The long march, much dreaded by the authorities and much awaited by those who felt the need to vicariously impose misery on the present political setup, began its journey from Lahore on Sunday. Whether it ends up making a difference, turns out to be a mirage or make matters worse is certainly not of the marchers’ immediate concern. Spearheaded by Tahirul Qadri, the cleric endowed with a masterly gift of the gab, the march was delayed for five hours after a fewer than expected head count was seen, after which a long caravan of various sorts of vehicles, with some of his followers trekking part of the distance, finally set out towards its destination, Islamabad. It is hard to make an estimate of the numerical strength of the enthusiastic, surging crowd at Lahore, but it seems safe to say that the march would be able to collect a few thousand by the time it reaches close to its point of sit-in and protest, though nowhere close to four million as Dr Qadri dreams. Reports indicate that hundreds, if not thousands, are gathering along the way to become part of the protest.

Calling off the march was the best way to avoid having to deal with an angry crowd and incidents of vandalism and violence that could possibly occur. What is, however, incomprehensible is the knee-jerk reaction of the provincial and federal governments that fails to take into account the realities on the ground where the situation stands compounded by other causes of disaffection like the nationwide outburst against sectarian killings, the daily acts of terrorism, growing hunger, loadshedding and what not. Interior Minister Rehman Malik, the main official point man, used his address to the media to ridicule Dr Qadri, picking holes in his personality and dress sense, rather than outlining measures to defuse the situation. Dr Qadri meanwhile, from the comfort of a bulletproof car, whips his supporters to boiling point in the freezing cold and threatens to derail a system, the long-term implementation of which is the only guarantee of progress for the country. Dr Qadri’s selfish and misleading mantra must be rejected and election schedules announced to repel any other soothsayers whispering incitement to extra constitutional measures into our ears.