Ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif's procession entered its second day on the streets, with the PML-N leader resuming a long road trip back to his hometown, Lahore, via the Grand Trunk (GT) Road on Thursday after an overnight stay in Rawalpindi.
His convoy reached Jhelum at around 5pm today, and the former prime minister arrived at the venue for his speech a little before 6pm. He was pictured conversing with senior PML-N leader Pervaiz Rashid on stage ahead of his address.
Later, while addressing the crowd amidst chants of "wazir-i-azam Nawaz Sharif" (prime minister Nawaz Sharif), the deposed premier reminded the Jhelum crowd of promises he had made in 2013.
"The country was drowning in darkness and the economy was on the verge of collapse," he said. "Industries were shutting down and there was no electricity."
"I told you that I will sacrifice my life but we will take this country forward," he said. "Had I not said that?" he asked. "Is the darkness not receding from our cities once again?"
"I promised you that we will bring peace to Pakistan; have we not brought peace back to the country?" he asked. "Karachi was on the precipice of chaos; look at it now. We brought the lights back to the city. There was dissent in Balochistan, but we brought the parties together and stabilised the province so it could become peaceful," he continued.
"My government is gone now. Five judges sent me packing in one minute despite the votes of millions of people. Is this not an insult to the millions who voted for me?"
"Five 'respectable' judges, with one stroke of the pen, sent your prime minister packing. Can you bear this insult?"
"And for what [was I deposed]? Was I implicated in any corruption? Even those judges know that I was not involved in any corruption."
"You should ask why they removed your leader," he added. "This country and the people of Jhelum should ask why they did this."
"These hands are clean! My heart is clean and full of love for this country!" Nawaz Sharif told his followers. "Why did you remove me? Why? I want to ask you: why did you depose me when I am not corrupt?"
"Was I removed for taking Pakistan forward? Because I brought CPEC and ended load-shedding? Because the youth were getting jobs?"
"I do not care for myself, but I cared deeply for the youth of this country. I feared deeply for their feature, and their future was going to be bright [with me]," he continued.
"O youth of Pakistan, do not lose heart! Do not be deterred! Our prayers are with you; Nawaz Sharif's prayers are with you!" he said. "Together, we will do something about this state of affairs."
"For 70 years, no prime minister has been allowed to complete his tenure. This is not an insult of your prime ministers, but of the 200 million people of Pakistan. You vote a prime ministers into power, and some dictator and some judge comes along and rips up your ballot paper and hands it back to you."
"Are you okay with being insulted like this? Tell me, are you okay with this?" he asked the crowd, to loud responses of "No!".
"Then you will have to change it. If Pakistan is to progress; if the future of our youth is dear to us; if we want to give them a bright future — then we will have to change it. We will have to change everything."
"You sent me to Islamabad, and now they [the Supreme Court] have sent me back home," he continued.
"I do not want you to install me as prime minister again. My self respect is very dear to me. I have no intention of taking power again; but I do want to do something about your future," he said.
"God will change your destiny, and He has made it incumbent upon you to do something about it."
Diverging briefly from his line of thought to talk about his opponents, their attempts to thwart his government, and the circumstance surrounding his ouster, Sharif also asked the crowd: "Is there any law to tackle dictators in this country? They [the dictators] break the Constitution and the law and then the judges give them legitimacy. The judges tell them 'you did well by sending Nawaz Sharif home'," he alleged.
"What will you answer to your God? What will you answer to this nation? The people want answers to all the these questions," Nawaz said.
"The people will demand answers from all the dictators and the people who have not let this country run," Nawaz said. "Tell me, will you hold them accountable?" he asked his followers. "Will you help take this country forward?"
"We need to ensure that whoever you vote into power, only you have the power to kick them out."
"I have come to you to get this country back on track; to give the people's mandate some respect. Will you be with me in changing the fate of this country?" he continued.
"My agenda will soon be brought to you, and I want the people of Jhelum to be with Nawaz Sharif," he concluded.
Sharif, who had progressed from Rawalpindi to Ayub Park earlier in the day with his convoy, had separated from the rally shortly after 2pm, picking up speed and proceeding to Jhelum along with a police escort.
He bypassed a number of camps where a small number of workers had gathered, DawnNews reported.
PML-N's Uzma Bukhari, attempting to defend her party leader's decision to speed up the journey, said: "The towns he has travelled through are small towns. The larger ones are yet to come, and he will address his workers in the bigger towns."
In Jhelum, PML-N leader Talal Chaudhry told DawnNews that the rally had sped ahead on its journey after moving at a snail's pace the day before "because we could not keep our workers, who are desperate to meet their leader, waiting for much longer."
Earlier, while briefly addressing his supporters at Sohawa from his car, Nawaz had asked: "Do you accept the court's decision? Did you not vote for me as your prime minister?"
"I have come out onto the streets with a case against your disqualification," he had told them.
"There are no allegations of corruption against me," he reiterated. "The honourable judges sent me home. Do you agree with their decision?" he asked.
