Not since the rise of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in the late 1960s has the country seen a phenomenon like Imran Khan. It, maybe, smaller in scale, yet it is a phenomenon, nevertheless.
At that time, the people were fed up of the military rule. Today, they are sick of the unimaginable corruption by the civilian rulers. It should be remembered that whatever direction Imran’s political future takes, he has already rendered one great service to the nation: Mobilised and politicised the cities. Before his massive show of popularity at the Minar-i-Pakistan, on October 30, the cities were dead. While the polling stations in the villages used to be overcrowded, those in the cities remained only half-full on the election day. In particular, the chattering classes were conspicuous by their absence from the polling booths. They considered voting a waste of time, because they saw equally incompetent and corrupt candidates on either side.
In contrast, thousands of people attended Imran jalsa in Lahore; many came with their families, and this has happened for the first time in Pakistan’s political history. The mood was electric: Neither the immobile faces as seen in the MQM rallies in Karachi, nor the boredom witnessed in the public gatherings of other parties. The people sang and danced to the tune of national songs that were played during the rally. Someone asked: “Will these people also vote?” To which, another answered: “If they can come all the way to Minar-i-Pakistan and spend six hours over there, why will they not spend an hour or two in a polling station in their neighbourhood?”
Indeed, it was very important to mobilise the cities. In the past, the people who participated in the elections were mainly in the rural areas, and they were mostly illiterate. Therefore, politics in Pakistan was never based on issues. But on the basis of biradaris and on the question of which candidate would protect them from the law. Hopefully, now the educated city dwellers will start participating in the pre-election campaigns, as well as the elections. After Imran’s first big public meeting in Lahore, several analysts said that one jalsa does not mean much. However, since then there have been a number of massive jalsas, including the one in semi-rural Chakwal, and the mammoth gathering at Karachi.
In the opinion of this scribe, Imran’s popularity stems in one part from his image as financially clean and a builder, on his own steam, of a world class hospital and first-class university. The remaining two parts of his attraction is due to the corrupt, incompetent, and lawless regime of the one party, and the docile role played by the other party. The people, indeed, are left with no other choice.
Since the Lahore jalsa, senior politicians from all the political parties are queuing up to join the PTI. Imran should accept only those who have done something worthwhile. But if that is too tall an order, he should at least accept only a person who is clean and who has not done anything wrong. The tide in his direction is so strong that even if he imposes this rather strict condition, he will be able to attract a large number of politicians, and will have a lot of candidates to select the right ones for the elections.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has said in Parliament that the house should advise them what to do, and they are willing to improve matters. But it is too late, because now no one believes in him or his government. As the saying goes, “bohot dair kee meherbaan aatay aatay!”
It was expected that the PTI would produce a greater dent in the PML-N’s popularity than that of the PPP. Be that as it may, as far as defections of major leaders from either party is concerned, there seems to be a greater tendency among the PPP leaders to quit their party and join PTI. This would indicate the extent of the degeneration in the PPP and the disillusionment of the senior leaders from its family-based leadership.
Anyway, Imran will face many problems:
Firstly, no one trusts anyone in this country; they think everyone is sold off to America. So, they could think likewise about him. Some people say he is the agencies’ or USA’s man. Surely, Imran needs to remove or clarify to the public the misconception about him.
Secondly, PTI lacks experience of electoral contests, partly because of boycotting the last elections; it need to work hard on its manifesto and election campaign, so that no votes are lost.
Thirdly, at this relatively early time, Imran may not find it possible to field electable candidates at too many places. It would be better to field fewer candidates, and spend all the energies of the party on those constituencies.
To conclude, Imran Khan has a hard streak in him like any good fast bowler. In politics, however, he needs to soften this up a bit. In any case, he has certainly provided people with an alternative.
The writer is a former principal of the King Edward Medical College, and former president of the College of Physicians and Surgeons, Pakistan.