Whose rally was bigger: The politics of crowd-counting

Published: November 1, 2011
Provincial agencies pronounce PML-N the winner, federal officials say PTI had the bigger crowd.

Provincial agencies pronounce PML-N the winner, federal officials say PTI had the bigger crowd. PHOTO: EXPRESS/FILE


Who had the bigger rally this past weekend: Punjab’s ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz or the surging Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf? The answer varies widely depending on who you ask – and, of course, who the counters are reporting to.

Even though they come up with varying estimates, provincial law enforcement and intelligence agencies – answerable, it ought to be mentioned, ultimately to Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif – say that the PML-N narrowly beat out the PTI in terms of crowd count. Federal government agencies – under the supervision of the PML-N’s rival Pakistan Peoples Party – say that the PTI rally comfortably outdid the PML-N rally.

The Special Branch of the Punjab Police estimated that the PTI rally on Sunday attracted between 40,000 and 45,000 people, while the PML-N rally on Friday attracted between 45,000 and 50,000. Provincial government figures suggest that about half of the PTI rally’s attendees were from Lahore while the remaining were from the rest of Punjab and even Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and the tribal areas.

The devil, however, lies in the details. The Punjab police report claims, somewhat astonishingly, that as of 4:14 pm on Friday there were only about 3,000 people at the PML-N rally venue, a number that somehow swelled to just fewer than 50,000 over the next hour and a half.

By contrast, the Special Branch also admits that there were around 8,000 people by 3:15 pm at the PTI rally on Sunday, a number that they then claim rose much more slowly to less than 45,000 by 6 pm.

The numbers from the federal government’s agencies, on the other hand, could not be more different. The Intelligence Bureau – the only agency directly answerable to the civilian government in Islamabad – estimates that the PML-N’s crowd was between 20,000 and 22,000 people while the PTI’s crowd may have been as high as 60,000. The IB also estimates that, if the number of people unable to reach the venue due to traffic are counted, the total number of attendees at the PTI rally may well approach 100,000.

Federal agencies seemed to agree that the bulk of attendees at the PML-N rally came from outside Lahore, putting the proportion of Lahoris attending the Shahbaz Sharif speech at between 20% and 25%.

Both federal and provincial intelligence and law enforcement agencies seem to have made elaborate preparations for monitoring both rallies, and seem to have paid much attention to estimating crowd sizes, according to sources familiar with the matter.

Field staffers were deployed by the Punjab Police Special Branch and Security Branch, the Inter-Services Intelligence, the Intelligence Bureau and Military Intelligence. Agents sent reports every few minutes with details such as the number and types of vehicles, the names and designations of those who led the convoys, the point of origin of every vehicle, their time of departure, etc.

Messages were then relayed from field agents by telephone and text messages to operational leaders in Lahore, who then forwarded reports by fax as well as special messenger to their respective senior officials.

One method that was a favourite of all agencies in estimating the number of people was how much area the crowd covered, and then multiplying that number with an estimate of density, calculated through the use of photographs and videos of the crowd, according to a senior intelligence official who was involved in covering both events. Other methods used include deriving estimates from the numbers of vehicles that drove to the venue.

“Agencies have to be very careful about making assessments of the numerical strength of the crowds because we have to justify [our estimates] through facts and figures,” he said, requesting not to be identified.

However, an official from another agency, who has extensive experience in monitoring crowds, said that agencies frequently exaggerate or revise downwards the numbers of the crowds they cover for political reasons.

“Civil servants responsible for [producing estimates] cannot afford the displeasure of their political masters who have no stomach to digest the truth,” he said.

In any case, the numbers suggest that the minnows, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf seem to have, even in the worst case scenario, matched the behemoth PML-N.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 1st, 2011. 

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Reader Comments (48)

  • CK
    Nov 1, 2011 - 9:17AM

    PTI clearly had more people.


  • moeed
    Nov 1, 2011 - 9:49AM

    number does not matter what matter is people came with thier own will people from all walks of life rich to poor and modern to religious and women and children and elders and the passion which i saw in the people was amazing as they were saying we had enough. i would also like to congratulate imran khan on breaking this rhethoric that his supporters wont come out on election day and vote for him but the crowd proved it this time if the people can come all the way from deffence they can go to thier local polling station and vote aswelll.


  • moeed
    Nov 1, 2011 - 9:58AM

    imran khan zindabad
    what matters is who came with his own will in pti and who came by force in pml n


  • Farooq Khalid
    Nov 1, 2011 - 10:12AM

    Even a blind could tell PTI had many times more people then PML N rally.


