Maryam’s rapid rise, resplendent success, and popularity in the PMLN are evidently being clouded by curious concern and reaction from some senior stalwarts or uncles in the party. Shahid Khaqan Abbasi’s recent rendezvous with Nawaz Sharif in London, for instance, once again highlighted the scenario of how some uncles feel about Maryam being entrusted with the reins of power. It should be remembered that Abbasi has also resigned from the Cabinet’s Coordination Committee on the Budget. Earlier, he even stepped down as the Senior Vice-President when Maryam was promoted to this position. He affirmed Nawaz as his leader, vowed to enter elections under his guidance until his retirement, yet he ventured no such assurance to follow Maryam. Some vloggers have even claimed that he has already started moving towards the PTI.
Abbasi was evidently the only peer from the N-League ever trusted to be a Premier outside its tightly knit dynastic clan. He is also well-educated and exudes confidence in conversations and talk shows. In a normal democratic system where party leaders step aside for emerging peers, he would evidently be aspiring for the top slot. Yet he lost elections in his native constituency, and the League had to sacrifice one of its safer slots to keep him in the wings. In contrast, Maryam commands charisma and wonder, attracting and swaying crowds with her cool, convincing, and articulate style of speech. She spearheads the courage to act, talk, and take up issues avoided by most politicians. Her courage and style have almost instantly transformed the traditions of implicit obedience and lack of confrontation of the Muslim Leagues, which have prevailed since their inception in 1906. The zeal and outburst of supporters accompanying her to the NAB office in Lahore on August 12, 2020, almost instantly infused new energy into the N-League’s lackluster spirit, style, and confidence.
This surge almost instantly reminded people of the rare courage and spectacle spawned by the struggle of her mother, Kalsoom Nawaz, against the incarceration of Nawaz Sharif by General Musharraf. General Musharraf had even detained Kalsoom. However, she displayed unique courage and style, slipping from her detention on Saturday, July 8, 2000, to lead a car rally until the road was barricaded and her car was hauled by a crane, leaving it dangling in the air. The images of this remarkable venture, suddenly splashed by the media around the world, almost forced General Musharraf to send the Sharifs to a safer sanctuary in Saudi Arabia for about a decade.
Like her mother, Maryam has also imparted a new image and clout to the N-League, and Nawaz, realizing her appeal and potential, raised her to senior organizational ranks. Her elevation evidently aims to fill the void of his own absence from Pakistan and ensure new energy and stamina to sustain the most hectic, grueling exertions and strains of traveling around the country for the organization, electioneering, and campaigning. Nawaz would also need her charismatic clout to manage and amplify his party’s image, appeal, and acceptance. This quest becomes even more paramount in the context of the appalling economic crisis plaguing the PDMA alliance run by Shahbaz Sharif.
The crushing burden of taxes, scarcity, high prices, deprivation, and the growing desperation and disillusionment of the masses for their basic needs evidently demand a new icon to inspire trust in the League’s capacity to address this crisis. No figure in the Sharif family or outside it has yet emerged to rival Maryam’s mantle. Shahbaz, despite his reputation for being an excessively enthusiastic and energetic project manager, has rarely been a man of the masses.
Nawaz evidently must have long pondered over this situation while elevating Maryam to the most coveted party niche of the senior-most vice president and chief organizer. However, the reaction and reservations against Maryam’s elevation by party cadres like Abbasi, Sardar Mehtab Khan, or the enigmatic Nisar Chaudhry may be just the tip of the iceberg. Maryam indeed tried to appease and extol Abbasi as her senior, worthy of great regard and reverence, and revealed her intention to meet with him to clarify the matter. In a rather surprising gesture, Abbasi himself went to her at Model Town. He also disclosed how she had solicited his cooperation in running the party affairs, requested him to refrain from making statements about her elevation, and instead sort out his concerns and priorities regarding party tickets in his area and other party matters. Abbasi also declared that his resignation was meant to ensure an “open field” for Maryam to fulfill her responsibilities.
Some inner family ambitions and concerns, besides Abbasi, may be even more crucial, copious, and crippling for her. But a real challenge to her success lies in the conundrum of the splintered state and shifting sands of the PTI citadel, as well as the new loyalties and strategies of its remnant stalwarts and parties like the IPP that have emerged from its shambles. Even the PPP, long banished and restricted to Sindh by the dictators, struggling for survival against the MQM’s suffocating grip, has been striving for an impressive presence in Punjab. They project Bilawal as a young, innovative, and energetic reformer who can address the abysmal economic crisis, mounting misery, and deprivation of the masses.
Given this confusing election contest and the reaction and response of the voters, even if the N-League manages to secure a potent majority to lead the nation, Maryam’s rise to the prime pedestal would still depend on her father’s passion to prolong his own experienced and geriatric grip or to step back as a father mentor and ordain Maryam as a relatively younger iconic face, a fresh hope, and the first ever flamboyant female Premier from Punjab.