A rally unlike others before it

Women supporters in a festive mood at the PTI rally in Islamabad on Sunday. — Photo by Tanveer Shahzad

ISLAMABAD: A far cry from the chaotic scenes witnessed during the early days of the sit-in on Constitution Avenue, Sunday saw a massive, yet relatively disciplined turnout at the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf rally.

Most of those who made their way to Blue Area and Parade Avenue were locals, but even youths that converged on Islamabad in cars adorned with party paraphernalia and resounding with party anthems looked quite fired up.

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“We started from Peshawar in the early afternoon, but had to make several stopovers to avoid roadblocks, set up by mullahs,” said Rehmatullah, who led a group of Insaf Students Federation (ISF) activists.

The roadblocks he was referring to were set up by Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl workers, who were protesting the murder of a Sindh-based party leader.

While very few reports of violence between supporters of both parties came, no clashes were reported in the capital all day.

After its string of public meetings and sit-ins across the country, the PTI’s event on Sunday seemed far better organised than the party’s past outings in the capital

Similarly, when students from the Jamia Muhammadia gathered to protest in front of the National Press Club, blocking the road between Supermarket in Sector F-6 and China Chowk in Blue Area, PTI supporters did not look to engage with them either.

But most party workers making their way to the capital from different parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa encountered JUI-F roadblocks.

Those Dawn spoke to at the rally said that several people who were travelling to the rally with their families turned back because they did not want to get stuck on the roads.

The discipline on display was quite commendable: there was little pushing or shoving as men and women stood in line at the entrances to the venue.

Those waiting to get in would periodically take up a chant or two; cries of “Diesel, Diesel” and “Go Nawaz Go” could be heard from nearly all corners. But there was no name-calling or abuse and most sloganeers restrained themselves, ostensibly due to a large presence of women and children there.

Decked up in their Sunday best, young women, mothers with their children and even school girls added a lot of colour to the festivities.

Rubab, a first-time rally participant from Jhelum, told Dawn she had never attended a public event like this one.

“Impressed by the respect afforded to women by PTI supporters at previous events, my family agreed to bring me to Islamabad for this rally,” she said, as her mother munched on a bag of freshly roasted peanuts from a nearby vendor.

Compared to the pandemonium that ensued when the Azadi March reached the capital on August 15, Sunday’s show seemed better organised.

This event was also distinct from previous PTI outings in the capital in terms of the demographic of people who turned out.

Imran Khan’s whirlwind tour of Punjab with public rallies in nearly all major cities looked to have paid off, as an overwhelming majority of people at Sunday’s rally came from different parts of the province.

“We hired a bus to bring us here. We’re here to prove that it’s not just the people of KP who are with Imran Khan; he is our leader too,” said a charged Ghulam Mohammad, who had come all the way from Gujrat.

Lessons learnt

Taking a leaf out of the playbook of erstwhile sit-in partners, the Pakistan Awami Tehreek, PTI volunteers were out in full force on Sunday.

Stationed at different points all over the venue, they were on hand to assist those in attendance and kept a constant eye out for anything untoward. Each party worker displayed an ID badge, clearly mentioning their duty at the venue.

As it got dark, torch lights and mobile phones were used to guide women and the elderly through the crowd, helping them navigate some of the tricky terrain of Blue Area, which is currently closed for traffic due to work on the metro bus project.

Residents of the twin cities were by far the largest group at the rally. “In August, we were apprehensive of the massive police deployment and the roadblocks and containers,” said Raza Hussain, who lives in Sector F-6.

“But now, after having been to D-Chowk and seeing the daily routine, this seems normal to us,” he said.

Relief for citizens

Residents of Rawalpindi and Islamabad were especially grateful for the rally on Sunday, primarily because there was no gas loadshedding on Sunday.

Much like in August, when power outages stopped in the capital for nearly a week, this time around too, people at home could warm their toes in front of gas heaters. Parts of Pindi that have seen only dry pipelines for weeks now were also treated to full gas pressure on the weekend.

“My family is having homemade parathas for breakfast after nearly forty days because we have gas today,” said Asmat Zehra, who lives near Stadium Road in Rawalpindi.

“Ordinarily, there would be no gas from six in the morning to midnight and we’ve been forced to fetch naans from the tandoor every day. I would have to wake up in the middle of the night to prepare food and we would warm it on an LPG cylinder stove,” she said.

But PTI leader Asad Umar laughed off the move, saying, “These cheap tactics will never win hearts.”

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