Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif's caravan on Saturday left for Lahore from Gujranwala, where he had stayed overnight after delivering a fiery speech in which he raged against the judges of the Supreme Court.
This is the fourth and last day of his 'homecoming' rally that set off from Islamabad on August 9. His motorcade was supposed to leave Gujranwala at 11am, but was delayed till 12:30pm due to unknown reasons.
His motorcade later reached Muridke, where a large crowd of supporters have gathered to welcome him. The caravan was joined by a rally from Sialkot, led by Minister of Foreign Affairs Khawaja Asif. PML-N leader Abid Sher Ali also arrived to welcome the ousted PML-N supremo.
Upon reaching Lahore, Sharif will address supporters at Shahdara Chowk and then at Data Darbar, which will be his final stop.
Nawaz Sharif walked onto the stage set up for his address in Muridke amidst loud cheers.
"Do not be disappointed," he started, "do not worry. This is your victory. This is the defeat of those who have held the nation hostage for 70 years."
"The 200 million people of this country are the real owners of this country. A few cannot over rule them. We will make the 200 million people of Pakistan its real owners again," he said.
"Nawaz Sharif has come to you. Did you not send Nawaz to Islamabad after making him prime minister?" he asked, prompting assent from the crowd.
"But he was thrown out by someone else. Is this decision acceptable to you?" he roared, with the crowd responding with a resounding "no!"
"Pakistan belongs to its 200 million people. The decision [to depose me] is not yours. If Nawaz Sharif would have been involved in corruption, you would have dragged me out of office yourself."
"There are no allegations of corruption against me. Tell me, people of Muridke, do you accept this [the Supreme Court's] decision? Is this insult acceptable to you?" he said, receiving loud responses of "no!"
The deposed prime minister then repeated elements of the same narrative he'd built in Jhelum, Gujrat and Gujranwala: urging his loyalists to seek accountability from those who'd ousted him from power; reminding them of his government's achievements; and taking credit for tackling the country's problems, most prominently to have lowered load-shedding (and promising it would have disappeared by next year had he been in power).
"I was serving the country and its people. I was building roads and motorways. Balochistan was progressing; young people were starting to get employment. If I had been allowed to complete my tenure, there would have been no unemployment in this country," he claimed.
"For 70 years, Pakistan has been played with. No other country in this world is being cheated like this," he said.
He also continued to rile up his followers, telling them that the Supreme Court decision was an insult to their vote and that the apex court had lowered Pakistan's standing in the international community by sending him packing.
"Shouldn't there be a revolution?" he said. "Are you ready for a revolution?" he asked.
"Pakistan is being embarrassed in the world because of this decision. People across the world and Pakistanis are rejecting the decision."
"The world is laughing at Pakistan," he said. "I cannot accept this."
"Will you stand by Nawaz Sharif in the revolution?" he asked, inviting cheers of "yes!"
"I know Muridke will stand by what is right. They will not bow down."
"Stand by me when my message reaches you," he urged. "Do not let your passion die. Do you promise to stand with me?" he asked, prompting cheers of "we will!"
Lahore prepares a grand welcome
In Lahore, supporters are busy preparing at Shahdara Chowk and Data Darbar to welcome Sharif's caravan, which is expected to reach by 6pm.
The stage at Shahdara Chowk has been set for Sharif's speech and LCD screens and floodlights have been installed at the venue. Preparations are also underway at Data Darbar, where Sharif will address his supporters later.
The crowd accompanying the rally on its last day is much larger than it was in the first three days.
Roads around Lahore have been blocked, with traffic running only one-way, and shops will remain closed. Nearly 8,000 police officers are deployed to ensure security in the area while 2,000 traffic wardens will control traffic.
Security forces today arrested a suspicious person from Data Darbar.
The rally started on Wednesday when Sharif left Punjab House, Islamabad to go to Lahore via Grand Trunk (GT) Road, amid strict security. The former premier's motorcade includes police and elite forces vehicles as well.
Analysts weigh in on 'homecoming' rally
PPP Senator Sherry Rehman
Talking to DawnNews, Rehman rejected PML-N's narrative that Nawaz Sharif's ouster poses a threat to democracy and therefore, PPP has not joined the ruling party's rally.
"We (PPP) have been called friendly opposition in the past because we stood with the government to protect democracy at the time of the [PTI's] sit-ins. But democracy is not related to Nawaz Sharif's personality and it is not under any threat," she said.
Speaking on Nawaz's rally, Shirazi said that the former premier should have emphasised on reaching a national consensus instead of taking to the roads.
"The narrative Nawaz Sharif is trying to develop [by this power show] is not the best way to tackle this issue. He is trying to take things towards institutional collision," he said. adding that Parliament was the best forum to address this issue, which he [Sharif] did not respect.
The DawnNews anchor views the rally as a "three-pronged model with Shahid Khaqan Abbasi in the centre, Shahbaz Sharif in Punjab and Nawaz Sharif reaching out to the public", that benefits PML-N.
Abbasi said that the rally is Sharif's "campaign for relevancy".
"All leaders that have been [deposed] have stayed politically active. If Nawaz Sharif leaves quietly, his party and voters will be disappointed," she said, and deemed it important for Sharif to keep himself involved in politics.
"Shahbaz Sharif will continue in Punjab to complete the projects he has started, while Shahid Khaqan Abbasi is in the centre and is a dignified personality that is acceptable to all quarters. Nawaz Sharif had no other option but to come out on roads because sitting in Raiwand would have meant political redundancy," Abbasi added.
However, she disagreed with Sharif's rhetoric and the narrative he is trying to develop through his speeches.
On Friday, the third day of his homeward journey, Sharif vowed before a big welcoming crowd to fight back against a “conspiracy” hatched to hinder economic progress and infrastructural development in Pakistan.
“Some people did not like Pakistan’s progress [so they] ousted your elected prime minister on frivolous charges,” he told the mammoth rally along the GT Road in Gujranwala, historically a PML-N stronghold.
PML-N workers had started gathering on the GT Road earlier in the day and the crowd swelled to a huge size by the time Sharif arrived in the city, at around 7pm.
Raging against “conspirators desecrating the sanctity of votes cast by 200 million Pakistanis”, Sharif had asked the crowd whether they supported the Supreme Court’s decision to oust him.
The highly-charged audience shouted, “No.”
Sharif thanked the crowd for their unwavering support and announced that he would remember the rally in Gujranwala for the rest of his life.
Sharif's rally on Friday was marred by the death of a nine-year-old child near Lalamusa, who was run over by an Elite Forces vehicle part of his convoy.
None of the cars in the convoy had stopped to take account of the child's injuries, DawnNews had reported.
The child was taken to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead. His father had fainted upon seeing his son's body and had also required medical attention.