This article was originally published in The News on the PTI “Jalsa” in Minto Park.
LAHORE: Lahore’s Minto Park (now called Iqbal Park), where the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf Chairman Imran Khan staged yet another big rally on Sunday evening, has previously seen nearly every political entity like the All India Muslim League, the Khaksar Tehreek, the incumbent PML-N, the Pakistan People’s Party, JUI-F, Pakistan Awami Tehreek, the MQM and the General Musharraf-led PML-Q etc holding widely-attended corner meetings during the last 74 years or since March 23, 1940.
Minto Park Lahore is also famous for breeding innumerable cricketing gems. Along with Pakistan’s Cricket legend Fazal Mahmood (1927-2005), with whom American actress Ava Gardener (1922-90) had requested to dance and whose fans included former Indian Premier Indira Gandhi, numerous Indian and Pakistani cricketers like Lala Amarnath, Abdul Hafeez Kardar, Imtiaz Ahmed, Nazar Muhammad, Mudassar Nazar, Saleem Malik, Saleem Pervaiz, Sarfraz Nawaz, Shafqat Rana, Azmat Rana, Javed Burki, Majid Khan, Imran Khan himself, Zulfiqar Ahmed, Shuja-ud-Din, Amir Elahi,Gul Mohammad, Dr Dilawar Hussein, Ameer Hussain, Maqsood Ahmed and sub-continent’s quickest ever fast bowler, Muhammad Nisar etc. had polished their skills on these grounds.
Named after Lord Minto Gilbert Elliot (1751-1814), the Ninth Indian Governor General between 1807 and 1813, there are two more Minto Parks around the world—-one in Ottawa (Canada) and another one in Allahabad (India).
Research reveals that on May 28, 1950 and later in 1956, the fiery speeches Allama Inayatullah Khan Mashriqi of Khaksar Tehreek had attracted large crowd at this venue too. By 1930s, the Khaksar Tehreek was the most organised movement in the history of India.
History shows that on March 19, 1940, or just four days before the March 23, 1940 Pakistan Resolution was passed at Minto Park, a clash then occurred between the 313 Khaksars and the Police in the Hira Mandi bazaar of the city where the England-born Assistant Superintendent of Police, Lahore, was killed.
The Khaksar Tehreek’s headquarter (in Lahore) was raided. During the raid, many Khaksars were arrested, literature and other materials were confiscated, and Mashriqi’s son, Ehsan Ullah Khan Aslam, was hurt by the police when they hit him with a tear gas grenade. Ehsan Ullah Khan Aslam later died because of the head injury he received from the grenade.
At the time of Ehsan Ullah Khan Aslam’s death, Mashriqi was in jail and was not allowed to attend his funeral (Mashriqiwrote a poem in memory of his son in his book Hareem-e-Ghaib).The indiscriminate firing was no less than the notorious massacre at Amritsar’s Jallianwala Bagh ordered by Brigadier General Dyer on April 13, 1919.
A hell was let loose thereafter by the rifle-trotting policemen, causing death to over 50 young followers of Allama Inayatullah Khan Mashriqi, who was not in Lahore at that time, was arrested from New Delhi and exiled to a jail in Madras.
K.L. Gauba (Member Legislative Assembly) wrote in his book “Friends and Foes” (page 204) that according to eye witnesses the dead were more than 200.
Eminent historian Qutubuddin Aziz writes: “Khaksars were mesmerised into becoming followers of the Quaid-i-Azam and were performing security duties to protect the giant Muslim League pandal (canopy) in the Minto Park, the venue of the Muslim League’s session in Lahore. The Quaid-i-Azam had issued press statements condemning the Punjab police firing of April 19, 1940 on the unarmed Khaksars and urged the coalition ministry of Sir Sikander Hayat Khan who was the then Chief Minister of Punjab, to pay compensation to the bereaved families and to punish the officers who ordered the police firing.”
He further writes:”The Quaid-i-Azam had then urgently summoned Nawab Bahadur Yar Jung from Hyderabad Deccan to use his good offices for placating the chief of the Khaksars to help maintain peace in Lahore during the Muslim League’s session. The Quaid’s visit to the Mayo Hospital to console the bereaved families of the Khaksars had a magical effect on Lahore’s political atmosphere and groups of Khaksars trekked to the Minto Park and took oaths to safeguard the pandal and protect the Muslim Leaguers in Minto Park. It was an incredible change of political weather in Lahore.”
In relatively modern times, Minto Park was also the venue for the mammoth reception for the late Premier Benazir Bhutto, when she was accorded by the Lahorites on April 10, 1986 on her return from an exile in Europe.
The inaugural function of former President Musharraf’s referendum was also held at the Minar-e-Pakistan in April 2002.
The then Lahore Nazim, Mian Aamir Mehmood, had organised this event and was consequently accused in Lahore High Court by the People’s Lawyer Forum of wasting public money for his own whims.
Justice Chaudhry Ejaz of the Lahore High Court has then asked the Federal government to submit a reply to a writ petition filed by Pakistan Lawyers Forum against President Pervez Musharraf’s referendum.
In its petition, the plaintiff lawyers had also sought disqualification of General Pervez Musharraf from being elected as the president for using the unconstitutional method of referendum.
The 44-party Pakistan Defence Council, an umbrella group of 44 right-wing entities and personalities, had also held a successful rally at this particular venue in December 2011, passing a resolution to defend the country against external aggression.
Headed by the Jamaatud Dawa Chief, Hafiz Saeed, this rally was viewed by Indian and Western media as a gathering of jihadists, sectarian warriors, orthodox mullahs and Islamic revivalists.
Interestingly, on April 25, 2010, the MQM had planned to hold a party convention at Minar-e-Pakistan for its Punjab-based workers, but was denied permission by the authorities at the helm of affairs.