A great sound system with a good DJ; men, women and kids dancing while holding the red and green PTI flags and chanting slogans of ‘go-Nawaz-go’ have become a hallmark of all PTI rallies.
Lahore’s Mall Road rally was no different, with countless people sporting PTI colours crowding the area even in searing summer heat.
The popularity of the rallies has not only made them essential to the political discourse of the country but also great places for small businesses.
“I earn about Rs 5,000 during a rally,” said Bilal, a 16-year-old street vendor who sat on the side of the road with red and green scarves, brooches and hats. He has been selling PTI-themed accessories for the past two years. “In small city rallies we barely earn anything, but in large cities, we do great business.”
The people were seen in high spirits even though Lahore’s heat was unforgiving, “We are here to support our leader; we know he speaks the truth,” said Abbas, a young man at the rally along with his friends.
The atmosphere at the rally was full of energy which coupled with the heat required constant hydration. That was taken care of as one could see many salesmen set up with lemonades, Rooh Hafza, cold water and various kinds of desi drinks.
“I have lemonade for about 1,000 people today,” said Asghar, an old man who sells lemonade on his push cart. He makes a profit of Rs 500 on a regular day but hoped that the rally would result in more income.
Another 10-year-old boy had set up a small table selling Rooh Afza nearby for Rs 20 a glass. This was his first venture.
The rally was due to start at 4 pm but people only started to gather after sundown to avoid peak heat hours.
The vendors also used the occasion to hike their profits. “I have spent about Rs 300 in the past hour or so because of the heat. The vendors are charging Rs 60 per bottle,” said Mohammad Shamir.
Some had come prepared, “We had a big lunch and have brought along water bottles to stay hydrated,” said Rimsha, a mother who was there with her family.
Thousands of chairs had been set up for the occasion. People rejoiced as Imran Khan spoke and the vendors joined them too, yet some still thought these rallies are a nuisance, “I live nearby and I had to park my bike 2 km away because of the rally,” said Asghar, a resident of the locality. “The security arrangements are very important for the people but they should not create trouble for residents.”
Another resident complained of the roads begin closed along with the banks’ ATM’s, “I live in a hostel nearby, my life has stopped as I can’t withdraw money from anywhere. All the ATM’s are closed, but people want a rally,” said Anila, a medical student.
A horrific incident took place during this rally after I had done my story, late at night some girls were harassed.
Read what I said about it here: PTI’s Better Half