  • Hassan
    Nov 1, 2011 - 10:12AM

    All these figures are extremely short sighted. The numbers in at least the PTI rally were definitely more than a couple of lakhs. It wasnt in the thousands please. And yes, PTI’s rally was 5 times greater than PML N’s. You gotta agree with that!


  • kamran
    Nov 1, 2011 - 10:29AM

    There are some point to be considered before we deceided whose rally is big

    -Its PTI all pakistn worker convention which they are preparing for two months before people come all over the country and all not come from lahore or near to lahore.

    -How any one can assure the profession of each partcipant of jalsa

    -Is there any patwari in imran khan jalsa

    -If PML-N call all pakistan worker convention then in my opinion its minar e pakistan place is small THE RALLY OF 28TH OCtober is rally only from lahore or near to lahoreRecommend

  • Dildar
    Nov 1, 2011 - 10:33AM

    pmln had a rally againts corruption, but pti has a musical concert whats the comparrision.


  • Ebrahim
    Nov 1, 2011 - 10:58AM

    @ashok sai: Show some respect, the IDPs are humans and it is shameful to make fun of their situation. I hope it doesn’t happen to you and your family, and if it does I am sure anyone who supports PTI, will never make fun of a worthless, and shameless person like yourself.


  • Ebrahim
    Nov 1, 2011 - 11:05AM

    @kamran: Worker convention?? Did you even see the jalsa?? It wasn’t a worker convention, it was a jalsa to get rid of corruptionRecommend

  • Hafeez Pasha
    Nov 1, 2011 - 11:13AM

    Assuming an average human being needs 4 sq. feet of space to stand without touching the person next to him, measure the area of Minar-e-Pakistan that was full of people using Google Earth and you will come to a figure of 300,000. Reduce that by 100,000 just to appease the sceptics and you will come to a figure of 200,000. Also, let’s not forget that a stream of people were constantly coming and leaving the PTI rally, unlike MQM rallies no one is allowed to leave until the rally is officially over.


  • Tariq Ajmal
    Nov 1, 2011 - 11:33AM

    imran khan


  • Adnan Janjua
    Nov 1, 2011 - 11:36AM

    PTI brought crowed from all over Pakistan while in PML(N) peoples were from Lahore only then why we are comparing both crowed. Is it any sense.


  • Adnan Janjua
    Nov 1, 2011 - 11:38AM

    PML ( N ) is one the party who can give us right direction so we should supprot to PML (N) for better Pakistan.


  • fazal
    Nov 1, 2011 - 12:04PM


    Well! number doesn’t matter.

    What matter for me is that huge numbers of people came in with their family members.
    Kids, wives, brothers, sisters & old age parents.

    I’m sure PTI will be making the difference as it seemed to me.

    Hope for the best.



  • Ali Rashid
    Nov 1, 2011 - 12:07PM

    Unfortunately we have to rely on foreign media in this respect also, since a fair assessment is not possible, as evident in the article itself. International media has reported Imran’s jalsa extensively. Their estimate is almost 100,000 people in PTI’s rally. Shebaz Sharif’s jalsa was much smaller then that by any standards.


  • mohsin sheraz
    Nov 1, 2011 - 12:28PM

    PTI had a clear mandatory and natural reponse from the deprived people of pakistan.


  • ashok sai
    Nov 1, 2011 - 12:41PM


    I am sorry mate if my post offended you. It actually targeted at those running rallies without even bother about the plight of the IDP’s. Any ways, my post was removed, I will try to elaborate my points in my future posts.



  • Zohra
    Nov 1, 2011 - 12:42PM

    it is not matter whose rally is bigger
    i think question is this who can run this country better
    I think it is SHAHBAZ SHARIF not Imran Khan
    Nawaz sHARIF SHOULD tell his agena to people Recommend

  • Ashraf P
    Nov 1, 2011 - 12:46PM

    Imran Khan does not have a “Jaadhu ki chadi” to make all of Pakistan’s problems go away. Neither does he have access to funds to tide away Pakistan’s economic mess. To have access to funds, he needs to strike deals with the IMF and the US – both of which he may not like to do.


