The showdown begins

 
October 18, 2020

The much-anticipated showdown between 11 opposition parties and the government began in Gujranwala on Friday night. The stadium in Gujranwala looked full to capacity but, as always, the estimation...

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The much-anticipated showdown between 11 opposition parties and the government began in Gujranwala on Friday night. The stadium in Gujranwala looked full to capacity but, as always, the estimation of crowd numbers vary depending on who is asked. For the government, it was a 'failed', 'small' jalsa. The opposition, though, seemed quite happy with the turnout. Independent observers have erred on the side of a rather respectable crowd – despite some wondering if it was enough given the 11 parties present.

However, this is not really the point. The main question is whether the opposition movement under the PDM gains momentum. Certainly the ordinary people at the rally are said to have been deeply unhappy about inflation and unemployment. The speeches too were fierce and directed openly against the PTI government. While the government has declared the rally a failure, for many people the right things were said – especially given the current crippling finances facing the majority of the country's citizens. Opposition leaders who took the stage one by one late into the night asked why PTI members were not themselves being brought to book for corruption. In a no-holds-barred speech that was relayed only online, Nawaz Sharif continued with the narrative he has taken up.

That the government declared yesterday's jalsa a failure was to be expected. But can the government honestly say that the people are not in extreme misery due to the price hikes and inflation? Whether the opposition can bring about any meaningful change is unclear, but what is clear is that the opposition can very easily tap into this very raw resentment within the people. We have seen that before. PM Imran Khan has mocked the Gujranwala jalsa as a 'circus'. While that may be all well and good, what does the prime minister propose when it comes to the countless numbers of groups either gathered or planning to gather in protest? It will neither be easy nor in any way advantageous to brand every citizen's voice seditious or treasonous. On Saturday, the prime minister addressed a Tiger Force convention during which he promised to crack down heavily on the 'corrupt'. At the moment then, what with a rally scheduled for today in Karachi, the PDM seems to have created something of a stir. Whether it becomes an actual storm will be clear from the tone and content of today's jalsa. The opposition is standing firm on its resolve to hold protest rallies against the government. The government is standing firm (on the face of it) on its corruption rhetoric. And the people? They had just rather have jobs, security, food and education. Simple demands? Not in today's Pakistan.



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