The ‘populist appeal’ of Imran Khan has its limits

The rage and fury, ignited by former Prime Minister Imran Khan since being voted out by the National Assembly on April 9, don’t seem dwindling at all. Absolute bedlam in the Punjab Assembly throughout Saturday rather forced many to anticipate perpetual chaos and confusion on our political front for many days to come.

Seen from another angle, however, the political parties who had toppled his government through the vote of no-confidence are cunningly inching forward to capture command and control of all possible levers of power projection in Pakistan.

Shehbaz Sharif had already reached the Prime Minister’s Office. And on Saturday, the opposition parties of yesteryears succeeded to smoothly place Raja Pervaiz Ashraf in the Speaker’s Chair. Imran Khan’s PTI had refused to put a candidate against him. Qasim Suri, the Deputy Speaker, also eluded the motion of no confidence, put against him by the combined opposition many days ago, by announcing his own resignation from the National Assembly.

Ostensibly, around 123 members who had been elected to the National Assembly during the election of July 2018, posted en-mass resignations from the lower house of our parliament. Being a slavish loyalist of Imran Khan, Qasim Suri didn’t care to go through the complicated and lengthy process of double-checking the veracity of “resignations” received by his office and hurriedly announced their ‘acceptance.”

But immediately after taking oath of his office, the newly elected Speaker ruled to go through the required process. His decision will surely furnish ample time and space for a significant number of PTI Members of the National Assembly to weigh multiple options, currently available to them, with a cool head. Fairly a good number might want returning to the House, especially if Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) was also able to place Hamza Shehbaz Sharif as the Chief Minister of Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province.

Unleashing the populist rage, Imran Khan certainly appears recklessly disregarding the fact that politics in the end is the art of possible. Its sole objective is to extract largest possible chunks from the Power Pie. Relentless rage against “the system” doesn’t promise the desired extraction. Even when furiously playing the populist cards Imran Khan needs to keep the hope alive that he can return to Prime Minister’s Office by enforcing earliest possible elections. But he does not appear heading THERE.

Imran Khan keeps insisting that the United States of America has manipulated his removal. He strongly feels that he provoked the Americans to desperately opt for “regime change” in Pakistan by vigorously pursuing an independent foreign policy for his country.

To prove his point, he continues referring to a cipher message that Pakistan’s Ambassador, Asad Majeed, had transmitted to Islamabad after having a meeting with Under Secretary of the US State Department on March 7.

Whatever the truth, a huge number of Pakistanis, especially the youth, instantly bought the story told by Imran Khan. Many fence sitters also got confused. Prime Ministers Shehbaz Sharif could yet not develop and execute the strategy of demolishing the regime-change story by credibly proving it as the “fake news.”

Through an exhaustive press conference the other day, Director General of Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), made a forceful attempt to puncture the same story by pointing out visible holes in it. Facts, however, don’t really matter in a deeply polarised society; perceptions do. And Imran Khan keeps taking full advantage of the outrage his story had unleashed. His trusted aides have rather begun to put relentless but subtle questions to undermine the message DG ISPR had attempted to communicate through his presser.

Doing this, Imran Khan and his loyalists don’t seem appreciating that while blaming the US for managing the regime change in Pakistan, the PTI is also trying to tell its enraged supporters that some powerful quarters of our “deep state” willfully acted like “facilitators” of the game of regime change. Besides questioning not only the capacity but also the integrity of our national security apparatus, the incensed PTI leaders are also not being guarded and cautious while discussing the role played by the superior judiciary.

So far, both the national security outfits and the judiciary have preferred to disregard the blame, being ceaselessly passed on to them. But they can’t remain indifferent and non-reactive if the PTI continues drumming its regime-change story by holding a series a massive public rallies all across Pakistan. And here is “the rub.”

For being a match-winning captain of Pakistan’s Cricket Team, Imran Khan had surely cultivated a huge fan base during his heydays as a sports hero. His charismatic pull also proved its worth, when he took to the streets to seek donations for the construction of a Cancer-treating hospital in Lahore. Then he switched to full-time politics in 1996.

And here, his “charismatic pull” failed to deliver during elections held in 1997 and he had to spend many years in wilderness after that. Finally, in 2011 a section of the deep state quietly decided to patronise him. That didn’t help him winning the election in 2013, either. He rather felt forced to react with incessant igniting of the populist rage.

To reach the Prime Minister’s Office, he needed to clearly win the election in July 2018. He couldn’t manage this on his own. The support of our usual “electables” was “delivered” to him. Even that support failed to send decisive numbers to the National Assembly, required propping him up to the Prime Minister’s Office.

In short, the “populist appeal” of Imran Khan has its limits. He can’t dictate terms of his liking while relying on it, exclusively. And the non-stop drumming of the regime-change story is fast alienating powerful elements of our state structure, who had previously been helping his rise and rise as the much-awaited Messiah for Pakistan. It surely is time for him to appreciate his limits and coolly prepare a doable strategy for returning to power.

For the moment, instead of solely focusing on getting earliest possible elections, he rather seems obsessed to demolish the “corrupt and rigged system,” which ironically had helped him reaching the Prime Minister’s Office in August 2018.

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