When someone calls it a day

Updated December 28, 2018

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The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

LEADERS are supposed to be created by rare substance that sets them apart from the masses. But maybe there are exceptions. Maybe one thing that endears some leaders to their followers is that in certain moments of despair, the leader acts just as any ordinary person would.

The quality was on show recently. First, Mian Nawaz Sharif’s lawyers asked the accountability judge to delay his judgement in a couple of corruption cases against him. This momentary, in fact fleeting, relief from the inevitable was sought to allow Mian Sahib to celebrate his 70th birthday as a free man.

There were many sentimental points obviously surrounding the plea for a delay in the announcement of the sentence. The day of the birth of the head of a family or tribe itself is an emotional occasion, especially when a long absence from home is feared.

Two, the members of the Sharif family have gone through a very quiet, gloomy period in recent weeks. The family has recently lost a thinking member in Begum Kulsoom Nawaz, and so many others from the Sharif household have been in and out of prison.

With Shahbaz Sharif in the lockup and an uncertain future staring the Sharifs in the face, maybe, just maybe, a birthday get-together, before Mian Sahib handed himself over to the forces that control the proceedings in the big world outside his home, would have been a small reprieve worth asking the court for.

The request was denied, luckily perhaps, because it would have been too much to expect from the stars to grant the fallen former prime minister two ordinary wishes in quick succession.

Appearing to hear the accountability court verdict against him a day before his birthday, Mian Sahib greeted the news of a seven-year-long sentence and a heavy fine against him with an innocent demand of his own.

He asked if he could kindly be shifted to the Kot Lakhpat jail, instead of being deposited in Rawalpindi’s Adiala prison, which may otherwise be as boastful of its ability to host the famous as its rival in this case in Lahore. He was obliged and has since been moved to the Kot Lakhpat cell in his own city, actually not far from where the Sharif political story began.

This could well have been the call of a tired man for release from worldly obligations.

As the name suggests, the place draws its name — Kot Lakhpat — from a haveli or a fortress or kot, of a man whose riches back in the day ran into lakhs. Later on, the area as an industrial hub offered opportunities to souls possessing the right amount of ambition, ability and other prerequisites for making a fortune. Among them were those who pioneered the Ittefaq industry many decades later whose seizure by Z.A. Bhutto created the urge within the owners to join politics.

Over time, many stories about the rise of Mian Nawaz Sharif as the chosen scion to spearhead the Ittefaq industry’s foray into politics have ended up bringing curious hacks to the Kot Lakhpat area, which is, of course, among those parts of Lahore that have undergone much transformation. But remarkably little is known about what went inside the Ittefaq factory, and all that goes around in the name of information is made up of rumours, some of it of the darkest kind aimed at gaining political capital.

One thing that does not need any corroboration is that Kot Lakhpat, where both Mian Sahib and Shahbaz Sahib are now imprisoned, must have been the place where the two brothers would have undergone their basic early lessons in administration. This is where their teacher, their father Mian Sharif, must have provided them with his insight into the thinking of different kinds of individuals and groups, and tried to arm them with the art of man management.

Now wait… Maybe, it was not as ordinary an occurrence as it initially looked. Maybe this is what Mian Sahib is asking for — a refresher course in the old school area — so that he is able to take a fresh beginning after he landed in this mess, made up of his own follies and shortcomings. Maybe this is what he had in mind when he asked to be returned to his origins?

There may obviously be other meanings of the same expression — which will make it difficult for the less initiated amongst us to attach any definite message to the words escaping the convict here. All one can do in the situation here is throw up a question and see if others agree with the suggested ending or not. The fact is that when Mian Sahib was asking the court to send him to Kot Lakhpat, he was basically appealing to be lodged at a place closer to home, indeed, he was asking to be sent home.

This could well have been the call of a tired man for release from worldly obligations, a cry of anguish, one of resignation and relief from the one who had realised that this was as far and as best as he could stretch it. ‘I am done. Now, please someone book me on the ship going home.’ Post-verdict, Mian Sahib sang to media ‘Jayen ta kayen kahan’, the Talat Mahmood number that paints submission to reality in its most sombre tones. Could this have been his swansong?

There are many political commentators who insist that this note of resignation was the only way left from Mian Nawaz Sharif after he was disqualified by the law in July 2018. In one way, this observation appears to be vindicating the sacked prime minister’s decision to take on his detractors: if he stood no chance of getting the ticket to a rehab clinic at the time he was ousted from power, his agitation against the ‘establishment’ couldn’t have done any further harm to his chances. By going the way he did, perhaps he has returned full circle to Kot Lakhpat as a man with at least one regret less to contend with.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

Published in Dawn, December 28th, 2018