If there were any doubt about the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) being Nawaz Sharif’s party and not that of the Sharif family, that should go away following Zaeem Qadri’s explosive press conference.
It is evident that while Nawaz Sharif remains the ‘quaid’ of the party, there is a transition flowing towards Shehbaz Sharif, who is now officially the party president as well. This transition, however, continues to be marred by many a stumbling block, Qadri’s bombshell being the latest.
Qadri’s retaliation is significantly worse than that of Chaudhary Nisar’s because of what each respectively represents.
The latter is one man’s quest of trying to get more out of a party – which means a significantly bigger role – that he has served for decades. The former, meanwhile, hints are internal decay at the heart of which is the struggle of many party stalwarts in accepting the leadership change.
In the past, Nawaz Sharif has often managed to retain the party’s core together even when higher profile defections were taking place, because of the influence that he enjoys. For many in the PML-N, the party and Nawaz Sharif are synonymous, and no one, not even his brother can take his place.
This is true at the grass roots level as well. PML-N’s success in Punjab has been owing to the influence that Nawaz Sharif has had on the masses. Nawaz’s cult – regardless of its raison d’etre or corollaries, which is a separate debate altogether – is what has made PML-N the dominant political force in the country.
The strengths of Shehbaz Sharif, meanwhile, lie in getting things done. He can get the most out of the machinery, if the cogs are completely under his control and he can channelise them in synchrony with his own vision and strategies.
As Shehbaz is finding out, running a province and running a political party aren’t the same thing. The algorithms involved in the latter aren’t as linear and dissent, lobbying and indeed defections are a veritable reality.
It is evident that the PML-N has suffered a major hit in its vote bank over the past couple of years. While around 24 months ago, the party would’ve been bracing itself for an even bigger election win in 2018 that they had in 2013, it has become a realistic possibility that it might even concede the majority in Punjab.
Even so, that is clearly not the wave length on which the party leadership seems to be functioning right now. They still seem to feel that they are set to sweep the upcoming elections, and a lot of the decisions taken appear to reflect that the leadership is already has forming the government in mind – which is reflected in many a decision taken of late.
While the party could indeed form the government again after next month’s elections, it is extremely unlikely that they would get the margin that they were envisioning a couple of years ago. What that would also mean is that the legislations they would’ve eyed with more parliamentary control would not appear implausible.
Among other things, that would mean Nawaz Sharif remaining the party quaid, and the baton being passed on to other in his bloodline. The Shehbaz camp feels they’ve got it, while Maryam Nawaz of course has other ideas.
These fault-lines have been visible since Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification as the premier last year. Hamza Shehbaz not campaigning for the by-election in the then NA-120 was a clear giveaway.
However, it appeared since the turn of the year that the factions had realised that the opening up of any tangible differences could be devastating for both. Zaeem Qadri might just have thrown a spanner into that works again.
The writer is a Lahore-based journalist.