Lahore's Garhi Shahu may already be proud of its railways trade unionists, its activists and its jalsas that highlighted the level of public awareness at a particular juncture in time. A small bunch of students emerging from nowhere have added another brief but significant page to the history of resistance and protest in and by the locality. The students, five of them, were recently held for a singular crime - slogans of 'go Nawaz go' at a sports meeting where the ultimate sloganeer, the firebrand railways minister Mr Saad Rafiq, happened to be the chief guest.
The youngsters were later set free but not before their release, too, had been given an unnecessarily dramatic twist. Some reports say the students won freedom on the orders of the railways minister. A few other news items prominently displayed in the media indicate that it was an even graver situation than it first seemed. It is said that an intervention by the prime minister no less was required to get these mischief-makers out of jail.
Having performed the difficult feat with as much aplomb as it could command the government has since gone on to pretend that all is well. However, if there's a place right now which most aptly captures the sense of panic of the times it has to be Lahore. The harder they try to pretend they are in as much control as they had been earlier the more things look unsettled.
The harder they try to pretend they are in as much control as they had been earlier the more things look unsettled.
Only until a few days ago, it appeared impossible that anyone would be able to contain the PML-N in Punjab in the next general election. The ruling party was advancing at its swiftest since being elected in 2013. There were schemes difficult to keep a count of and the Sharifian model of development was shining bright, mocking the opponents who seemed to be so irredeemably caught in the past.
The speed the PML-N had come to sustain after early jitters was most pronounced in Punjab but the party was seeking to forward its case in other areas as well with some confidence. For instance, in Sindh, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's loud promises were, if nothing else, a source of some well-earned criticism for the PPP's slow-moving vehicle. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, too, the Noon League stood as a determined, obvious obstacle to the ruling PTI's progress.
The frequent, all-clinching contention over the last one year or so was that there was no match whatsoever to the PML-N model of progress. The others were, willy-nilly, destined to copy the same projects - trains, roads etc - that Messrs Nawaz Sharif-Shahbaz Sharif & Co had brought to this country.
Their schemes were the addiction everyone thought all Pakistanis would ultimately succumb to. The schemes are very much there, as impressive, intimidating emblems of the party's good-governance model but alongside stories have grown quickly about how some of the much-needed or more urgently required work in the area was never undertaken.
There has of late been a stream of news stories that lift the veil on ignored development projects and unused funds paraded in public to pinpoint the PML-N's fetishes and indifference. The party would do well to evaluate whether its development refrain carries the same decisive sheen which made it look as if there was no stopping it from easily winning another ticket to power in Islamabad in 2018.
The review is necessary because the popular drift has been stimulated and what looked impossible until a few days ago - change, PML-N containment - is now being talked about everywhere. The tone and tenor have undergone a shocking shift in the aftermath of the Panama case decision, even when the PML-N claims legal victory.
The Sharif camp in Lahore, its tone set by the redoubtable Punjab chief minister, Mr Shahbaz Sharif, has reacted typically. The Nawaz Sharif loyalists are visibly hurt by the expression of the slightest suspicion about their leadership's character and sincerity. Their response here is almost natural with some of us already ruefully announcing the country's re-entry into the ugly 1990s when the politicians were supposedly more forthright in denouncing the faults of their rivals than they are today. That's an over-exaggerated scenario. Those times actually never left us.
In reality, quite apart from the futile exercise in showing each other some mock respect, the salient point of the latest political engagement is that the players are now not prepared to exempt too many from their assaults. Until recently, PML-N politicians were generous in their comments about the PPP, a party which even some of the more firebrand and most prominent PML-N members were ready to recognise for its mature politics.
The comparison was, of course, with the ever-upset and tantrum-throwing PTI that, everybody thought, needed to learn how to behave amongst worthy power-chasers. That distinction has been blurred and the privilege taken back from a PPP getting ready for combat under an increasingly angry Asif Ali Zardari.
Mr Zardari, according to some reports, has unearthed some hidden clues to future that foretell some kind of return of the PPP at the national level. But while this remains more a matter of others lacking a similar power of imagination that could complement the PPP supremo, people are more inclined to look for reasons as to why Mr Zardari seems so frustrated and acts so determined these days.
An approaching general election is surely a major cause for the PPP leader to come out of the old so-called reconciliatory groove. An easier explanation would be available in the more immediate matter - the disappearance of Mr Zardari's close associates which, given the signs and the tone, is causing him greater distress than all these informed reports of the jiyalas gone missing.
He is way behind times, Mr Zardari is. Yet the PML-N has a reinvigorated rival in Imran Khan as the reason for not taking on youngsters letting off a 'go' slogan somewhere. The special advice as always is to not mess with the boys. -Courtesy: Dawn