LAHORE: “Democracy and autocracy will fight it out in Islamabad to determine the destiny of a new Pakistan,” Imran Khan affirmed to rapturous applause as he kicked off the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s much-awaited march on the federal capital on Thursday.
The PTI chief reiterated his demand that the prime minister resign and in the same breath called upon members of the Election Commission to quit “before I reach Islamabad”.
Imran Khan fired up an already charged crowd with a speech laced with rhetorical flourishes and populist idiom.
“No one will gift you freedom on a silver platter. You’ll have to snatch it through a sustained struggle,” he said.
The wheels of Azadi March started rolling at around 1 pm with a not-so-strong attendance, but started gathering strength as it reached Faisal Chowk on The Mall, its first stop in the city, in about seven hours.
The march turned out to be a festive occasion for PTI workers as they danced to the tune of party songs in front of a truck carrying their leaders, including Imran Khan.
The youths sported caps carrying the colours of their party’s flag, headbands and wristbands. Women also sported colourful dresses. They chanted slogans against the government.
As the PTI caravan moved at a snail’s pace, Imran Khan kept coming out of the bullet-proof container to perk up his supporters.
According to PTI Punjab President Ejaz Chaudhry, Mr Khan was also accompanied by his nephew, Azeem, who waved victory signs to the marchers.
The marchers reached the Data Darbar’s vicinity at 11.30pm. Insaf Youth Wing workers’ force “Khan’s Army” escorted the party leaders’ truck.
Addressing a mammoth rally at Faisal Chowk, Mr Khan said he was going to Islamabad to force the prime minister to resign amidst deafening slogans “Go Nawaz Go”.
He said Mr Sharif was trying to be stubborn by not resigning. “I have won many matches and will return after winning this match too,” he asserted.
The PTI leader whipped up passions by promising that he would prefer to give his life to letting people down.
He reiterated that the Sharif family was ruling the country like monarchs and stashing wealth abroad. Asserting that the PTI would bring the nation’s money back, he pledged that his party leaders would keep their accounts in the country.
He said the PTI (when in power) would imprison all “Gullu Butts” and added that the government should order release of his party workers. “Otherwise I will go to police stations and get them released.” He said Gullu Butts in police had also stopped PTI workers from reaching Lahore.
Mr Khan urged the party workers to accompany him to Islamabad to create a ‘Naya Pakistan’ envisioned by Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah.
Telling the marchers that PTI loyalists from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have already reached Islamabad, he urged workers and supporters to show full strength while reaching the federal capital.
Addressing PTI supporters in Karachi, Sindh and Balochistan, the PTI chief apologised for not giving them due attention because he was busy confronting the Sharifs. “They are in panic. I will be having a lot of time for you,” he affirmed.
PTI workers and supporters had started converging on Faisal Chowk around 12 noon and were kept engaged with party songs. Party leaders, led by PTI Punjab general secretary Dr Yasmin Rashid, kept the show alive for almost seven hours until party chief’s truck reached there.
Sources said that PTI MPA from Faisalabad Khurram Zafar fainted during the march and was admitted to the Doctor’s Hospital.
Meanwhile, PTI Punjab President Ejaz Chaudhry told Dawn that the party leadership wanted to quicken pace of the march, but enthusiastic workers were not allowing them to do so. He said a ‘mammoth Azadi march’ was on its way peacefully, but the PML-N workers had tried to disrupt it at various points and even chanted slogans against the PTI.
“Posters of the PML-N were seen on The Mall in abundance, but the PTI protesters did not even touch them,” he asserted.
Published in Dawn, August 15th, 2014