They say a picture speaks a thousand words, right? Well, the picture that I’ve shared here speaks a million words.
This picture was taken at a time when things were very shaken up politically. The general elections had just taken place. The two main parties campaigned intensely to secure the majority of seats. The ruling party, PML-N (Nawaz Sharif) is facing a strong competition from Imran Khan’s party Pakistan Tehreek Insaaf, of which my father was President Punjab, and is now contesting from his locality, PP 156 (Cantonment).
Funnily enough, May 11th, 2013, the day of general elections, is also my birthday. I wear my Imran Khan kurta (popularized by fashion retailer Karma) to show support for PTI on voting day. Around 8am, my father and I go to our polling station in Cantt, which is full of PTI supporters. Before we even begin to check out the other polling stations, we are confident PTI will win in Cantt division (against Mr. Saad Rafique, our inept Railways Minister).
From this moment onward, I go along with my father to each and every polling station in the Cantt area. There are 100s of people, from both the major parties, fighting, pushing and shoving each other, in an attempt to cast more votes. The only difference between the two were, one were civilized while the other were bullies. I don’t need to explain the kind of rigging we see with our own eyes for that is pretty self-explanatory (except to those who don’t want to believe rigging took place).
The night of 11th May, the election results starts to pour in; my father is winning in his district. There is a large number of party workers that worked with my father, gathering at the office watching the results being aired live. Soon, the gap in the number of votes is getting larger and larger, with my father leading the polls against his competitor. Some party workers are already arranging sweets to be distributed. We are all very confident about winning the election. Finally, all the hard work pays off, we tell ourselves.
Then something happens around 1130pm. Suddenly the results stop coming in. After some thirty minutes or so, after getting no results, the numbers start pouring in. Soon, the competitor is gaining a lead and my father’s votes are being reduced. By the next two hours, the entire results have been changed and my father loses. It has become way too obvious that some sort of manipulation with the results has taken place.
At this moment, when the complete election results are not even announced, Mr. Nawaz Sharif has already orated his victory speech. This only solidifies our argument that rigging has taken place.
At 1am, there are a lot of angry party workers, who had been working at the polling stations, who refuse to believe that we lost. Even I myself, who visited all these polling stations, can’t believe that my father has lost. All the energy and enthusiasm of the party workers, that included a lot of young men and women who had their hopes pinned on PTI to win, are now angry and upset.
In the midst of it all, I watch my dad. He is angry all right, but he is directing his anger in a productive manner. He pacifies a lot of people who worked tirelessly day and night around the election campaign. Despite being upset, my father takes on a strong leadership role and begins to chart out a game plan to combat the rigging that took place. It’s 2am in the morning, and he will not go home. He is out with his supporters taking control of the situation.
Post elections, as a leader, my father, along with one of Pakistan’s best lawyer, Hamid Khan, went all out to seek justice. The numerous visits to the high court to speak to the judges and the televised interviews all went in vain. They are not willing to listen to us. They are not ready to have a recount of votes. They are not willing to look at the evidence of rigging that took place. “Everything is circumstantial,” they said.
The youth is very upset. The young men and women who went all out to challenge the ruling party, the status quo, to seek a change, are frustrated. They don’t know what to do. A small group starts a protest at Lalik Chowk, Defence. They bring posters and banners seeking justice for the rigged election results.
My father is at the high court, waiting to speak to a judge when I receive a phone call: “Mansour, where is your father?! There is a large group of young guys and girls starting a protest in Defence. You guys need to come! There is no PTI leader…please tell your father to come!” There is a lot of urgency and desperation in my cousin’s voice. I immediately share the phone conversation with my father and he makes it a point to go as soon as possible.
We drive over to Lalik Chowk in my father’s Land Cruiser, a jeep that had taken him to travels all over Punjab. We are met with a loud, rapturous applause and screams as my father gets out of the car. He addresses the youth and party workers and reassures them of justice. He assures them that he and his team are standing by them. He tells them that we will stay here for as long as we can to get justice. A strong sense of electric buzz reverberated through the audience. They are instilled with a greater level of passion and zeal, and more determined to protest for their right.
A camp is made. Roads are blocked. Water and food are provided. Ladies get a separate enclosure. The young men make sure no women are harassed. They protect the women and children. All the while, my father makes sure to be here every day and evening. He is a passionate leader, who wants to stand by his people. He wants justice. He will go to any lengths to stand by his supporters. The people’s needs are his needs. He is putting himself in their shoes, sharing their pain and joys. He holds their hands, hugs the little ones and gives respect to the elderly. He tells them: “Don’t worry, we have Allah. He will sort it out for us, Inshallah.”
One evening he insists that he will stay the night. “It’s not fair for them to spend the night while I stay home. I need to be there with them!” Despite my family’s initial reluctance, we know there is no way we can stop him. His heart beats for the common Pakistani man, woman, and child who camp out at Lalik Chowk demanding justice.
But you see what the funny thing is? No other party leader did what he did. My father has cancer. He is on medication. He is in constant pain. He cannot sleep properly in his own bed. also walks on a crutch. He never uses his cancer as an excuse to not do something for his people. None of this stops him from spending a night at the camp. Out on the floor mat, he lay down, with his crutch next to him. It gets slightly chilly at night, but he is there with the people. Young men and women were in awe of their party leader doing something like this. They are completely bowled over.
This is a moment when my father, Ahsan Rashid, stood by his supporters when all other party leaders and electable shy away. I get messages and phone calls from a lot of people, praising my father. It is a proud moment. It makes me feel that if he can do something like this, despite his ailment, so can I.
The impact of this single act of a sole party leader standing with his people is not immediately known. The great impact is only realized when someone takes a picture of him and shares it on the social media. The picture spreads like wildfire evoking a huge level of genuine concern and love for him. Till today, this picture brings out a feeling of a true party leader, who had the desire to do something for the common before anything and anyone else.
It doesn’t matter at all that justice was not given. It doesn’t matter that the ruling party has stolen the people’s mandate. It doesn’t matter that eventually when the protest turns into something massive the other party leader show up. But what matters is what my father did for the people at that moment. When no leader was there, my father showed up. He did not stay away but immersed himself with everyone. In moments of despair, people look for leaders to guide them, to reassure them, to tell them that everything will be all right. My father did just that, and the fact people still talk about this particular moment is evidence of his conviction and determination.
This is not merely a picture. It is a moment. A moment that captivates the hearts and minds of thousands of people. Clearly, it speaks, not of a thousand words, but of a million words.
I love you, dad.