It was a hot and humid day of Sunday, July 22. Apparently it was like any other normal day on a campaign trail as politicians and heads of political parties went about making fiery speeches and courting the voters in an attempt to convince them to vote for their respective political parties on July 25.

However, for someone who is fighting heavy odds with his elder brother and the Quaid of the party and his niece incarcerated in Adaila Jail and the NAB and Caretaker governments clearly determined to target the party, it was not a usual day of normal campaigning. Not a day passes when the former ruling party, Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), does not suffer a blow.

The latest one is the conviction of a long-time ally, and the party’s candidate from a key Rawalpindi constituency, Hanif Abbasi in an Ephedrine case. Though the case has been under trial in an anti-narcotics court for six years now, it is the very manner in which the guilty verdict was handed down that has raised several eye-brows, strengthening the perception among the observers that the powers that be are not ready to relent their targeting of the PML-N.

Clad in a light blue shalwar kameez, with a broad smile on his face and eyes oozing out determination, Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif , party’s central president and former chief minister of Punjab, is ready at 7:00 am for a tough day ahead, two days before the campaign formally comes to an end.

The first thing on his menu is a party meeting where he will join other party leaders at the secretariat of the PML-N to review the campaign, discuss various strategies and chart the course forward to make most of the available time. He listens to all patiently and then passes the directions before heading to another important meeting where his party has invited leading religious scholars and Mashaykh.

In his address, he spoke passionately, regretting the lost opportunities for the Muslims to make a mark. He highlighted how internal divisions and wrangling among different schools of thought have led to dissipation of energies and loss of national direction. Terming the welfare of the people as the only guiding spirit behind his political journey, he appealed to the Ulema and Mashaykh to play their due role in the societal reform and awakening.

It was a thought-provoking but lengthy session, where speaker after speaker took the turn to dilate upon a wide array of topics. He listened to them patiently, taking down notes like a keen student as the discussions went on. The meeting ended on a new resolve to work in unison for a peaceful and harmonious Pakistan.

Next on his day’s agenda is a travel to Multan, a key metropolis in South Punjab. The visit is important because of two reasons: one, the old guard of the party, known as electables, left it in mysterious circumstances and joined PTI and secondly Shahbaz Sharif has claimed that his massive work in South Punjab will earn his party votes and those leaving for the vested interests will be defeated.

As he reached the venue of public meeting, the chants of the crowd became passionate. It was a standing ovation he got. The clapping and sloganeering went on till he was comfortably seated in his chair. He chose the occasion to drive home the message that his party, the PML-N, was being discriminated against. He listed the actions that particularly targeted the former ruling party as others were given concessions or facilitated. He also highlighted the services and contributions of his brother and former PM, striking the sympathy chord with those gathered and watching TV.

As Shahbaz Sharif left Multan around midnight, it was presumed that his day’s program was over and he would retire but that is not how he works. Soon after landing in Lahore, he was on his way to Lahore’s constituency 132 where hordes of people were waiting for him. Probably they had got a wind of his coming straight from Multan.

Lahore, known as bastion of the PML-N, is an acid test. The party that has ruled the city faces a stiff resistance from the PTI. As he came out of the car to wave to the crowd, he looked hugely energetic. There was no trace of fatigue on his face. The workers would cheer to the movement of his hands, with the pitch of their slogans getting high and shrill. As his caravan moved on slowly, he would come out of the car occasionally and speak to the workers briefly, reminding them of how critical it was to get out on July 25. He would punctuate his speech with the mention of how former PM of the country was being kept in jail, thereby eliciting massive response from the workers.

What is noteworthy in his speeches and the interviews is that he is not crossing the line while mentioning the excesses being committed against his party. He has suggested a grand dialogue among all stakeholders to get the country out of the multiple crises Pakistan is confronted with. He even suggested the formation of a national government, a line that marks a departure from his brother’s harsh stance vis-à-vis establishment.

When quizzed by anchorpersons, Shahbaz Sharif has his own reasons to support his opinion. Whatever be the outcome of elections, it is certain that he has alone shouldered the responsibility of running a spirited electoral campaign in the absence of his elder brother and fiery niece Maryam Nawaz. What is even more noteworthy is that he has kept the party together at a time when it was conjectured that it will be broken after its rule came to an end. It has not happened and the party is still a frontrunner for power and it is quite an achievement.

 

The writer is the Digital Media Advisor for the President of PML-N.