Junoon’s fame has deeper roots in the hearts of Pakistanis than any notification from the Ministry of Culture.
When the Pakistani band Junoon toured India in May earlier this year, the success they achieved far exceeded expectations. The summer tour gave young Indians an opportunity to see Junoon´s scintillating live performances, with their mix of the high-adrenaline frenzy of rock concerts and the delirium of Sufi khanqahs (shrines), that have caught the imagination of their Pakistani counterparts across the border.The popularity of the remarkable phenomenon that is Junoon, however, did not prevent the Pakistani government from raking up trouble for the group back home.
In September, the government interrogated the band about its “subversive”, “objectionable remarks” made in interviews to Zee TV and the BBC. Junoon was accused of “belittling the concept of the ideology of Pakistan” during its India tour. It was also charged with emphasising “cultural similarities” between India and Pakistan and hinting at “reunification”.
The entire incident is laced with heavy irony, considering that Junoon is not just Pakistan´s most popular band, it is also Pakistan´s most incredibly, even distressingly, patriotic band. One of its hit albums includes a rock rendition of Pakistan´s national anthem. Junoon (in Urdu, “obsession to the point of insanity”) has consistently recited lines from the holy Qur´an in its songs. It has made spirited rock ballads out of the verses of Allama Iqbal, Pakistan´s celebrated national poet. The band also came up with the ´greatest´ patriotic song of the past few years, “Jazba-e-Junoon”, which was a big hit during the last cricket World Cup in 1996. With the holy Qur´an, the national anthem, and Allama Iqbal´s poetry, Junoon´s brand of patriotism is right up the Pakistani state´s alley.
The question therefore is: how was it possible for the government to take on the immensely popular Junoon? Simple: by exploiting the blind spot in Pakistan´s collective psychology – India. It is really quite difficult to imagine Junoon “belittling the concept of the ideology of Pakistan”, and the government action relies on engaging the psychological value of India as the forbidden link in the minds of the Pakistani people.
On its part, Junoon has been making the fundamental mistake of responding in kind, that is, by defending its credentials as the most patriotic band in Pakistan. Junoon´s strong sense of outrage seems to have led to this reaction. It does not seem to understand that you can´t beat the Government of Pakistan on the India wicket. It just is not possible. Junoon is playing to the government´s beat here. That is why the matter sounds so mindless.
Junoon´s best bet would be to change the discourse of the debate itself. Instead of trying to justify themselves on as controversial a question as India, they could challenge the very legitimacy of the government´s action. On what grounds did the government interrogate Junoon? Were these grounds reasonable and were the charges justifiable given the facts of the matter?
One cannot deny, though, that this is a slightly dangerous game for anyone to play. The government may come down harder on Junoon. For there is more to the Junoon affair than the Pakistani state and its hatred for another country. Junoon is a band which has had definite political overtones in its work. It has constantly spoken for change in the interest of the people of Pakistan.
The satellite media and the sales of Junoon´s music can guarantee a voice for Junoon in the worst of government excesses. But it is still a dangerous game. Does Junoon have the gumption to do it? Given its popularity, given its anti-elite, anti-corruption political stance, will Junoon embark on this harder path of protest?
For the moment, it´s not over. And it should not be. In the interest of that larger mission, the popular perception of Junoon´s exit from this mess has to be something more dignified than a public whine. Junoon is currently on a tour of the US and when it gets back, it will still need to re-appear cleaner.
Junoon´s fame has deeper roots in the hearts of Pakistanis than any notification from the Ministry of Culture can ever aspire to. And expectations can only be sublime from a band which has named its successive albums Talaash (Search), Kashmakash (Struggle), Inquilaab (Revolution), and Azadi (Freedom). Junoon should see itself in a constant struggle and this identity is not unknown to it. After all, it is no accident that the most apt message for Junoon´s situa tion comes from one of the group´s favourite poets, Allama Iqbal: Sitaron say aagay jahan aurbhi hain. Abhi ishq kay imtihaan aur bhi hain. (There are still other worlds beyond the stars. There are other ordeals of love yet.)