  • Zohra
    Nov 1, 2011 - 12:51PM

    imran kahn show was only musical concert and had more media coverage than pml(n) rallyRecommend

  • Ali
    Nov 1, 2011 - 1:00PM

    space where Jalsa Conducted is 1200 ft x 1200 ft = 1440,000 sq.ft / 4 sq . one normal person needs 2×2=4sq ft to stand or sit it means 1440000/4 360,000 persons can be accommodated inside Minar-e-Pakistan,

    Thousands were standing on roads as there was no space inside Minar-e-Pakistan ground.
    If someone has doubt please take measurement at your own by using GOOGLE EARTH.**



  • Rana
    Nov 1, 2011 - 1:07PM

    I was PTI Jalsa with family and friends. I can’t give the number, but never in my life saw such a big gathering in Lahore. Congratulations to people of Lahore for supporting their brave son Imran Khan.


  • Noble Tufail
    Nov 1, 2011 - 1:10PM

    I will not forget to appreciate provincial governemnt’s safety and security arrangements. Good work shahbaz sharif and team.


  • m.tahseen
    Nov 1, 2011 - 1:18PM

    PML-N rally is big than imran khan rally. PML-N rally is only from lahore n PTI is all over Pakistan. itz me PML-N is winner:)


  • Faisel Hafeez
    Nov 1, 2011 - 2:10PM

    Regardless of the head count, Mr. Shahbaz Sharif should not be reciting poems of Habib Jalib.
    This amounts to ridiculing the Revolutionary Spirit embedded in the words of the poem, which has been an inspiration of the ‘Left’ in Pakistan. The Poem is directed against everything Shahbaz Sharif stands for and represents.


  • minhaj
    Nov 1, 2011 - 2:16PM

    Imran Khan has won that match.Recommend

  • muhammad ishaq
    Nov 1, 2011 - 2:21PM

    number of crude is not important but the support of nation.that was totally dependent open the peoples of Pakistan.what they want and as you can see that what they want.
    actually the thing is that everyone is fighting for power not for the nation of Pakistan.now this is the time to prove your self in a logical way.would you people like to be more punished by these monsters or find your by your own.
    just be logical with your self.


  • M.A.S
    Nov 1, 2011 - 2:50PM

    I took 3 people along with me to the rally from a place that is 2 hours away from Lahore. I told them, “we need not to go for ourselves, but for the generation to come, we dont want them to finger point us the way we do it to our parents”.

    Now i think no one is a fool who ruins its sundays and go on a political rally. It was all with our own will to save PAKISTAN FROM THE BRATS THAT HAVE RUINE THE DEVELOPMENT DONE OVER THE PAST ONE DECADE.


  • Aadersh
    Nov 1, 2011 - 2:54PM

    Was there any comparison between patwaris & masses of Pakistan??


  • zehra
    Nov 1, 2011 - 3:07PM

    the numbers dont matter, what matters is that even while sitting in karachi i could resonate the positve energy of the pti rally,it was after ages that i had a hope a glimpse of what could be, and i know there will be many others like me who felt the same and will reciporcate through votes. for me PTI has arrived and arrived well


  • Ammad
    Nov 1, 2011 - 3:25PM

    @ mohsin sheraz

    Majority of the PTI supporters are not the deprived, in fact that is exactly their problem.


  • Raja Waheed
    Nov 1, 2011 - 4:54PM

    No one can hidw TRUTH. It speaks itself.


  • Dr.A.K. Tewari
    Nov 1, 2011 - 5:32PM

    What about PPP . Though it is not in a position to challenge the both parties in Panjab but enjoy support of hidden vote .At present PPP is the only party which can say thar about 59 % of Pskistani are in their support . Provincial election at present can not have any affect on the fedral Govt.


  • Dr.A.K. Tewari
    Nov 1, 2011 - 5:51PM

    @M.A.S , why you prrsent a twisted way leading to your target . Expess yourself openly .


  • correct option
    Nov 1, 2011 - 6:09PM

    I feel bad for the poor patwaris who had to drag their families along to the PNL-N jalsa…


  • Moeza Shah
    Nov 1, 2011 - 7:40PM

    Main thing is that youth gathered at PTI’s platform and this shows that, no doubt, change should come..


  • Amir Ali
    Nov 1, 2011 - 8:14PM

    Imran may be good looking, but Shahbaz is hard working. no denying!


  • M. Dewan
    Nov 2, 2011 - 6:12AM

    The head count was over 1 lac. I personally attended the rally.

    Anyway ignore this fact and lets talk about the point raised with regards to the attendance of people form different other political parties (PPP, MLN, Jamite etc as stated above, this obviously includes ppl from all political parties). If these political ppl were there then its a shameful act on behalf of these parties. Politics should be pure from all such hypocritical act. Its pretty obvious that the parties using unethical means to achieve their motives, when in power are corrupt as the corruption is framed in their political character. Secondly, if these people were their, apart from their political motive, perhaps PTI can be the only party meeting the agenda and needs of every pakistani.

