RAWALPINDI: Following the “poor showing” by the ruling PML-N during Nawaz Sharif’s GT Road rally from Islamabad to Lahore, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s (PTI) public meeting at Liaquat Bagh was supposed to be an impressive show of power.
But the gathering attracted a much smaller number of people as compared to Imran Khan’s previous outings, even though the public meeting was also attended by supporters of PTI-allied Awami Muslim League (AML).
However, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed’s supporters were severely outnumbered by their PTI counterparts.
The rain, which reduced Liaquat Bagh to a muddy mess, was cited as the main reason for the conservative turnout.
Bad weather, lack of coordination with AML cited as main reasons for lower turnout than usual
“All our workers from all union councils of the city were present at the occasion,” said AML leader Sheikh Rashid Shafiq, who is a former nazim of Rawal Town.
A senior PTI leader told Dawn that the party had been worried about the failure of the regional and local leadership to mobilise people in order to make the public meeting a big success, especially in the wake of PML-N’s “poor show” in Rawalpindi.
“Imran Khan’s public meeting exposed the rifts within the party and its organizational weaknesses. Though the district chapter mobilised workers from other tehsils of the district, the party’s city chapter failed to rise to the occassion,” he said.
A week before the public meeting, PTI City President Chaudhry Mohammad Asghar flew to London, leaving his general secretary Chaudhry Adnan to handle the mobilisation drive. Mr Adnan is a former worker of Shiekh Rashid’s AML and is said to have concentrated on inviting their workers rather than contacting PTI supporters.
The PTI leader claimed that Shiekh Rashid had “infiltrated” Chaudhry Adnan into PTI to ensure more votes for himself in the next election.
He also claimed that three PTI members of the Punjab Assembly – Ijaz Khan Jazi, Arif Abbasi and Rashid Hafeez –were not taken into confidence over arrangements for the public meeting.
“Much like military disasters, the three main reasons for the unimpressive show included bad weather, bad planning and an improper supply line,” he said.
PTI leaders claimed that more than 40,000 people showed up at the public meeting. However, independent sources say that the number of people in the rallies was not more than 12,000, while the local administration claimed the figure was closer to 8,000 people.
“The capacity of Liaquat Bagh is limited and cannot accommodate more than 10,000 people. If PTI’s claim that they arranged 18,000 chairs Liaquat Bagh is accepted, they would have had to arrange seating across two to three square kilometers, an area much larger than the capacity of the venue,” the PTI leader said.
When contacted, PTI District President Zahid Kazmi insisted that the public meeting was 10 times bigger than PML-N’s show, adding that the turnout demonstrated that Rawalpindi belonged to Imran Khan.
He denied the impression that there was a rift in the party, adding that workers had joined the public meeting despite all odds.
“The district administration did not open the main gates of Liaquat Bagh and created two new gates, which meant that many party workers remained outside Liaquat Bagh,” he said, added that it was an attempt to create problems for people entering the main site of the public meeting.
PTI MPA Arif Abbasi told Dawn that though Sunday’s public meeting was an excellent show, bad weather and limited time to mobilise workers were the factors that prevented the party from drawing 100,000 people to Liaquat Bagh.
However, he insisted that it was a completely political public meeting and better than the ruling party’s which he alleged had brought patwaris to fill the seats in their small rally.
Published in Dawn, August 15th, 2017