Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif left the Punjab House in Islamabad around noon on Wednesday, embarking on his journey back to his hometown, Lahore, via Grand Trunk (GT) Road. There were worries that the controversial homecoming would turn violent in case of a showdown with PTI, but there was never a doubt that PML-N supports along the way would come out in large numbers to greet the former PM on the streets.

This show of numbers in itself is a victory for the former PM, after the trauma of the Panama verdict. It also means that a lot of the support for the PML-N is not based on an evaluation of the merits of the Panama case, but is parochial and hard to shift. The nature of the PML-N supporter is something the opposition has not been able to tamper with, especially the PTI, a party that ironically relies on the same type of loyal-to-a-fault supporter.

Various routes have been sealed in Rawalpindi while hotels, motels, and shops remain closed, causing inconvenience to the people. The same will happen to Lahore, and there will be few who thank the ousted PM for it. Tight security preparations were made along GT road, with the deployment of plain-clothed policemen as well as elite force commandos. A helicopter is also following the procession to provide security to the former PM’s convoy. The huge expense of securing the route could have been avoided had Nawaz Sharif taken the motorway, but the opportunity to return home surrounded by crowds on GT road was too much temptation and the enormous task of securing the route was entrusted to the unlucky Punjab Government.

Nawaz Sharif, was adamant to embark on his journey, which he maintains is not “a protest” but “a journey back home” that he is undertaking because “risks need to be taken for the country.” This journey, that is not a rally, or a campaign, or a protest, still strikes a very strong note in the run up to the election for NA-120, where his wife Kulsoom Nawaz may be standing for election. After his disqualification, there was a clear need for Nawaz Sharif to show a connection with his supporters.

All in all it is a spectacle, and its success will be reflected in the election at NA-120, considering it may be his wife or daughter contesting. The candidate will be finalised once Nawaz Sharif reaches Lahore. At the current pace that may take a few days. All the while the outed PM basks in the glory of his reception and shows the country that he may be out, but he’s not gone.