LAHORE: The PTI may be planning an aggressive agitation against alleged rigging in the Feb 8 general elections, and has even formed a committee comprising over two dozen members. However, internal disquiet and grumblings of key leaders might put a damper on the campaign.

With many key PTI leaders in prison or hiding, the discontent among the party ranks is primarily due to the inability of the existing leadership to draw crowds. They also complain that “loyal leaders” were ignored in the 26-member committee named to plan the protests, while many of those included in the body have been ‘underground’, so to speak.

But PTI Punjab information secretary Shaukat Basra has dispelled the concerns and called all members “assets of the party”.

Party loyalists in Punjab complain of being excluded from body tasked with planning protests; Basra says all members are ‘assets’

The PTI has largely been silent in Punjab since the events of May 9, 2023. In the 11 months that followed, the party has tried to hold agitations, but these were swiftly thwarted by police.

Now, the party plans to create pressure and reclaim, in their words, its stolen mandate of the Feb 8 elections. The 26-member committee is supposed to chalk out a plan to organise public meetings across Punjab.

The committee includes Hammad Azhar, Aon Abbas Bappi, Seemabia Tahir, Ejaz Minhas, Kanwal Shozab, Rehana Dar, Mehrbano Qureshi, Zartaj Gul, Hafiz Hamid Raza, Moonis Elahi, retired Maj Tahir Sadiq, Sheikh Waqas Akram, Malik Amer Dogar, Advocate Salman Akram Raja, Zulfi Bukhari, Zain Qureshi, Ahmad Chatha, Malik Ahmad Bachar, Moeen Riaz Qureshi, Mian Aslam Iqbal, Shaukat Basra, Shabbir Qureshi, Rai Hassan Nawaz, Mehr Abdul Sattar, Shadab Jafery and Zubair Niazi.

According to some PTI leaders, many names made part of the committee are the ones who “stayed away from protests” called by the PTI founder Imran Khan during recent months — especially those held on March 2 and 10 in Punjab.

Despite the concerns, the committee held its maiden meeting online and agreed to organise a public meeting in Faisalabad from the platform of the six-party opposition alliance. The exact date of the gathering will be decided later by alliance leaders.

‘The missing fervour’

In background conversations with Dawn, several party leaders and workers cast dou­bt over the success of the planned protests and public meetings, since there was no leader left with the charisma to pull crowds.

While expressing their discontent with the committee, some leaders claimed that PTI’s central Punjab general secretary Hammad Azhar “ignored” supporters and activists who organised protests in the recent past and “stood up to the wrath” of the incumbent Punjab government.

They also questioned Mr Azhar’s absence from the public eye, despite getting bail from the Peshawar High Court.

Following criticism from within the party, Mr Azhar even submitted his resignation from the position of central Punjab general secretary, but this was not accepted on the PTI founder’s instructions.

Many leaders and lawyers who “dared to hold protests on the Mall [Road]” have not been added to the 26-member committee, the PTI leaders said of the demonstration in Lahore last month.

With its core leadership incarcerated, the impression among PTI ranks is that the second- and third-tier leadership has been “unable to galvanise the party” despite “massive public support” demonstrated through voting on Feb 8.

‘Everyone will be accommodated’

Dawn contacted PTI’s central information secretary, Raoof Hassan, but he did not comment, despite committing to give his version “after getting details”.

Meanwhile, Mr Basra said almost every member of his party had faced police wrath for coming out to protest,

Calling the committee members “assets of the party”, Mr Basra said the struggle of one party leader is in no way lesser than another’s. “Maybe some party leaders, including lawyers, had been ignored, but they will make their way in different committees, and we will launch a mass struggle after by-elections.”

Published in Dawn, April 20th, 2024

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