Nawaz Sharif, the new prime minister of Pakistan, and his victorious Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party, can’t seem to tell the difference between lions and tigers.
Sharif proudly boasts that he is “Babar sher-e-Punjab” -- the “lion of Punjab” (his native province). Members and supporters of the PML-N party are also frequently referred to as “lions.”
However, the party’s campaign literature and various websites of both PML-N and Sharif himself feature not the regal lion as its symbol, but rather a Bengal Tiger.
What complicates matters further is that in the Urdu language, “sher” can mean either “lion” or “tiger” -- although “Babar sher” (the term Sharif has awarded himself) specially means “lion.”
In this Facebook page for the party, Sharif is called “Lion of Pakistan,” although the accompanying illustration is clearly that of a tiger.
Again, on this “official” Facebook page for PML-N, one sees the same tiger illustration.
However, on this website, which appears to be for the U.S.-based supporters of the PML-N party, both lions and tigers are featured.
Moreover, during the election campaign in Pakistan, a rare white tigress (a recessive mutant form of the Bengal Tiger) that Sharif carried around during public appearances and political rallies tragically died in the wilting heat, apparently from dehydration.
According to reports, the tigress, which was dragged around at rallies in the city of Lahore, was owned by Mian Marghoob, a former PML-N official who also owns other big cats on his farm.
Whether or not the party’s symbol is a lion or a tiger, in a nation like Pakistan, where almost half the population is illiterate and people vote for candidates and parties that use prominent symbols, PML-N supporters who cannot read nor write simply pulled the lever for the party represented by the large feline.
But the larger issue here is not what the symbol of PML-N is, but rather the morality of using big cats as a mascot for a political campaign.
Rina Saeed Khan, an environmental journalist based in Islamabad, pointed out in an opinion piece in Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper that Sharif should not use any animals in any way in his political activities out of respect -- the Bengal Tiger, she reminds, is an endangered species, numbering about 2,500 in the wild. Moreover, they are primarily concentrated in the dwindling jungles of India, Bangladesh and Nepal (i.e., nowhere near Pakistan).
Saeed Khan pointed out that the last known Bengal Tiger ever seen in the wilds of what is now Pakistan was shot dead by a hunter in 1906.
She alleges that the tigers (as well as some lions) that have appeared at PML-N rallies “are kept in poor conditions, paraded around and probably drugged.”
“These are not domestic animals, they are wild animals with wild instincts and they cannot cope with all the loud sounds and mistreatment at rallies,” said Uzma Khan of the Pakistan branch of the World Wildlife Federation (WWF).
Faryal Gohar, a Pakistani actress and conservationist, is reportedly planning to file a petition with the Lahore High Court to ban the illegal use of wildlife animals at rallies and other similar activities. WWF supports the petition.
Such animals should never be used for campaigning, Saeed Khan asserted in order to make lawmakers seem more “fierce.”
“If our newly elected political leaders really want to prove that they are wiser and more civilized this time around they should stop their followers from abusing these wild animals,” Saeed Khan said.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.