IT seems the people of Lahore have committed a huge sin for which they must now be taken to task by their righteous advisers and those they have embarrassed at large. They have been found guilty of electing a politician — his wife, an ailing lady with an ambitious daughter to be precise — who has been disqualified by the court. Since the result of the ballot was announced late last Sunday, torrents have been let loose on the electorate who, the unstoppable chest-thumping would suggest, failed to rise to the occasion and were unable to seize a supposedly easy opportunity to reject a party and a family which is under the hammer and gavel of late.
All kinds of names have been flying in the direction of a wayward and myopic and even dishonest lot of voters who had the obsolete sense to elect Begum Kulsum Nawaz. They have been summarily ordered to seek medical treatment for reposing their faith in a person who was so sick that she could not even make a call in person to the people for votes, living up to her image as a mere puppet candidate .
Sunday’s vote has been used as an example for asking how the people of the city could knowingly choose what everyone around thought was bad for them. The guilty Lahoris are repeatedly reminded by other Lahoris and people living near and far from the city what a great opportunity to cast off the Sharif yoke they have wasted in NA-120 on the fateful day of Sept 17, 2017.
That may be a fair observation on the part of those who have great hopes about reformation especially in the wake of the disqualification ruling but it would help our vision if we clarified a few things here. We could please recall exactly what kind of talk the people of this city had been mostly subjected to before this election.
The guilty Lahoris are reminded by other Lahoris and people living near and far from the city what a great opportunity to cast off the Sharif yoke they have wasted.
The Lahore which regularly emerges in envious accounts in recent years — even in recent decades — is a dream town lavished with all kinds of privileges from roads to subsidised travel by metro bus to a life supervised by an administration that is more willing if not more capable than others around. It doesn’t exactly have streams of milk and honey running through its streets but still boasts of an infrastructure that is open for passage and encourages some kind of mobility.
The things on display have been improving, according to the verdict of the people who live here and those who have observed its growth from a distance. There has been criticism but, by and large, the feeling among the people here has been distinctly different from so many other Pakistani towns whose inhabitants have constantly complained of having been ignored if not totally abandoned by their leaders. So much so that it is said that the talk about just how huge a price the city’s tradition has had to pay for its, however selective, modernisation has been dismissed by the interested majority with a wave of the hand that signifies at least the inevitability of progress.
And guess who is responsible for all these developments in Lahore even if allegedly at the cost of others? Obviously, the same party and the same family the Lahoris are being blatantly shamed for electing yet one more time. It is not a very complicated question to answer. Why is it so difficult for ‘independent’ observers to understand, by their own logic, as to why people here voted for the Sharifs? True, it is a habit developed over time, one which is not easy to give up, not even with the intense advice and taunts heaped on a so-called selfish city. Nonetheless, it is a habit built upon and sustained by a party and a family that is genuinely believed by so many here to have done some positive work. Far from the thought of playing some kind of pioneering role in progress of reform, of greater concern to many would be the thought about a future where they would be forced to do without a Sharif. It is a tradition that will take time to fade, if this is what has been written by fate.
The maligning of the city of Lahore is even more incredible given the fact that the Sept 17 by-election didn’t have any drastic impact on the equation that already existed — meaning that it in no way was a discouragement to the PTI. It more or less maintained the 2013 position, if the analysis was to be based on the PTI’s own premise.
Apart from PTI supporters who have been all along campaigning against rigging in the general election held four and a half years ago, even some independent observers would recall that the scene during the Sept 17 polling appeared so much like that of May 11, 2013. Even then it looked as close as it does this time around, only the numbers announced on the eve of May 11, 2013 left many wondering. The margin this time is closer to survey-based estimates of the relative strength of the PML-N and PTI. The 90,000 vs 50,000 margin was a little hard to believe.
Finally, the PTI could put this down to a vote tilted in favour of the PML-N more with an eye on the past rather than one on the future: a candidate elected for a few months as opposed to an election for a term of five years. The PTI has proved it has the numbers to challenge the PML-N despite all pre-vote projections.
The general election in 2018 could provide people with a new perspective on things. It is up to the challengers to decide how they go about their conquest of Lahore. Will they offer the city a package better than the Sharifs or will they lobby in the name of sacrifice and equality in a city in the habit of being treated royally?
The writer is Dawn’s resident in Lahore.
Published in Dawn, September 22nd, 2017