Participants in JUI-F Azadi March listen to speeches of their leaders at Azadi Chowk before leaving for Islamabad. — White Star / M. Arif
Participants in JUI-F Azadi March listen to speeches of their leaders at Azadi Chowk before leaving for Islamabad. — White Star / M. Arif

LAHORE: The PML-N’s ‘thin’ participation in the JUI-F ‘Azadi March’ in the city, which was once considered a stronghold of the Sharifs, belies its earlier claim of turning up in droves.

No notable leader of the PML-N participated in the public meeting addressed by JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman at the Greater Iqbal Park here on Wednesday. Even the PPP workers outnumbered the PML-N’s in the JUI-F’s show and its (PPP) Punjab president Qamar Zaman Kaira shared the stage with Maulana Fazl.

Read: Shahbaz announces PML-N's 'full participation' in JUI-F's Azadi March

PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif was present in Lahore but his meeting with Maulana Fazl could not be arranged. Fazl also couldn’t meet former prime minister Nawaz Sharif at the Services Hospital because the doctors said he was not stable enough to be allowed to meet visitors.

“I wanted to meet Mian Sahib and contacted his doctor but he said his (Nawaz’s) condition did not allow any visitor to see him,” Maulana Fazl told reporters.

The medical board treating Mr Sharif said on Wednesday he showed signs of improvement as his platelet count increased from 28,000 to 35,000.

Earlier, the PML-N had claimed that the party would “fully” participate in the march on the direction of Nawaz Sharif. The consensus emerged after initial dilly-dallying amid reports that Shahbaz was not in favour of joining the march. At its last meeting a few days ago in Model Town regarding preparations for the march, the PML-N said it had mobilised its workers who would join the JUI-F march and give Fazl a rousing welcome here.

Speaking to Dawn, a PML-N leader said Shahbaz had already declared that he would join the march in Islamabad and there was no plan of his either meeting the Maulana or attending his Lahore power show. “However, the PML-N Lahore chapter failed to mobilise its workers for the JUI-F protest despite clear direction from the leadership. In fact, this is not the failure of the party’s Lahore party but the whole of PML-N,” he said.

Many JUI-F supporters at the Minar-i-Pakistan complained that the PML-N workers did not join the march despite tall claims of their leaders.

PML-N Secretary General Ahsan Iqbal denied the dismal PML-N participation in Lahore. “A large number of PML-N workers received the JUI-F caravan in Lahore at various reception points. On Wednesday, the PML-N workers gathered at the Shahdara reception point. Had there been lapse in coordination with workers, it would have been looked into,” he said.

Mr Iqbal said there was no change of strategy. “The PML-N workers will reach Islamabad on Thursday (today) from across the country for a big show against the PTI government.” He said Shahbaz couldn’t meet Maulana Fazl as he was busy looking after Nawaz.

Published in Dawn, October 31st, 2019