LAHORE: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Sunday unanimously decided to appoint Syed Mohsin Raza Naqvi, the owner of the City Media Group, as the caretaker chief minister of Punjab. Naqvi was one of the two names suggested by Punjab’s opposition leader Hamza Shehbaz.
Considered a close friend and confidant of former President Asif Ali Zardari, Naqvi’s appointment will be a win for the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) which holds power in the federal capital. Naqvi is also married into the family of outgoing chief minister Chaudhry Pervez Elahi and his cousin Chaudhry Shujat Hussain.
Despite this relationship, the appointment has rubbed Pervez Elahi and his political allies, the Pakistan Tehreek i Insaaf (PTI), the wrong way. PTI’s Fawad Chaudhry rejected the appointment and said that the commission “never failed to disappoint.”
“We reject the decision to appoint a controversial person such as Mohsin Naqvi as the chief minister,” he said while urging party workers to prepare for mass-scale protests led by their leader Imran Khan. “Appointing Naqvi as the caretaker chief minister is making a mockery of the Constitution. The PTI will challenge the decision and protest against it,” said the party’s general secretary Asad Umar in a tweet.
Pervez Elahi also brought up his own relationship with Naqvi, saying “how can a person I am related to be appointed caretaker chief minister? We will approach the Supreme Court regarding the ECP’s decision,” he tweeted, also claiming Naqvi had struck a plea bargain in the Haris Steel case.
Who is Mohsin Naqvi?
A Lahori by birth, Mohsin Naqvi was raised by his maternal uncle after he lost his parents at a young age. Today, his uncle also serves as the chairman of the City Media Group for Mohsin. He followed a pretty traditional path for boys from good families in Lahore. He was a sharp student at the City’s famous Crescent school, displaying early signs of leadership even back then. He followed that up by going to Government College, immersing himself in the Ravian experience. Even as a young student with an easy smile and a polite handshake always at his disposal, his networking was legendary even then. Famously, even as a young undergrad at GCU he somehow established a relationship with the chief minister.
He eventually found himself in the United States for his higher education. Despite being based in Miami, famous for its party schools, Mohsin found himself making his way into an internship at CNN, where he got his first taste of journalism. Perhaps it was here in America, where the media industry has hundreds of local media outlets, that Mohsin got the idea for local media networks in Pakistan. But it would be CNN that sent him back to Pakistan. When no journalist wanted to step into the country considering its slim pickings, the young intern raised his hand and made his way back home proudly wearing the CNN tag on his sleeve. It was at this point that he used the weight that came with the name of CNN along with his exceptional talent at networking to start making a place for himself in the news media business.
At CNN he was a producer, the cheap local labour that foreign journalists use to do their grunt work for them.. As CNN’s man in Pakistan, he played a number of roles, one of which was being the fixer. If a journalist from CNN wanted to come to Pakistan and interview the Chief Minister, Mohsin Naqvi would be the man that made all the arrangements.
He worked the phones, made connections and did his job well. He was never the man in front of the camera, but the field producer working behind the scenes – much as he prefers to run his organisation now. And all the while that he continued to make connections with people – rubbing shoulders with politicians, journalists, and the country’s elite. His affable nature and easy smile only helped him along the way as he continued to rise and make his way into the good books of people that mattered. He was quick to reach out for comment and always restrained, polite and constantly on his best behaviour.
In this time he grew close to a number of people, including Asif Ali Zardari, with whom he formed a much talked-about relationship. But perhaps the true testament to his networking skills was that he married into the Chaudhrys of Gujrat, one of the country’s most prominent political families.
The City Media Empire
It was 2009 when a little known channel by the name of City 42 started appearing on Lahore’s cable networks. The name was not exactly revolutionary, having simply used Lahore’s landline telephone dialling code (042), but the concept was: a channel dedicated exclusively to local news about Lahore, which quickly became one of the most powerful forces in the entire city.
As with any good local media outlet, the plan was simple, it operated like any regular television channel, with an hourly bulletin, morning shows and the works. If something really big happened in any corner of the country, they would go ahead and run it in the bulletins and news tickers, but what made them special was a host of reporters all concentrated in Lahore. Today, despite a national channel and three others as well as a newspaper, C42 remains the City group’s most important asset. Imitation is the greatest form of flattery, and Mohsin Naqvi’s idea got that two-fold, with the Dunya group and Neo news both coming out with local channels soon after C42 had really established itself. ‘Lahore news’ by Dunya, as they admit themselves, couldn’t come close to touching the heights C42 reached, despite having a much larger media machine backing it.
City42 quickly became known for a certain brand of reporting. The channel was keeping an eye on literally everything going on in the city. If there is a wedding in Lahore with even a little socio-political clout, they would be there. If a street was in disrepair and left unattended, a reporter from C42 would quickly make a scathing rebuke of the provincial government’s governance. They would be the first to reach literary festivals, and their vans would be parked outside flower exhibitions well before time. And if a patient’s family is protesting the death of their family member outside a clinic? You bet C42 was going to be there too. Big or small, if anything happened in Lahore, C42 would be there to cover it.
Through this, the City media empire grew. Naqvi eventually grew the group to include a national news channel, a number of local news channels, and a newspaper for the city of Lahore as well.
In a press release, the ECP said that a notification regarding the appointment had been issued while a separate letter had been dispatched to Punjab Governor Balighur Rehman for administering the oath to Naqvi. The governor is expected to administer the oath soon, but may be challenged in court which could trigger another constitutional crisis in Punjab.