'Prime minister of hearts' draws small crowd
What was said to be a show of the party's political muscle, especially in Rawalpindi — traditionally a stronghold for the PML-N — had lower turnout of supporters than expected, despite the party describing the ousted PM as "the prime minister of hearts".
An estimated 1,500 workers had joined the procession as it set off from Punjab House, Rawalpindi.
The procession was subjected to criticism, particularly from opposition leaders, who drew a comparison to the PTI's 2014 dharna, which pulled and sustained a massive crowd over a period of 126 days.
PTI's Usman Dar, on a DawnNews talk show, was of the opinion that when PTI Chairman Imran Khan brought the people out onto the streets, he was rallying against corruption. "Nawaz Sharif has come out to save that corruption," Dar said, observing that the country had not seen him travel on GT Road in the four years that he had been prime minister.
"He has taken out a funeral procession for his politics by means of this rally," Dar added.
Prior to his departure from Rawalpindi's Punjab House, Sharif held a meeting with PML-N officials, including Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal and Marvi Memon, and expressed anger with the Rawalpindi administration over the low turnout of supporters for his rally, DawnNews reported.
PML-N leaders made arrangements for more supporters to attend the rally, and as the convoy set off towards Lahore once again, Abid Sher Ali, accompanied by Amir Muqam, was seen trying to rile up supporters crowding alongside the cavalcade.
There was greater deployment of police in the twin cities today as compared to the first day of the rally, but fewer cars were accompanying the procession than the day earlier.
Party leader Mushahidullah Khan, while speaking to DawnNews, was of the opinion that a rally of this size had "never happened in Pakistan before".
"As the rally gets closer to Lahore, it will surpass all other jalsas of the past. I believe the people of Islamabad and Rawalpindi should be congratulated for having stood by Nawaz Sharif," he added.
PML-N bigwigs missing
Questions were also raised about the absence of familiar PML-N faces from the rally, who could possibly have drawn a greater crowd of supporters compared to the relatively new faces, such as Talal Chaudhry and Daniyal Aziz.
Although Chaudhry and Aziz were highly visible during the Panamagate proceedings, it is PML-N stalwarts like Khawaja Asif and Chaudhry Nisar, who have great sway over the PML-N's voter base.
Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, Nawaz's younger brother, was also absent, as was his son Hamza Shahbaz. Shahbaz's wife, Tehmina Durrani, known for being quite vocal and candid on matters related to the Sharifs, in a series of tweets on Wednesday asked Nawaz not to put his brother in a tight spot, saying Shahbaz should have been spared the responsibility of protecting and assisting his own party’s rally.
Intent behind rally remains ambiguous
Analysts and opinion-makers on Wednesday were divided over the true purpose behind the rally, which Sharif had insisted was a 'homecoming' procession.
Certain analysts believe the ousted PM is trying to 'send a message' by means of his rally, to show that his voters, at the very least, have not accepted the Supreme Court's decision to disqualify him in the Panama Papers case and remain loyal to him.
Others, including the PTI, believe Sharif's intent behind holding the rally is to protest the apex court's verdict.
Imran Khan earlier termed the GT Road Rally "a deliberate attempt to undermine the Supreme Court" by calling into question its verdict in the Panama Papers case.
Sharif has been criticised for holding the rally despite being disqualified by the apex court. However, he believes "The decision to disqualify me had already been taken, only a justification was being sought."
PML-N's Uzma Bukhari, speaking to DawnNews today said: "He has a number of things to tell the people, a number of secrets to reveal. I believe that the time is near, and he will soon tell all."
Awami Muslim League leader Sheikh Rashid, speaking to DawnNews via telephone today, said, "The law will win, and these people will lose."
'Homecoming' rally, day 1
On Wednesday, the former premier had set off from his camp office in Punjab House amid concerns for his security. The rally proceeded at a snail's pace and arrived at Committee Chowk in Rawalpindi late in the evening.
It was here that Nawaz addressed his supporters for the first time since the rally had kicked-off, stating that his disqualification by the Supreme Court in the Panamagate case was an "insult" to his voters.
"The court of the people of Pakistan has given its verdict in my favour,” the PML-N leader claimed.
"We have to make sure that the mandate of the people is respected in the future. We will do this in the interest of Pakistan," he said, claiming that there was "not even a single allegation of corruption".
Police officials had estimated in the evening that around 8,000 to 8,500 people and 900 to 950 vehicles had joined the procession. However, sources in the PML-N said that the party failed to take the desired number of activists to the roads as party workers in the twin cities are not happy with the local leadership.
The former premier's address to the crowd took place after midnight, when the party had finally been able to gather a sizeable crowd, DawnNews reported, adding that the situation indicated that the party's expectations of supporter turnout had not been met.
Tight security preparations have been made along GT Road, with the deployment of plain-clothed policemen as well as Elite Force commandos.
Nawaz's rally has proceeded towards the historic road despite Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code which bans gatherings of more than five persons being in force in the capital.
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