We returned from Multan with a very heavy heart. This week is historic; it is the battleground where by elections are due this week on Makhdum Javed Hashmi’s seat.

Multan, the city of Saints with more than 70 shrines, the home of many famous Pakistani politicians, hosted an event neither of us had thought of or seen before.

This city had never seen such crowds in the past. On our way from Lahore to Multan, we were surrounded by rallies shouting, “Go Nawaz Go!” from Khanewal, Sahiwal, Vehari and Mian Channu, reaching Qasim stadium located next to the historic fort and mosoleum of Shah RukneAlam. The roads were blocked; we spent a good hour standing outside the venue simply because the police was present but was not directing traffic. Finally we came out, chaddar and all, to request traffic to move so we could reach the entrance gate. Everywhere, we saw people, mostly the young, women and families. It  was a sea of people, full of Jazba and jubilation. Hard as it was to find our way through them, it was elevating to see the hope in their hearts and minds for a just and fair Pakistan. The gathering was amazing in terms of numbers and the responsiveness with a message that was loud and clear.

To understand what happened, one must comprehend the scenario. The city was Multan, home to Makhdum Javed Hashmi who left his position as president Pakistan Tehreeke Insaf to take a pro Government stance. The reality of his being cornered by the youth, with deprecating slogans shouted every time he surfaces publicly, is an embarrassment for him and the government supporting him. Multan is also homeground to Shah Mehmood Qureshi , Vice Chairman PTI and Javed Hashmi’s rival. The other aspect is the series of successful PTI jalsas fueling the fire of dissent against the government and new cases of common citizens standing up against the system surfacing every day. On the other side, the kitchen cabinet running this “democracy” has its Gullu Butt mindset tightly maintained, ready to do anything at all to achieve its goals, whilst holding human life and ethics in contempt. With this background, the by elections on NA 149 were due right after the jalsa and the popular vote seems to be against Hashmi Sahib.

In a jalsa, everything happens so fast that you don’t have time to reflect. You know something is wrong when you see the leadership accessing the stage from poles, but at that point you can only be an observer or a victim.

So the question that begs to be asked is this: was the debacle that resulted in the death of seven boys engineered, or was it simply mismanagement at many levels? I will report on what I observed directly, and what I saw on television.

The turnout was unbelievable. People had come from all over South Punjab, and the venue was overflowing. Was this a surprise? Multan, unlike Lahore, was probably not ready and peoples’ minds had doubts about the turnout. PTI had asked for a smaller open ground but was asked by the administration to use the stadium which was a larger venue and was an enclosed space with many possibilities for administration.

Normally, the road leading to the stage is cordoned off and barricaded by police and access is only granted to individuals with passes. Here, the road was open to all and the police were bystanders. In fact, they were abetting the crowd to access the stage by pulling them to the container. The agreement between the government and PTI clearly states that the government and district administration along with the police, would be responsible for the traffic and routes leading up to the jalsa. This document is available freely on the internet. Thankfully, this bringing hooligans onto the stage by the police is recorded on TV cameras.

The heart wrenching videos showing the results of the stampede are very clear: it happened in front of the half opened gate number 5, because one half of the gate was not only closed but padlocked! Who was responsible for locking those gates? The much touted affidavit between DCO Multan and District president PTI Multan Ijaz Janjua, does not give responsibility of the stadium gate management to the PTI.   

In all honesty, the PTI management should have anticipated foul play by the local government administration. In a country where the Prime Minister uses the state machinery for his personal  functions and manages opponents through Gullu Butts, it is but certain that they will have a plan for the disruption of rival activities. In fact, there was an expectation in political circles that this jalsa carried the possibility of some untoward incident. This is also borne out by what happened in the Lahore Jalsa on 28 September. The way Gullu Butts dressed up in PTI garb broke into the ladies enclosure and harassed the women to leave the pindal by finding their way through the barbed wire on the other side, is typical of how the Punjab administration works.

The issue of the lights is also significant. The district administration Multan cut the electricity the night before and then restored it, only to remove it again. Also, there were issues with diesel in the generators working in the pindal.

Security was a significant issue and was managed poorly. Jalsas require organization and experience, to manage a million or more people. Failure to address these aspects can result in much bigger catastrophes. We are a nation living in ad-hocism, never ready to plan or anticipate. Imran Khan has woken the masses up, but unless his team rises to the task, they will fail not only him but also this nation.

n    The writer is a citizen living in Lahore.