ISLAMABAD: Nawaz Sharif in his role as the Quaid of the PML-N has placed himself a degree higher than mundane leadership. A deliberate aura has been created where he is presented almost as a cult leader with his devotees, their eyes shining with respect, are not encouraged to question his great wisdom. He is revered like a Pir, more in the fashion of MQM’s Altaf Bhai than the leader of a mainstream democratic party.

The party is drifting fast from the culture of collective leadership to a One-Man decision-making body. The party’s organisational structure stands dissolved since last year. The earlier structure, still displayed on the party website, has 60 plus Nadir Pervaiz as in-charge of Youth Affairs, another 45 plus Rana Ashraf heads the student wing; Chartered Accountant Ishaq Dar is the President of International Affairs.

PML-N Spokesman Pervaiz Rashid is hopeful that the new organisational structure will be in place by June. The party leadership, on the contrary, does not seem in a rush to accomplish the deadline. It suits Nawaz Sharif as this allows him to keep the reins of power in his hands. He can issue commands from his recluse in Raiwind without having to commit himself on issues. This may be one of the reasons that he did not contest the recent by-elections to become the leader of the opposition. Absolute power or the present arrangement of being in power in the Punjab and in opposition in Islamabad suits him better.

The problem is that the world outside is not being allowed enough to peek into his mind. We don’t know his new perceptions on crucial issues and what his ascent to power will mean for Pakistan, the region and the world. There is a well thought-out strategy to block extra exposure of him. He appears in crowded press conferences on special issues where there is little chance of exploring his mind in other areas. Interviews are rare and granted only either to ‘likeminded’ journalists or to those who are likely to give positive impression on specified issues. His media managers generally ask for the list of questions and have sometimes asked not to probe on, let’s say, the Taliban or the US. There have been instances when Nawaz Sharif stopped the interview half way because the questioner slightly delved into a no-go area.

Journalists complain that the PML-N, in contrast to the thick skinned PPP, is over-sensitive and over-reacts even on minor criticism. This view was shared by six senior editors and news directors of major TV channels in an informal gathering the other day. A web of mystery and enigma shrouds Nawaz Sharif. Nobody suggests that a person who has been in power for so long could be less than extraordinarily intelligent. But if you try to double check if there has been any addition to Nawaz Sharif’s great wisdom or if you delve into a no-go-area of the family or the clan, you should be ready for a nasty response.

A top PML-N leader was asked simple questions about Nawaz Sharif’s children and as to what they were doing. The gentleman gave some information reluctantly, his tone betraying that he did not like the line of questioning. When asked how many wives and children does Shahbaz Sharif have, he flared up instantly. It took some effort to explain that when a politician offers him or herself for a public life, he or she may not have the same rights to secrecy as a private citizen does. He was asked that if Mustafa Khar’s wives and Asif Zardari’s philandering could be discussed, why could not a journalist ask a benign question about, what the number of wives and children the chief minister of the biggest province may have. The question becomes more pertinent when the public has to borne the expense for the security of several official residences. There is the grand official residence renovated by Pervaiz Elahi for criminally massive expense, now being used for the CM Secretariat; the residences of the CM’s first wife in Defence and the third wife’s in Gulberg; the ancestral home in Model Town and the royal state of Jatti Umrah in Raiwind. Half his time for ‘great governance’ gets wasted shuttling among them. So how about his second wife?

He banged the phone down, only to call again after five minutes to apologise over his “blood pressure” and to request that his name be withheld. The parting shot was: “Khaba Khaayay kissi din (Let’s eat some day).” This was a typical PML-N response, almost like the ‘mitti pao’ (bury it down) creed of PML-Q.

There is a whole rent-a-journalist service available where key members are manoeuvred to be placed on key jobs in media groups. They have a licence to score even with anybody who dares to cross the line. It was created in the 1980s, Alhamdulillah, by the PML of that time, and perfected by Mushahid Hussain in the 1990s and then ruthlessly used by the Musharraf government against its founders. The service is all set to be used again next time they are in power in Islamabad.

The problem with Nawaz Sharif is that he thinks that if you are not with him, you are against him. He actually asked me and Dawn’s Zaffar Abbass in Parliament corridors: “I can’t understand which side you are on.” I recall Zaffar saying that we take it as a compliment. Perhaps, Nawaz Sharif needs to judge journalists in black and white terms. There is a whole brigade of new media waiting for them. Until then, Khaba Khao.

To be continued

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Date: Sunday, March 28, 2010