Contributed by Nasir Saeed
Labour politician Sadiq Khan has been sworn in as mayor of London at Southwark Cathedral, becoming the city’s first London’s first Muslim mayor. Pakistani Muslims in the United Kingdom (UK) and Labour party are celebrating the victory of Khan as he is the first Muslim to lead a significant city of Europe. Winning the nomination from within the party was not easy, and he faced competition from people like David Lammy, and Harriet Harman, ex-deputy leader of the labour party. And then he was contesting the mayoral election against Tory Zac Goldsmith, the son of a billionaire.
Becoming London’s first Asian and Pakistani Muslim mayor will have a far-reaching impact on the UK and some other European countries’ politics. It may inspire many ethnic minority members to become involved in politics. Khan doesn’t come from a very rich family and on several occasions he has proudly said that he is the son of a London bus driver, who migrated to the UK in 1970, and grew up in a public housing estate. During the ceremony he said, “Some of you may not know this, but I grew up on a council estate, just a few miles from here” and “back then, I never dreamed that I could be standing here as the mayor of London.” Khan is the third one to become the mayor of London after fellow Labour politician Ken Livingstone and Conservative Boris Johnson.
Outgoing mayor Boris Johnson congratulated Khan on securing a huge mandate and wished him every possible success. During the election campaign Goldsmith tried to smear Khan, saying he was associated with extremists, and Khan faced allegations about his past dealings with Muslim extremists and anti-Semites. But on his success Goldsmith also wished Khan well, and even his sister and former wife of Imran Khan, Jemima Khan, congratulated Khan on his success. Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe said, “I look forward to working with him.”
Khan joined the Labour party at the age of 15; he studied law, worked as a university professor and also served as chairman of Liberty, a civil liberties pressure group. He was elected as MP first time in 2005 from the Tooting constituency. In 2007 when Gordon Brown became the prime minister, Khan was given his first job in government as a whip and then as a minister of communities. In 2009 he became transport secretary; he was the first Muslim minister in the British Cabinet. Now Khan is London’s first Muslim mayor, a miracle of true democracy where everybody is treated equally and has equal opportunities. We also saw this miracle of democracy eight years ago when for the first time in history, Americans elected their first black president, Barack Obama.
It makes me think if we will ever see the fruits of true democracy in our country, where every citizen is treated equally and has equal opportunities without distinction of race, colour or religion. It is said that we have democracy in Pakistan, but, in fact, we don’t believe in democracy but in dynastical politics and even behave like a civil dictatorship. We treat our minorities like aliens — despite of their role in the making of Pakistan — and have deprived them of their equal rights and status through our national narrative and several articles of the constitution. On April 30, 2016, a ceremony was held in the Awan-e-Sadr where President of Pakistan Mamnoon Hussain lauded the services of Dewan Buhadar S P Singha, a Christian leader, for his role in the creation of Pakistan. To recognize his services the government has issued a commemorative postage stamp of 10-rupee denomination. Undoubtedly, it is a matter of honor and joy for the whole Pakistani nation, and particularly for Christians. But it took 69 years for this recognition. I think this is the first time in Pakistan’s history that any Pakistani Christian’s image has been published on a postage stamp and afforded highly esteemed stature.
Although this step will serve to ease and lesson their suffering for some time, unfortunately, there is no respite for Pakistani Christians. A few days later I read that Pakistani Christians protested in front of the Lahore High Court against the Punjab government’s plans to takeover the land of four churches in order to build the Orange Line Metro Train project.
Though we have a democracy, it is always under threat because of our own wrongdoings. And we cannot even think of any non-Muslim becoming chief minister or governor of Pakistan. We are not even willing to give non-Muslims a party ticket to contest in general elections. Sadly, at present we do not have even a single elected non-Muslim MPA or MNA, while in the UK there are around nine Pakistani Muslim elected MPs, and several members in the House of Lords.
The world is changing, and we will have to as well. The co-chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, has expressed his views about equal rights for all citizens in Pakistan, irrespective of their religion. He said that minorities must have the opportunity to hold important government positions. He further said, “If a Muslim can become the president of India, then why can’t a person belonging to the minority community hold an important official position in Pakistan? In 2013 he expressed his wish to see a Christian prime minister in Pakistan in his lifetime. I don’t think it is ever possible unless we have true democracy in Pakistan, which is a long way to go.
Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif said, the “nation’s future lies in a democratic and liberal Pakistan”, which started a new discussion in the country, and he was heavily criticized for what was seen as an ‘audacious’ statement. There is a dire need to change our thinking, attitude and treatment towards minorities. Political rhetoric and praising their role for their services for Pakistan is not enough. There is an urgent need to put into practice what we say, and we need to learn lessons from the rest of the world, whether it is India, UK or USA.