ISLAMABAD: PML-N cadre loyal to former prime minister Nawaz Sharif is accusing the party’s incumbent president, Shehbaz Sharif, of ‘ditching’ his elder brother and failing to mobilise the maximum number of people when he landed at the Lahore airport to court arrest.
This is the second time in recent days that Shehbaz has become embroiled in fierce controversy.
A few days ago, his statement favouring the formation of a ‘national government’ had sparked an outrage within the PML-N ranks.
On Saturday, before Shehbaz left for Islamabad to meet his elder brother at the Adiala Jail, he conferred with senior party leaders in Lahore where some senior party leaders reportedly ‘lashed out’ at him for allegedly keeping them in the dark regarding the rally plan for Friday.
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Khawaja Asif, Ahsan Iqbal, Mushahidullah Khan and Pervaiz Rashid reportedly castigated the party head for his failure to reach the Lahore airport and bring a maximum number of participants, knowledgeable party sources said.
The father-daughter duo had arrived from Abu Dhabi on Friday at the Lahore airport before they were arrested.
During the event, Shehbaz was conspicuous by his absence. He was supposed to lead a ‘gigantic’ rally to the airport but remained ‘stuck’ at Charing Cross on the Mall Road.
Shehbaz’s failure to reach the airport despite the three-hour delay of the Sharifs flight raised many an eyebrow.
Subsequently, he called off the rally without reaching the airport after the Sharifs were arrested and airlifted to Islamabad.
PML-N leaders, who were accompanying Shehbaz included former PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Pervaiz Rashid, Khawaja Asif, Ameer Muqam, Khawaja Saad Rafique, Sardar Ayaz Sadiq and others were informed by Hamza Shehbaz that the rally would reach the Lahore airport well before the Sharifs arrival to accord them a warm welcome.
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PML-N workers and supporters were further chagrined when those who reached the airport included just Mushahidullah Khan and a handful of PML-N figures.
“Mian sahib’s flight was scheduled to land at the airport at 6:15 pm Friday. It landed at around 9 pm. Despite the three-hour-long delay, only 5,000 to 6,000 people gathered at the airport and nearby areas.
“This is less than the strength of a single union council in Lahore, the bastion of our political power. If Mushahidullah can overcome restrictions and reach the airport, why can’t others? ” said a senior PML-N leader, wishing not to be named.
He said that the slackness shown by Shehbaz and his son, Hamza, the in-charge of the campaign, created an impression in the party ranks that Shehbaz and his aides had deliberately ditched the elder Sharif to consolidate their control over the party ahead of the polls.
A party leader, loyal to the Shehbaz group, defended Shehbaz’s move to stay away from the airport.
“The attendance of rallies was below our expectations. Most of the party’s top cadre was there but the number of activists had not gone up beyond a few thousand. Arriving at the airport with such an unimpressive show of public strength would have been far more embarrassing than not reaching there at all. I think this was a wise move to avoid embarrassment,” the leader said requesting anonymity.
One of Shehbaz’s close aides and PML-N Punjab leader Rana Sanaullah said that Shehbaz could not reach the airport because “the rally attendance was unprecedented … Because of such a huge crowd, the rally was moving at a snail’s pace.”
When he was asked why the rally was called off, he said: “Mian sahib and Maryam Nawaz were airlifted to Islamabad. Keeping this in view, the rally was called off.”
Sources said that Shehbaz’s failure to stage rallies in Rawalpindi and Islamabad also irked the elder Sharif.
When Shehbaz visited the Adiala Jail on Saturday night, the event failed to attract the spotlight.
PML-N also failed to muster large crowds from Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan where the party is in power, sources complained.