Khawaja Saad Rafique’s latest back-to-back tirades during PML-N worker conventions are meant to send a clear message to the powers that be: we will not take it lying down anymore. Khawaja Saad Rafique, as many would know, is probably the only major leader in PML-N with firm roots in masses, and is adored by the party’s worker cadre for his role in the anti-Musharraf movement of the 2000s. Saad Rafique is also known for his fiery oratory and defiance, and bringing him to the front at this juncture is an indication that Nawaz Sharif is not ready to succumb under pressure yet. If PML-N follows through with what it is projecting, it will be a departure from the politics of reconciliation that the party has espoused over the last decade. But things were not always this way. PML-N’s politics in the 1990s was driven by aggression against PPP, and both parties played dirty moves against each other. Learning from Musharraf’s nine-year long rule, both Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto matured into leaders favouring reconciliation, at least with other political parties. Perhaps they understood that their respective vote bases are secure, and it is the establishment which poses the actual threat to their ascendency to power, not other political parties. Towing this policy along, Nawaz Sharif formed a coalition government with Asif Ali Zardari after the 2008 elections. Although the coalition did not last for long, Nawaz Sharif continued providing support to Zardari government at important junctures except for his short-lived litigation around the Memogate issue. After the 2013 elections, Nawaz Sharif continued with his conciliatory policy and went to see Imran Khan in hospital after results came out in his favour. The Prime Minister has also been extremely respectful of political boundaries; not interfering in Sindh, and allowing PTI to form government in KP without much hassle. Most surprisingly, the Prime Minister did not try to influence Karachi’s politics even after a vacuum was created due to sanctions on Altaf Hussain. During the sit-ins by PTI and Tahir-ul-Qadri, PML-N never stopped reaching out to Imran Khan through Ishaq Dar and agreed to all his demands short of the Prime Minister’s resignation. Although Nawaz Sharif showed resolve in dealing with Pervez Musharraf as per law in the first years of his premiership, he allowed Musharraf a safe passage after pressure mounted from the establishment quarters. He also quickly backed away from his ambition of reorganizing the country’s relationship with India and Afghanistan. Such policy of obeisance may have been working until now, but the fiasco surrounding Panama papers is a completely different beast. While other issues like Dawn Leaks could be resolved by firing government ministers, the Panama scandal hits the PML-N where it should hurt the most: at the person and family of the Prime Minister. Unlike his previous experiences, the more the Prime Minister follows policy of conciliation in this particular case, the deeper he seems to descend into trouble. Nawaz Sharif presented himself for accountability in parliament, promising to submit decades of financial records spanning generations for scrutiny. The Prime Minster also agreed to the composition of the Joint Investigation Committee even after the court rejected his objections against some of its members. The Prime Minister appeared in person to present his case to the JIT, and now his daughter Maryam Nawaz is set to appear today. The mess generated through the Panama issue will provide the PML-N with a much-needed vigour for what might have been an insipid election campaign based on pedantic speeches on economy The golden rule of agreeableness to everything is not helping anymore and is leading Nawaz Sharif toward a probable disqualification from office. Recent events must have taught the Prime Minister another lesson this time: the more you bend, the more they push. He should have realized by now that the intention of the croupiers of this game is not to serve justice. The intention is to break him. Indeed, this is power politics in its purest form: obliterate your opponent at any cost by any means. With Khawaja-Saad-Rafique and Ishaq Dar on the offensive, PML-N is indicating that it is ready to take agitation to the streets of urban Punjab, if needed. And why not? Such a strategy can work effectively toward preparing for the upcoming national elections next year. In addition to its rhetoric of Metro and CPEC, PML-N will go back to its voters as the victim of an oppressive establishment that did not allow it to exercise its rightful mandate. In case the Prime Minster is disqualified from office, he will most likely lead the agitation himself and will openly disparage the role of the establishment and courts in election speeches throughout Punjab. Contrary to whatever the establishment has planned, the mess generated through the Panama issue will provide the PML-N with a much-needed vigour for what might have been an insipid election campaign based on pedantic speeches on economy. PML-N’s victimhood will not only solidify its supporter-base, but also activate voters in central Punjab who might have stayed at home on election day. The run-up to the 2018 elections will indeed be an interesting one. 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, July 5th , 2017.