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PTI Chief Imran Khan. — File Photo by AFP

MANDI BAHAUDDIN: Ali Raza, 22, completed his three-year diploma in civil engineering with specialisation in road construction about two years ago, but he is yet to get a job. He wants change in government because he seeks a level playing field in order to compete for jobs on merit. According to him, no one can land a government job without a strong political reference or enough money to line the pockets of people at the top.

Raza was one of the thousands of young people who had turned up at the cinema ground, in the heart of Mandi Bahauddin, to welcome the chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), Imran Khan, for an election rally.

Raza, who will be voting this year for the first time, said: “Like many of my friends I have come from a nearby village to attend the meeting and have a glimpse of Mr Khan who has promised us jobs after coming to power. Yes, my entire family will vote for the PTI.”

When asked about his motivation to attend the rally, Ambar Gill, a local Christian, said he didn’t know much about the PTI or its manifesto, but strongly believed that if given a chance Mr Khan could deliver. “So I will vote for the PTI,” he remarked.

There were many others in the rally who knew nothing about the politics of right or left, but came only to demonstrate their support for Mr Khan whose main slogan is to build ‘naya Pakistan’ (new Pakistan) after winning the May 11 elections.

Talking to Dawn, a group of PTI volunteers who looked after arrangements for the rally, said they had come on their own without any financial support from the party because they wanted to help Mr Khan build a ‘new Pakistan’.

“It seems that PTI’s slogan for change has started picking up momentum,” said Dr Arshad Khan, who runs a clinic near the cinema ground. “Most of the local youth are supporting Mr Khan; let’s see whether their support actually transforms into electoral victory for the PTI candidates in an area traditionally known for voting on caste basis.”

Even though wheat harvesting activities are continuing apace in the area, a large crowd, comprising mainly the youth, had gathered at the venue.

District administration and police officials, who only last week (on April 22) were on duty for a similar election rally addressed by PML-N leader Shahbaz Sharif in Malakwal, one of the three tehsils of Mandi Bahauddin district, told Dawn that the PTI’s meeting had attracted more people.

“Frankly speaking, we weren’t expecting so many people to attend the meeting in an area mainly dominated by Gondals and Tarars,” said a senior police officer present on the occasion.

The officer, who refused to speak on record, said that last year Mr Sharif had addressed a rally as chief minister on the same ground. “That meeting was not as well-attended as this one.”

In the 2008 elections, both the National Assembly seats and five provincial assembly seats in the district were won by the PPP.

The crowd was simply ecstatic when Mr Khan waved from his chopper to the participants of the rally before landing at a nearby helipad from where he was driven to the venue. Encouraged by the crowd, he refused to go behind the bullet-proof rostrum arranged by the local administration for his security. The PTI chief said he was not the one who needed such protection.

Pandering to the crowd, Mr Khan said: “I know many young people from the area have gone abroad in search of jobs. But let me assure you that after May 11 you will have a new Pakistan where you won’t have to leave your country for jobs. The PTI will provide you jobs.”

In his entire speech, Mr Khan mentioned President Asif Ali Zardari only once and mainly targeted PML-N leaders. He said President Zardari had carried out a suicide attack on his own party, destroying the former ruling party to the core. He said the Sharif brothers had ruled in Punjab five times and two times at the centre. Therefore, they should not be given another chance. “How can a party which has repeatedly failed in the past be given another chance?”

The slogan-chanting crowd shouted: “No, no.”

As usual Mr Khan talked about the ongoing energy crisis, local governments, ‘pro-American policies’ of the previous governments and rampant poverty in the country. He said that after coming to power his party would resolve all these issues on an emergency basis.

Later, Mr Khan addressed similar election meetings in Hafizabad and Sargodha, where he again hit out at the PML-N leaders for “misguiding people with their lofty promises”.