Tuesday, November 27

‘Gentleman! You’re on for a solo flight’

The second homecoming of former premier Nawaz Sharif – actually a journey from Medina to the Data Darbar – was given due hype possible within shortest possible time between his decision to return and November 25, and people thronged to receive him at the City airport.
But questions are: Was it really that historic a welcome as far as number of people are concerned? Whither the total strength of the Pakistan Muslim League (N)? Is he really ready for a solo flight sans his old comrades sitting in his opposite camp?
It was a total contrast to what it was when he landed at the Islamabad Airport on September 10 where he was treated like an unwanted individual, and was sent back to Saudi Arabia within hours. This second homecoming on November 25 – within 45 days of his first arrival – was all together different where he was allowed to move ahead along a rally towards the city where he had served twice as Chief Minister after his stint as provincial finance minister for four years. No doubt, he was also prime minister twice, and had his constituency in the city, which is said to be the citadel of the Sharifs. He will be contesting 7th election, if at all he does so, and the option of boycott is not availed. He did not opt for 2002 elections when he was in exile in Saudi Arabia.
It all started well on Sunday evening (November 25) when the PML (N) leaders and activists courageously reached the premises of the airport. From about 5,000 people at the airport, the crowd kept on growing as Nawaz Sharif’s caravan moved on the city roads. When he, in the company of his brother Shahbaz Sharif, left the airport, the crowed was less than 10,000, which kept on building till he reached the Ghari Shahi Chowk at 2.15 am, where it had touched its maximum of 35,000 besides hundreds of cars and more number of motorcycles.
It was expected that considering the number of welcome camps and people present there, besides those joining later on, the number could cross 100,000 by the time he reached the Darbar, and his constituency en route. But it did not happen so.
One could see maximum number at the Joray Pull, Cantt Sadder and Ghari Shahu, where about 35,000 people were present.
However, this number started receding when Nawaz Sharif’s caravan moved towards Lakshami Chowk and Gawalmandi – the last being his constituency or the Nawaz Sharif’s citadel, as put by the N-leaders.
When he crossed to the narrow alleys of Gawalmandi, one could ‘positively’ put number as above 5,000 to be on the safe side, but it reached about 10,000 mark by the time he reached the Data Darbar at 5.15 am, where people from the adjoining areas started walking along the caravan, which had not happened earlier.
At the welcome camps, erected by prospective candidates of the particular constituencies, mostly youngsters below voting age, could be seen more vibrant whereas the ‘leaders’ were sitting there to welcome their leader only. However, they did not move along the caravan when it moved towards the final destination. Hence, one could see more banners and less number of people.
“Leaders did not support the caravan. If each one of them had brought 200 persons, the tally could have easily crossed 10,0000 figure, and they would have moved along the caravan for all night. But all the leaders came alone and remained there alone, as they had not brought workers with them,” said a senior PML (N) leader seeking anonymity. “There was no noticeable rally from across the Punjab. People came on their own, and there were no arrangements, either travel or food, for them,” he said.
About the accusations of arrests, he could only mince words because even the arrested ones released could make a minor difference.
“Was it a fear factor or the long hours spent on roads?” When quizzed, he maintained that it was so because the Karachi blasts had deterred many people from coming to the rally. “But how many?” “Not all, but mostly”, he maintained, while admitting the fact that the reception could have been far better what it was on Sunday and Monday morning.
“Perhaps Nawaz Sharif has to reinvent himself in the changed circumstances where the powers-that-be are supporting another Muslim League comprising mostly his men, who had made him successful from 1988 to October 1999,” said PPP leader Altaf Qureshi, while adding that he must try to weigh his options in a situation he previous party had been bifurcated into Q and N wings. “In the next elections, he will be contesting against others, including his ex-coterie sans any support of hidden hands, which are this time supporting the Mullahs and the Quislings. Gentleman! You’re on for a solo flight,” maintained Qureshi.

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