What Nawaz Sharif experienced on GT road a couple of weeks back is the solidarity of the masses towards the leaders who challenge the establishment. Time and again, the masses have put their weight behind any leader who has rebelled against the deep state throughout our history. Before Nawaz Sharif, the mantle of anti-establishment politics was with Benazir Bhutto owing to her struggle against Zia-ul-Haq. Earlier, her father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto gained an overwhelming adulation from the masses for defying General Ayub Khan. Much like what is happening today, people thronged to greet Benazir Bhutto upon her return in 1986 and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto during his 1967 visit to Lahore. By hailing rebels as heroes, the masses demonstrate their anger toward an extractive system which enriches the ultra-powerful establishment and its cronies in the urban professional class at the expense of the poor and less educated. Simmering public frustration against police, patwaris, local judges, and revenue collectors concludes into mass movements against the established order and the rebel leader serves as a focal point, a personality to coalesce around and forge collective action against the deep state. Our current establishment is a descendant of the British colonial government whose purpose was to subjugate the masses to enrich the empire. In such a system, the masses are held in contempt by the state and their resources are squeezed through legal means and complex institutional manoeuvres with the help of local elite and the professional class. If someone thinks the masses do not comprehend this intricate web of legal plunder, they are badly mistaken. Rural and urban masses are very much cognizant of the system imposed over them. They understand how their rights to better education and healthcare are stolen by the establishment through its narrative of national security and perpetual animosity with neighbouring countries. History tells us that being on the wrong side of the establishment comes with grave consequences, but the war can be won. Many Latin American countries like Bolivia and Chile have defeated their respective establishments for good History of anti-establishment revolt in this region is much older than Pakistan. Who can forget Bhagat Singh and Pir Sibghatullah Shah Rashidi’s ultimate sacrifice for opposing the empire. Even a dacoit like Jagga Jatt is revered in folk songs for standing up to the local state structure in early 20th century. Bacha Khan’s legacy of peaceful agitation against British and Pakistani establishments is still very much relevant in Pakistani politics. Heroes of our folklore defied imperial powers much before the British colonial government. Sufi Inayat Shaheed of Sindh led a rebellion against the Mughals and Kalhoras on behalf of the peasants in the early 18th century and created a community of independent farmers under the maxim ‘Jo Khere So Khaye’ (The one who ploughs the land, is the rightful owner of the produce). His shrine in Thatta attracts numerous people every day. And let’s not forget the 10-year long rebellion of Dulla Bhatti against the Mughal Emperor Akbar. Dulla Bhatti remains a hero in Punjab and ‘Lohris’ are still sung in his name even after centuries of systematic suppression from the state. All these protagonists had distinct ideologies and intentions, but had one thing in common: they all rebelled against the establishment of their time and became heroes to the masses. Given his past, Nawaz Sharif is probably the unlikeliest of leaders to have joined their ranks. He belongs to the business elite of Pakistan which has exploited the system over decades. He remained a key instrument of the establishment as it conspired against the peoples’ true mandate throughout the 1980s and 1990s. His party has always remained a right-wing conservative organisation, often supporting militant outfits and espousing reactionary views against India. Since the last couple of decades, however, his world view has slowly been absorbing values of socio-economic progress and equity. Whatever his past and however reluctantly, Nawaz Sharif is currently the most popular leader in Pakistan who has gained tremendous support from the masses due to his anti-establishment stance over the last few months. The tide of mass support he received during his GT road rally will not allow him to sit quietly in Lahore and he will continue touring cities and town all over Pakistan until the next elections. But the path he has chosen is extremely perilous. The deep-state has infinite control over the society. It has access to numerous means to frustrate a challenger. History tells us that being on the wrong side of the establishment comes with grave consequences, but the war can be won. Many Latin American countries like Bolivia and Chile have defeated their respective establishments for good. Turkey and Bangladesh are also good examples in this respect. The question is, will Nawaz Sharif embrace his destiny to help bring true democratic rule and civilian supremacy to the country, or will he succumb under pressure and allow the status quo to continue? It is certain that the people will stand by him so long as he is willing to be a rebel. What he does next with his newfound popularity will define the future of Pakistan. The writer is an Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Administration at Cleveland State University. He can be reached at email@example.com. His twitter handle is @RamblingSufi Published in Daily Times, August 24th 2017.