    Thirdly forget the head count. You agree that there were young people, people form middle class, men and women form universities and colleges. In other words i am not wrong we may call them educated people. So the rally was heavily attended by the educated people – people with brains, people who can think about the better Pakistan. And according to Islam, such people are people with brain and heart and having opinion better than the opinion of 1000 illiterate people. It was a gathering of good brain, pure motivation and a yearning desire to make a bright Pakistan.

    Go and watch the video of the rally of PPI, MQM and PML-N, and see what type of crowd attends those rally – mere illiterate political worker, with no sense, no feelings for Pakistan.

    Dude please let the change happen. It was good show and much needed show. Support PTI. Just let the change happen and free Pakistan from traditional political figures and its not possible without your, mine and everyone’s help. Just think of Pakistan – Trust me we are nothing without it – someone should solve our problems. 50 years are enough for army, PPP, PML and MQM. They have failed. Please think sensible, think your parents, children, friends and ME and YOURSELF. You are the one.


  • sajjad
    Nov 2, 2011 - 9:15AM

    Here we saw that number of the people in PTI crowds are educated as well as young generation nomination in PTI but other side few educated. All new generation to want to change and save the Pakistan… we want to see in next PM of Pakistan Imran khan


  • Nov 2, 2011 - 3:19PM

    Imran’s jalsa was too big..and the the people who went there had ‘junoon’ .


  • Adeel
    Nov 2, 2011 - 7:49PM

    Does it matter Imran? Few observations

    Repeatedly Imran being called armys B team, not denied by him categorically, he is only opposing drone attacks but not army’s support for zardari/acting on american agenda etc
    It took Imran 15 yrs to hold one big jalsa (even then people coming from all over paksitan to make it a success), pmln/ppp have held countless similar jalsas over the yrs
    For me the biggest dissapopointment is his silent friendship with mqm, another hint he is being supported by army
    With rejects of other parties e.g Mian azhar joining his party I cant see any revolution. At best another political party with same old faces and few new slogans

    To be honest despite all his faults Nawaz Sharif is the only anti establishment leader currently. Imran has yet to prove himself that he is anti establishment Recommend

  • Syed
    Nov 2, 2011 - 8:16PM

    @ Hafeez Pasha, I hope that we have people like you in govt. doing calculation wiser without using much resources (that may/may not be reliable) is the need of an hour.

    @ Adnan Janjua, If its true that people came from all over Pakistan, then you have to give Credit to PTI that people came just to attend the Jalsa from all over Pakistan which also shows what people wants. Question for you: Is this true for Shabaz Sharif now?

    I have friends from Lahore and as far as Rahim-Yaar-Khan (from Lahore) and they are saying its is now buzzing with Imran’s name!


  • Yasir Sheikh
    Nov 3, 2011 - 12:47AM

    I feel sorry for the Intelligence factor of those writing in support of PML-N. Dont know where your conscious goes when u speak highly about the Sharif brothers. Do u have any idea how much wealth they amassed in previous governments through SRO’s benefitting their own businesses? Do u have any idea of how many loans they got written off? Do have any idea of how many undeclared properties these loot brothers have. Imran Khan if nothing else, is a honest dedicated man. Hatts off to him for standing as tall as a party like PML-N who has been in the government twice! Atleast this will help lower the arrogance of the Dengue brothers who think Lahore is their feifdom. Sorry boys but your time is over! Wake up and it will only benefit you.Recommend

  • i m joking
    Nov 3, 2011 - 8:58PM

    PML N rally / jallsi is bigger than PTI jallssaaa (joke of the day) dont mind


  • sana saeed
    Nov 5, 2011 - 9:16AM

    mian sahab is the winner


  • Dr.A.K. Tewari
    Nov 6, 2011 - 7:40PM

    mian sahab is the winner , may be….
    But AWAAM will be looser , It is certain …..


  • muhammad ishaq
    Nov 17, 2011 - 2:23PM

    dear i have just read your statement and i am little bit disappointed from your behavior.
    people like you don’t want to see change in positive sense.


  • muhammad ishaq
    Nov 17, 2011 - 2:30PM

    i agreed that ppp having large support but that happens just because of Banazir Bhutto but that formula would not helpful for the feature because now our nation is ready to watch changed environment in political environment.


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