friends-in-high-places in the USA and UK) or due to the fact that most Pakistanis have never experienced the sea, except those we export to Europe, USA, Canada and Australia hidden away in ship containers or on rickety boats. Those who survive the high seas won’t bear to hear the word tsunami anyway.

Perhaps the Great Khan, who has spent more time on beaches than all other Khans put together, took fright himself, fearing that a tsunami may sweep away all Khans, failing to distinguish good Khans from bad.  Or, perhaps, he realized it was not such a good idea, after all, to borrow a foreign word when he refuses even to wear foreign outfits.  Except when he is in the West, but then every wise man knows that in Rome you should do as the Romans do.  So, out in the West, one ought to dress (and undress) as they do.  Just like that famous Roman, Silvio Berlusconi.

To conclude, the real Long March of the Red Army (1934-35), under the leadership of Chairman Mao Zedong, covered over 10,000 kilometers on foot in 370 days through some of the most rugged terrain of China, constantly pursued, harried and attacked by their enemies, the troops of the Guomindang-led government, half a million strong. Their goal was to escape enemy encirclement and destruction.  Of the 87,000 Red Army soldiers who began the march, less than 10,000 survived.

And history knows of only this Long March, considered to be one of the most inspiring feats of survival and heroism in history.  Like most things in Pakistan, our “laang marches” are a very absurd and pathetic imitation of the real thing of foreign origin.

If politics is a substitute for warfare, then Pakistani “laang marches” are a substitute for politics. A “laang march” every year keeps the demagogues in good cheer. Besides, “laang marchers” don’t run amok – they just have fun, in addition to free food, television time and a good distraction from the tsunami of paucity, illiteracy, idiocy and militancy.

By Razi Azmi

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7 Responses to Long march – short span, big spin

  1. Zulfiqar Ali says:

    Razi sahib has candidly pointed out and rightly it is so, that it is high time that as a nation we get serious about addressing real issues like poverty and militancy. We should let the democratic institutions grow and let tolerance to prevail in Pakistani society.

  2. tony says:

    Hi Razi, a fine piece which manages to be scathing and funny at the same time. There is in the west a long tradition of “long marches”. In England the Jarrow March at the height of the 1930s depression is still famous. In the USA too we recently had the March of the millions. In these marches people actually did walk. I like the idea that the Pakistani marchers actually travel in SUVs etc. One minor quibble – The long march started with over 200,000 and less than 40,000 survived.

  3. Javed Agha says:

    Razi, do not forget we live in 21st Century, so instead of walking, long march is on SUV’s, trucks and Luxury cars. I like the article as it is scathing and funny at the same time. Mao was a great leader who changed the face of China. Our leaders are small, so the go for small walks…. not long marches. I am sending your article to Mr. Qadri who will be arriving in Toronto soon so that he knows the history and true spirit behind long march. I bet he does not know about Mao’s march. Let us educate him.

  4. Carlo says:

    Utterly brilliant Razi!

  5. Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur says:

    Razi Sahib, at his best. Educative and hilarious. Truly amazing. I always wait for your pieces. Thank you for your eminently brilliant pieces.

  6. Abbas Zaidi says:

    Just read your article. Yes, it is easy to utter “long march”. But the real long march and being indigenous . . . Well, it takes a true leader to so so.

  7. Jehanzeb says:

    Amongst your best. Thanks for reminding the desert-inspired crowds about the indigenous religions.

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