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Maryam Nawaz: A Tale Of Legacy, Chaos And A Towering Rise

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The venue was legendary. In the north-eastern region of Punjab, there lies the rural district of Mandi Bahauddin. It once witnessed the Great Battle of Hydaspes. Alexander did walk away victoriously, but at the cost of Bucephalus [his favourite horse who had served him for more than twenty years], an arrow that pierced his chest and a broken spirit that eventually forced him to head home.

But on that humid evening of 7th July 2019, streets of this diminutive district were flooded with people. The visitors managed to enter the town but had to grapple through flocks of local inhabitants for hours at a snail’s pace. The crowd would run towards them at the very first sight; chanting, singing, dancing, showering them with rose petals and kissing the windscreen of their vehicle. Eventually, Safdar had to climb on top of the vehicle, to request for the passage and guide this caravan to its destination. This was the first solo political venture of Maryam Nawaz, the daughter of three time-PM of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif.

Nawaz Sharif was definitely born with a kiss from Fortuna, the roman goddess of fortune. If not, try explaining his four decades long survival on the extremely turbulent, deeply convoluted, minutely manipulated and dangerously polarized political landscape of Pakistan. There are too many centers of power, all reporting to one; the powerful military establishment. Nawaz Sharif has been on the right and wrong side of them all. While being on the right side of these centers of power brought him to a smooth ascend in politics, choosing the opposite caused him orchestrated ouster from governments, disqualifications from electoral politics, judicial convictions, controversial jail terms, exile and destruction of family businesses. On top of this, the political party [PMLN] he had led , comes with a certain DNA; a byproduct of lengthy dictatorial regimes and pro-establishment politics.

Traditionally they all join hands under a military dictator and part ways with his departure, and the very first person they always abandon is the political face appointed to lead them. Nawaz Sharif emerged from the same chaos and traditions. Over the coming years though, he amassed a decisive public support to win the electoral process. This ensued a new tug of war [who has the right to rule in Pakistan] between him and the military establishment. Despite his overwhelming public support, the legacy of his own party did haunt him; he was muscled out of power thrice, not once he was voted-out by people. The previous two dismissals of him were the most tumultuous; once via military coup while the other was the simple replay of what happened to Dilma Rouseff in Brazil ; a nexus of multiple institutions instrumenting a court ordered dismissal. On both occasions he was jailed, on both occasions his party maintained its legacy to abandon him and on both occasions the women of his life came to his rescue. In the aftermath of the military coup in 1999, his wife [Kulsoom Nawaz] stepped in to organize a political movement in his support while the recent turmoil enabled his daughter [ Maryam Nawaz] to land in the political arena. Contrary to Kulsoom retiring back to her domestic responsibilities after the job was done, Maryam was immediately perceived as the torchbearer of Nawaz Sharif’s narrative.

It is often implied that the successor will possess the similar characteristics as the predecessor. In this case however, the father daughter duo are polar opposites. The father is an introvert, the daughter is outspoken. He thinks twice prior to uttering a word, she is bold with the words. He sounds mature and talks between the lines, she is probably the most eloquent politician seen in recent times. His aggression is passive, she is blunt and vehemently challenges the opponents. But they do share the same ideology i.e. only elected people by the masses have the right to rule. In fact none other than her has ever been so vocal to echo his views. Differences between them, however, are more than just what is apparent; his entry to politics was in the aftermath of 1970’s nationalization that took away the family’s business empire, she entered politics because her father’s honor was at stake. But the most vital difference between them is their relative journey in politics; Nawaz Sharif’s ascend in politics was as smooth as a hot knife through butter, Maryam’s road to prominence was made of nothing but dust and thorns.

Political upheavals are nothing new to her. She was there from the beginning, hardly a few years old when her father first ventured into politics. Since then, she has been around her father through thick and thin, including a decade long exile. But the moment she became visible on the political landscape in 2012, her preeminence was instantly perceived as a threat. The ongoing tug of war over right to rule in Pakistan, during the third term of Nawaz Sharif [2013-2018], was most visible on TV screens. He and his government were at the receiving end of the fiercest criticism. Maryam took to social media to counter this onslaught and party supporters started rallying around her. Evidently this aggressive debunking of the narratives built by electronic media irked the opponents. Soon she was at the receiving end of countless filthy social media trends, degrading media analysis and humiliating political statements and above all; allegations of leaking state secrets that she had no access to. One might find it hard to believe that she has already been forced to vacate a public office under court ruling, being jailed twice alongside her husband, being convicted by an accountability court [that was later torn apart by a higher court] and being disqualified from contesting elections. But nothing managed to deter her as she persisted with the same narrative and that earned her a wide recognition as the symbol of resistance. Just a couple of years ago many argued that there was no space for her on the political landscape, now a majority recognizes her attraction for the masses. A very simple yardstick to measure her impact is to quantify how much she is discussed during political debates, how counterparts from other parties have established working relationships with her and how much time opposing spokespersons spend everyday in order to respond to or take digs at her.

Maryam’s rise is a phenomenon that is yet to be fully comprehended. Her primogenial objective was to stand by her father, the man who was elected by the people thrice, muscled out of power thrice, abandoned by his own party twice and now was controversially jailed just to make an example out of him. For this she suffered the same ordeal, not alone but alongside her husband [Safdar]. But to fathom what culminated Maryam to this position of influence, one may need to explore too many layers of this story; Is it just a sympathy wave for Nawaz Sharif? Is it the supremacy of his economic paradigm over the paradox of national security that cannot be debated but becomes evident in the shape of his support in the masses? Is her rise a response to the idée fixe that a new political order must be implemented regardless of the will of people? Did PMLN exceeding public expectations while being at the helm of the affairs made the masses not to look elsewhere? And did PLMN staying true to its legacy made its supporters prefer a junior but brave emerging face over the reluctant seniors? Perhaps it’s a combination of all. This is a debate that may continue for years to come. As of now, Maryam’s clarity of thoughts coupled with her eloquence is leaving her admirers messmerized and her cynics baffled.

The story of Pakistan’s politics is at a unique crossroad as the political landscape is transitioning through a number of changes; the ancient doctrine of minutely controlling political narratives has decayed, the overzealous emphasis on maintaining this control alongside the advent of social media has contributed to the birth of parallel avenues e.g social media channels and news portals. Not all of these forums are controllable via state owned infrastructure or a business tycoon with interests. The economic paradigm that had leveraged the national resources for decades has yielded nothing but poverty, incomprehension, unemployment, insecurity and national disintegration for the people of Pakistan. With almost two-thirds of the population belonging to the age group of under forty, a new majority has surfaced opposite to far more harsh realities than any older generations of the nation may have endured. And in the midst of this transition, a younger breed of politicians is emerging with Maryam Nawaz towering them all.
Her rise has been materialized against all odds and her acceptance in the masses is vivid. How she channels this all for the betterment of Pakistan in the future, remains to be seen.

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