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August 8, 2017

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View from the Gallery: Nawaz opens his heart to public tomorrow

Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif wants to open up his heart to the public like a popular leader often does. He complains of having been treated lately by powerful institutions in a way an elected premier doesn’t deserve. But his party’s government handpicked by him recently, as well as political pragmatism required in the peculiar civil-establishment relations in this “land of the pure”, doesn’t allow him that much space to act on a fast forward mode that may be cautious, erratic

Still some people demand that he should open up to some extent to satisfy millions of his voters and supporters subdued and in low morale in the Panama Leaks days since April-May 2016, but rejuvenated to some extent after the decision as his disqualification on the “Iqama issue” was not received well by public at large minus PTI and like-minded.

Still, the leader and PML-N have to cover much lost ground in terms of public approval and the GT Road Islamabad- Lahore show kick starting on Wednesday. It will also be a test of claims and counters.  Some doomsday friendly ‘deeply connected’ anchors would only be checkmated if such a show of public power is amply witnessed from north to central Punjab. Till Wednesday such paratrooper anchors would remain perturbed due to Sharif’s GT Road sojourn and unique security and political reasons cum hazards, they feel, should bar him from such a political adventure. 

PTI chief also echoes their sentiments. Some of Sharif’s close aides also object to the timing of such a limited time or scale adventurism that they believe would only annoy “powers that be” who would wish to see a tamed down former premier much on the lines of the then President Zardari in post Memogate scenario. But a muted Sharif at this point of time also runs the risk of minimising the 2018 elections prospects for his party. 

When the Panama case had begun, opponents of Nawaz claimed that the PML-N was going to be hit by desertions. This did not happen but the propaganda gained ground in the wake of 3-2 split SC decision. The PML-N, however, remained intact. After the JIT was formed and started investigations, the rivals' claims of imminent PML-N split resurfaced but the party survived this jolt as well. Then came the SC decision based on the JIT report and media trial of Nawaz and his party also got momentum. The detractors had even given numbers (40-44) of likely desertions. The PML-N came out unscathed from this phase too. Then came the stages of nominating a PM and selecting the cabinet and the party suffered no friction what to talk about desertions as was projected by the opponents. 

For Nawaz now came the stage of winning the support of public and convincing them that he was subjected to injustice. Till now his supporters and workers greeted him enthusiastically on three occasions in Murree and Islamabad. Tomorrow (Wednesday) is the great test for Nawaz and it is to be seen how much success he achieves in attracting the people when he starts his journey to Lahore. After a long time he has started a process of meeting public as is done in election campaigns. He has to tell the people that he suffered injustice and there were many irregularities in probe conducted by the JIT. Foreign media has published many comments in favour of Nawaz in this regard.

For the time being, he can only do a difficult balancing act, making sure his federal and two provincial governments complete the term without any friction with the two other powerful institutions. At the same time, he could explain the prevalent political scenario to his voters and supporters without estranging them for being too pragmatic. Or giving them an impression that he and PML-N want to stick on to power come what may.  So, we should not expect much from Sharif’s GT Road show of strength. No “fireworks” except some political muscle flexing in the post Panama case days. But he has to fill in the political appetite of his support base--hungry to hear some old school defiance from the man who claims of having been transformed into an ideological person.  For now, Sharif tells indirectly, that the set-up under Premier Abbasi may continue till the next elections, and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif is “more or less” to stay in the Punjab. So who will contest elections from the seat vacated by him in Lahore after his disqualification? 

“We are pondering over it,” he states, but his daughter Maryam Nawaz or some other family member is the obvious choice. Sitting in the same hall, strategically placed at a far end, an ever vigilant Maryam smiles in conformity. She could be the best choice to return from her father’s seat--he has never lost except for the 2002 elections when he was in exile and then in 2008 when he was not allowed to contest. But at the same time she, along with her father, could sense and feel the web of conspiracies tightening around their polity.

In the larger context, and on the surface, they beam very powerful for enjoying uninterrupted rule in the centre with a comfortable majority, but deep down they know the real power lies somewhere else, and this is what the former premier is hinting and suggesting since his ouster. Now, he suggests a new social contract in the country amongst stake holders in run up to elections, but that seems a far cry when the PPP is trying to play ball with the real establishment, and the PTI is in no mood to listen.   

On Monday, a semi-formal type media interaction with the former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, one day prior to his GTRoad public show, was something that one couldn’t miss on the heels of a National Assembly session. The Punjab House, located half a mile away from the Prime Minister House, where the former premier lately resides, bustles these days with political activity. It is an open secret that almost all the ministers still like to call him the prime minister, and the incumbent premier has no objection to it. Premier Abbasi is being castigated these days by the PTI and Sheikh Rashid bandwagon for being too subservient to the Sharifs. But, in fact, he has too elder Sharif holds the real clear power in government and party ranks.  So at the Punjab House on Monday afternoon, one could obviously see a bee line of ministers and party leaders, media persons included, that sometimes chokes a single road separating the premises from Judges Colony. Parking spaces are filled to the annoyance of security deputed, but this is how democracy works – freedom of movement and speech. Here emotions rule the roost, and discipline is much less priority. In Sharif’s case, some powerful quarters want to limit both his moment and speech. He has been through worst in 1999, the situation at hand may be very tricky, but less dangerous politically. After all we live in a democracy – how much limited or controlled it may be or manifest.       

Half a mile away from the Punjab House, Parliament is firmly in place. Some of its experienced members now complain that Panama case has eroded authority of the highest legislative forum of the country which also exhibits “will of the masses”. In its third sitting of the session at hand after electing a prime minister last week, the report of the committee on elections reforms was finally laid. Now, the whole thing needs to undergo some incorporation, vetting. The PTI wants voting rights for overseas Pakistanis as well as electronic voting introduced, and much more.

 But the pick of the day was Dr Shireen Mazarri’s outburst against Ayesha Gulalai, the new PTI rebel. As soon as Dr Mazarri saw her sitting in the rear benches, she cried out “stranger in the House”. But surprisingly it didn’t get that favourable and instant response from rest of the PTI bandwagon even when heavy weights like Jahangir Khan Tareen could also be seen seated. Ayesha braved the situation well--calm and composed as no one of the former colleagues would talk to her or see her eye to eye. She wanted to respond and even went to the Speaker’s dice, but was perhaps advised not to stir unwarranted controversy. Everyone knew the latest PTI trick of equating Ayesha Gulalai-Imran Khan controversy to Hamza Shahbaz-Ayesha Ahad divorce issue didn’t work even when the PTI spokesperson or social media teams play havoc with political and social norms just to favour their leader. The show must go on.

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