Leading a section of the march, Dr Qadri arrived at the Jinnah Avenue at around 2:15am and addressed his supporters. In a defiant tone he asked his supporters gathered there to take their belongings and start moving towards the Parliament House five minutes after completion of his speech. He said the mandate of the government had ended. He said the mandate of the president, prime minister and the government had ended and a formal announcement to that effect would be made by the ‘people’s parliament’ on Tuesday. The president and governors, he said, should dissolve the National and provincial assemblies.
ISLAMABAD, Jan 14: The doctor lived up to his threats of marching on Islamabad. Close to midnight on Monday, he had finally entered the capital at Faizabad and was making his way to the Blue Area location where he was to address the crowds.
The speech Dr Tahirul Qadri was to make and the agenda he was to unveil remained a mystery as Monday gave way to Tuesday.
The containers that sprung up all over Islamabad and Rawalpindi and the heavy contingent of policemen that prowled the capital and all the main roads leading to it proved ineffective in front of the caravan that slowly made its way to Islamabad.
Late as is the Pakistani custom by hours, and ambling along slowly along the way to Islamabad from Lahore, the rally took its own sweet time to reach its destination.
By midnight it had entered the city but was still to reach its destination in Blue Area where workers, police and the local administration had been at attention since morning, putting in place the barbed wire, the overhead spotlights, the division between the male and female sections and so on.
The rest of the quiet city was visibly uneasy.
Shops mostly remained closed, despite Interior Minister Rehman Malik’s assurances on Sunday that the traders in Blue Area would be open on Monday, as were schools and offices and the roads witnessed little traffic.
Contingents of police were visible everywhere, dressed in protective gear and well-armed. Navigating the city was a bit difficult for those who ventured out in cars and came up against containers or cement barriers that had sprung up over the weekend. But in nooks and crannies away from the rally location life went on as normal.
But the tightly-enclosed area where the rally was supposed to be held gave a festive look all day. It was crawling with journalists, cameramen and onlookers as well as government officials.
Interestingly, the workers of Tehrik-i-Minhajul Quran were providing the security as they stopped and checked visitors to the scene. With headbands wound tightly on their foreheads and furrowed brows, they kept everyone under scrutiny as the policemen appeared laidback in comparison.
A police officer told Dawn that the organisation had decided to provide security themselves at the venue, under an agreement with the local administration.
One container was set up to serve as the platform for the cameras while another was covered with carpets and became the dais from where the speeches would be delivered.
By seven in the evening a line of chairs had been placed on it which were filled by portly bearded men. A bulletproof glass case had also been crowded on from where the doctor was to speak.
In front anchors and analysts held forth, ignoring the crowds that had already gathered by then, with their flags. And beyond the media social scene were the quiet Qadri supporters who had reached the destination ahead of the rally.
Women were present in a sizeable number, many of them with their heads covered and holding small children. The flags were national and the music which was played occasionally quite uninspiring.
Most of them were the supporters of Dr Qadri and had turned up to change the system — no less.
“We have come from Bkakkar and we will not return home unless we are ordered to do so by Dr Qadri,” said an old man whose name was Raees Ahmed.
“We want the removal of the corrupt government,” he added.
A woman who had reached Islamabad along with her children from Attock said she wanted to get rid of the ‘corrupt’ government and, therefore, she supported the call of Dr Qadri.
No-one, it appeared, was interested in the nuanced demands that the doctor has been making since his return to Pakistan — calling for the military and the judiciary to be part of the decision of choosing the caretaker government and the later demand that the Election Commission of Pakistan be disbanded.
Theirs was a simple but overarching revolution.
Towards the rear of the heavily commercial Blue Area, life was no less active. Small restaurants and dhabas enjoyed a heavy turnover. Policemen were present at the tables of every second one as were groups of men who had stopped to eat as they made their way to the rally site or returned from it.
A numbers game: Unsurprisingly, the number of the people that were present at Jinnah Avenue and the people who were with Dr Qadri were far short of the expectations that he himself had built up.
Unlike the four million march the people of Pakistan had been promised, most journalists and observers were agreed that the number on the day itself was in thousands.
Earlier estimates in Lahore said that the rally comprised 20,000 people. A couple of thousand people were present at Jinnah Avenue as evening fell. And those who had tracked the rally as it snaked its way to Islamabad said that at best it would be able to boast of 40,000 to 50,000 people.
This was obviously good news for Interior Minister Rehman Malik who was the PPP pointman for Islamabad on Monday.
“We believe that only 20,000 to 25,000 people joined Dr Qadri and thus his claim to bring four million people in Islamabad remained a dream,” said Mr Malik after he took an aerial view (in a chopper) of the Blue Area. However, these are rough estimates at best.