Minister for Railways Sheikh Rashid on Monday claimed that cracks in PML-N ranks had left the party divided into what he termed the "Shehbaz League" and the "Nawaz League".
Rashid's statements come days after PML-N vice president Maryam Nawaz distanced herself from her uncle ─ and party president ─ Shehbaz Sharif's decision to support the signing of a charter of economy by the government and the opposition. Her remarks had fuelled speculation that there are differences between her and her uncle, but she has denied the reports.
The railways minister, while speaking to reporters outside Parliament House today, claimed: "There are two leagues, the Shehbaz League and the Nawaz League. And the Shehbaz League has its own people, and so does the Nawaz League."
"The people who got Nawaz into trouble want him to stay in jail [for longer]. They want Shehbaz and Hamza to also join him," Rashid alleged, without clarifying who he was referring to.
At another point in the press conference, the minister claimed that there are "two people who have never changed their party ─ one is myself, the other is Shehbaz Sharif. Both of us belong to one party, the Awami Muslim League".
"I said to the prime minister ─ and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf did not appreciate this ─ that if these people want to flee to London, let them go," he said, adding in his typical tongue-in-cheek fashion: "After all, they've worked so hard to build up their fortunes with stolen wealth."
Opposition Leader Shehbaz Sharif had introduced the idea of signing a charter of economy in his opening speech during debate on the Budget 2019-20. It saw support from PPP co-chairman Asif Zardari in his own speech during the session, and Prime Minister Imran Khan was also receptive to the idea when the NA speaker discussed it with him.
The intent behind the proposed charter was to devise a long-term economic policy with consensus to bring the country out of the debt trap and make it self-reliant. The charter would ensure that no party does politicking in the name of economic issues and that no new government will scrap all the steps of the previous government so that consistency is maintained.
But Maryam Nawaz on Saturday walked her party back from the proposal to arrive at such a charter with the government, describing it as 'mazaq-i-ma'eeshat' (making a joke of the economy).
Distancing herself from Shehbaz's support of the charter, Maryam had said: "Shehbaz sahib has a lot more political and administrative experience than me. He must definitely have considered things that I am unable to see when he talked about [signing a] charter of economy. He has his own opinion."
She added that as a citizen of Pakistan and a PML-N member, it was her right to hold and express an opinion. Having said that, she condemned the idea of giving the current government "a way out" by signing an agreement or charter, and added that her father, Nawaz — who she underlined has the final word on party matters — shares her opinion.
Her remarks fuelled speculation that there are differences between her and Shehbaz due to their differing views.
Following Maryam's statements, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information Firdous Ashiq Awan claimed that by calling the charter a "joke", the PML-N vice president "has made fun of her own uncle", and that Maryam should "have demanded that Shehbaz Sharif resign from his post (as the party's president)" if his views were contrary to what Nawaz Sharif desires.
A day later, Maryam denied reports of any rift with her uncle and said her remarks at the press conference had been quoted out of context. She was also backed by senior PML-N leader Khawaja Asif who claimed that "what Maryam said is absolutely right as per the policy of PML-N".
Asif then ruled out the possibility of further talks on the issue, saying that the party would not discuss the issue till the national political scenario improved.