Never did I realise before the NA-120 election that anger could be expressed in terms of love. What I witnessed was confounding, defiant of belief and intelligent. Anger normally results in violence, or so our experience and brains tell us. But what I witnessed in the behaviour of the beautiful people of Punjab was that they expressed it through love.
On 17 September 2017, there were two rigging events. One was of the deep state against its people and the other was that of the people against the deep state. I was on the ground. And the situation changed from worrisome to hilarious. Pakistan really is changing. By 11.30 am I had received enough reports of voter suppression to issue a social media instruction for N-Leauge voters to take off their T-shirts, donn PTI bandanas to facilitate entry into polling booths and carry out counter-rigging by ensuring their votes were cast. Just past that I started to receive pictures and videos of people who donned PTI bandanas to be able to enter polling booths past the army cordons.
Polling station after polling station, we encountered stories of voter suppression. Some pertained to ejecting voters because of the ‘parchi’ they had brought, others because of the T-Shirts they were wearing. I advised the ones I could to strip the symbols. I was a small voice. I don’t know what the election cell did. But the public caught on. They changed their clothes, some of them. Those who did succeeded. The others remained locked outside. But the vote bank was so large that the extra constitutional forces still did not manage to defeat Kulsoom Nawaz. With the help of the Milli Muslim Leauge and the Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah they did manage to cut Nawaz’s vote by over 14,000. The rest was cut by picking up their UC Chairmen in Vigo Dalas the night before and sending threatening calls to the rest of them to lay off from getting the vote out. This was another 20,000 give or take, by my estimate.
All of this happened. Threatened people layed off but still people voted Nawaz Sharif back in. Yes, the establishment won in cutting the vote their underhand techniques, but the people won because they understood within hours what was happening. They changed their T-Shirts; they got ‘parchis’ from PTI camps; they defeated the establishment. The people defeated the establishment at their game.
Three days later a video emerged, where people of Lahore had surrounded a jeep of military men and were sloganeering. It’s worth a watch. People belonging in what is considered the heart of Punjab, the province considered also as the bastion of the army, are challenging the army: an army truck full of jawans is surrounded by a sea of people shouting,, singing and dancing and telling the army that the king of their hearts is Nawaz Sharif. It’s a beautiful peaceful mob, not hurting anyone, but sending a message. The soldiers are at a loss, they don’t know what to do. They are surrounded.
The election was on Sunday. Come Friday and hilarity ensued. Even PTI understood the nature of the double edged sword and absented itself from the vote after public face saving via fiery opposition. If they really supported their amendment, wouldn’t they have stayed in the House and voted? Why did they walk out at the crucial moment? Are they stupid beyond belief or are they scared beyond belief? Who knows? I’d like to go along with the ‘scared’ theory because I’d still like to think they’re not that stupid.
I can’t tell whose goose is cooked right now, but it sure feels like the game is on. The boys may just have to do an outright coup because all other methods are being challenged by the people. Let’s see.
Thing is, God knows what the establishment will do or wont do. But what is clear is that the PTI has taken fright from its Abbu Ji. After Nawaz’s disqualification, the cases against Imran have gained speed and strength. And this has given a second thought to the PTI and hence the desertion from the Senate. Their desertion from this vote should become their biggest indictment.
They actually ran away from the amendment they proposed. And the people should know it.
The writer is a human rights worker and freelance columnist.