Despite criticism, there is something to be said about the former First Daughter
Begum Kulsoom Nawaz’s illness could hardly have come at a worse time for PML-N. With the prime minister just ousted, the begum just launched on the NA-120 campaign, suddenly came the sad news of her throat cancer. Naturally, with her husband joining their sons in London to look after her – as she did when he underwent his quadruple bypass – the campaign was left, quietly literally, hanging in the balance.
This is precisely where Maryam Nawaz made the difference. Despite having to adjust to the leadership role in very limited real time she has come through exceedingly well. She has not just kept up the momentum created by her father, especially the GT Road drive to Lahore, but also developed some serious initiative of her own.
Old timers at politics will tell you that a leader’s place really comes to be known by people’s reaction at rallies. And going by how party rank and file all but stampeded the stage in trying to get close to her at Lahore the other day, it is safe to say that such following has been generated by only a handful of politicians in Pakistan. Now, all she has to do is grow, and this following will only snowball.
Her ascent once again gave rise to controversy regarding the alleged PML-N habit of keeping positions of power and prestige within the family. Firstly, the ruling party busted this myth when Shahid Khaqan Abbasi was elevated to the position of PM. Clearly, as everybody can see, there is no meddling, from any quarter, in his running of the government. Of course he often confers with former PM Nawaz, but that is for his own, and the country’s, benefit, not because Mr Sharif is trying to impress his will on the new cabinet.
Secondly, that argument also went out the window because of Maryam’s natural settling in into the role of a leader. Remember, PML-N is now the largest party in the country, it is spread across the length and breadth of Pakistan. Keeping control of it and running it like a well-oiled machine, through peaks and troughs – especially the darkest days of the leadership’s exile – has been no easy task. Yet Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif have become quite the experts in it.
Maryam, despite reservations from across the opposition, has displayed a natural affinity to politics and leadership that has thrown her critics off track already. Also, her rise has heir apparent has also dispelled notions that members from one demographic of the party might be elevated to a higher position once the mantle moves, inevitably, from Nawaz Sharif. Not only will she continue her father’s legacy, she will ensure the party does not splinter as a transfer of power takes place sooner or later.
Had it not been for Maryam, PML-N would have been neck deep in trouble on at least two counts. It would have been rudderless in the crucial march to NA-120. A poor show here would hit the party very hard. Even a shrunk victory margin will bring more sorrow than happiness. And with Begum Kulsoom still recovering in London and Nawaz Sharif rightly by her side, Maryam has ensured that the party retains the initiative.
And two, there is now no risk of the party splintering into groups – don’t forget 24-hour breaking news of a good two dozen members ready to leave the party, etc. – as Nawaz Sharif is occupied in family matters despite the crucial timing of the by election. Also, there is now an assured continuity of command that sits well, very well in fact, with the party and the voters.
A fresh doze of life always does wonders for political parties. Now, with Maryam having made her initial mark, she will no doubt try to make a bigger impression with every outing as the election nears. This will also make others, within the party and outside, to also pull their sock sup and get into shape. That will ensure not just a robust outing by PML-N and its supporters, but also good show all around. Already the field is full, with 44 candidates in the field.
So far so good, then, for Maryam and the party. She has already helped it absorb the worst of the shock – Begum’s surgery and Nawaz’s absence – and even made strides of her own. Now it’s for the by election itself to give the final verdict on her effort. For those questioning her entry into politics not too long ago, the Maryam factor has already answered most questions. And, surely, the election will answer the rest.