Imagine the lack of sense and homework, that received wisdom in the powers that he was, that once Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will be disqualified, people will turn against him; that a four year long media trial, fake news, and raining down of false allegations will turn the country against him.
The exact opposite turned out to be true: what we saw in the four day long return to his private residence in Lahore was seething anger at the usurpation of their vote; rage at their mandate being robbed. The anger was mixed with an enormous amount of sympathy for Mian Nawaz Sharif and his family – the people had seen on their televisions and on social media the daily humiliation of the family and the daily libel against them. Hence, from the day he started out from Punjab house in Islamabad, to the day he made his speech in Data Darbar in Lahore four days later, millions poured out on the roads and manifested all these sentiments in expressions of love for him. Let me also explain the ‘millions’: there was no one ground or venue where Nawaz Sharif had called people to come from all over Pakistan. But hundreds of thousands were on the roads in their respective cities; in every city or town that his cavalcade passed through, or where he addressed the public, showering rose petals, playing songs of support, dancing, playing traditional dhols (drums), trying to touch his car and run alongside it. There is no way to calculate this total number - of all these people put together from Faizabad to Kachehri Chowk in Rawalpindi, to smaller towns like Deena and Mandra, to roads of larger cities like Jehlum, Gujrat, and Gujranwala to Shahdara and Azadi Chowk to Data Darbar in Lahore.
This came as a shock to his detractors, and cable TV and private channel owners not aligned with the establish viewpoint were prevented from acknowledging or showing the mammoth crowds; while those aligned were dutifully announcing crowds of three thousand or five thousand. However, social media did it again and ‘broke the internet’ so to speak, forcing the electronic media to start admitting the immense response the Prime Minister was receiving. One signal went out loud and clear: the common people, not just the intelligentsia, had seen through the conspiracy, and were refusing to support this intervention, or judicial coup. The game had changed. However, not having learnt from the recent past, the opponents continue to circulate and ‘break’ fake stories – which are consistently failing to achieve the intended goals. Even yesterday, two fake stories were leaked: one with regard to the reference against Justice Khosa and the other regarding the removal of the Prime Minister’s nephew from the responsibility to organise the election campaign for the upcoming by-election in the NA-120.
The second consequence of the game changing and evidence of popular support is that it has afforded the Prime Minister room to maneuver. In addition to the space he has gained by the power show, a few good decisions on his part have further strengthened his position: the new Prime Minister and Interior Ministers were excellent choices. The younger brother remaining in Punjab and keeping it stable was another extremely wise choice. And putting forward his wife, Qulsoom Nawaz, to contest from NA-120 (his vacated seat) was pure genius. The ouster of the former interior minister was long, long overdue and the country finally has an interior minister who is above suspicion of any kind.
With all this in place, the primary political focus of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif should now naturally be on the Senate elections and general elections next year, apart of course from the cases and references against himself and his family. Whatever the price he pays in any negotiations that take place (and the show of strength has put him in a position to negotiate), his efforts must be directed at the next general election taking place on time to keep the democratic project intact and not allow any interim setup that could remain in place for years, which would then mutilate the constitution once again. One of the most important targets of any conspirators would be the 18th amendment of the constitution, which must be protected as a sacred article. As long as elections take place on time, the rest will take care of itself – not literally, but the most important and fundamental aim of letting the people of Pakistan give the mandate again to whom they choose will have been achieved.
It will be important for Mr. Sharif to remember that the game is larger than his person or his family alone. And I believe he knows it. Hence, his strategy and responses will need to be mindful of this fact, to keep his eye on the ball.