Nawaz Sharif’s home going rally has a number of aims. It is meant to tell his political adversaries that despite disqualification the former PM is still alive and kicking. It is also aimed at sending the message that there is no decline in his popularity. Nawaz Sharif continues to maintain the posture of a man more sinned against than sinning. The court, he maintains, found no evidence of corruption in his case and the decision to disqualify him had been taken before the judgment. Further, he is one of the several PMs in the country who were removed before they could compete their tenure. He interprets his disqualification as a part of a string of actions against democracy over the last several decades by the powers that be. The idea behind the rally which will take several days to reach Lahore is to enable the PML-N to ride to victory in 2018 over a wave of sympathy. But can the rally create it?
The move has perturbed political opponents who had written Sharif off for good. Imran Khan has accused Sharif of undermining judiciary, destroying democracy and pressurising NAB which is about to open cases against the Sharif family. The PML-N government has also been lambasted for expending state resources in making Sharif’s move a success. This might be correct but high scale political confrontations invariably translate into a burden on state expenditure. It was claimed by Ishaq Dar that arrangements made in the capital during Imran Khan’s 2014 protests had cost government PKR 760.5 million. The cost of Nawaz Sharif’s adventure where ruling party’s parliamentarians as well as allied Local Government officials are supposed to cart off spectators and cheer leaders is yet to be worked out.
The PML-N faces a challenge. Nawaz Sharif’s reception in Lahore will be compared to BB’s arrival in the city in April 1996 and in Karachi in December 2007. In both cases the government was hostile and party under pressure. With full support from the PML-N government at the centre and Punjab will Nawaz Sharif be able to put up as impressive and, what is even more important, as enthusiastic and charged a show?