GUJRANWALA - The country woke up on Wednesday to witness the start of Nawaz Sharif’s journey on GT Road for his return to Lahore, his home and political stronghold. Scattered groups of supporters were witnessed in the beginning and the rally started at 12-30pm instead of its planned schedule that was 11am, perhaps to build momentum and to wait for the supporters to gather. Moreover, what was also missing at Punjab House was the presence of former Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar.
Blue Area, the commercial hub of the capital, was tightly secured and cordoned off; general public gathered along the road to witness the rally. However, the roads linked to main Jinnah Avenue were closed, creating a major hassle for business owners, shopkeepers and other workforce in the area. The rally remained slow and dismal until it reached Faizabad via Zero Point. It is worth mentioning that the capital city connects the two provinces, so having a momentum built for the rally right from the beginning should not have been a challenge; this in a way reflects certain internal challenges that PML-N is facing.
As soon as the rally reached Faizabad, major blocked roads were opened and crowd joined it from different roads that were connecting its route. Throughout this time Nawaz Sharif remained in his bulletproof and shockproof container flanked by a heavy security of different law-enforcement agencies and supported by a mobile hospital unit of the Punjab government.
It took the rally several hours to reach Committee Chowk, Rawalpindi, entering via Faizabad, where Nawaz Sharif was supposed to deliver a speech from his safe container. His presence in the container contradicted his previous stance on container politics and backfired.
Past midnight, on the day one of his journey, he made a speech from within his container, a speech in which he made all his efforts to charge the crowd by telling them that the public mandate had been challenged and they should support him to restore the mandate. The momentum that had been built up very gradually fizzled out once Nawaz Sharif decided to spend the night at Punjab House in Rawalpindi over security concerns.
The absence of Maryam Nawaz Sharif that has been in spotlight during the JIT and the entire episode was felt and it was clear that had he led women, things would have been a little different in terms of the crowd support.
As soon as Nawaz Sharif left the Punjab House, Rawalpindi, on the second day, it seemed the rally was some sort of race against time. The entire entourage of Nawaz Sharif dashed towards Jhelum and decided to spend a night at a local hotel there. On the entire route of the journey, people witnessed the rally but hardly any crowd joined it. So there were more spectators and lesser supporters.
Hotels, motels and guesthouses were overbooked at Jhelum with no proper or prior arrangements by PML-N leaders for their supporters accompanying them from Islamabad. On the contrary, shops, businesses, restaurants, bus stands, truck stands and petrol pumps were forced to close down, creating a major dissatisfaction among the locals who had nothing else to do except witnessing the PML-N GT road show.
On the third day, the rally left Jhelum, crossing Kharian, Lala Musa and Gujrat to finally arrive in Gujranwala, the destination which gave PML-N some face-saving as jubilant crowd and supporters were witnessed there. The credit goes to the strong presence of elected members of PML-N in this region and the momentum was gradually built up
The entire political show has been highlighting slogans and banners “Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif” a reflection of a mindset that still refuses to accept reality.
Is this a wakeup call by Nawaz Sharif for his voters or his pre-election momentum-building campaign? Is this an effort to retain power by inculcating a specific message in the minds of his supporters or is it an effort to hold the house together? The ballot of 2018 will possibly give us the answers.