It all came together at Minar-e-Pakistan on 30th October 2011. It was a spectacle. Imran Khan had arrived – and how! Tolstoy would say it was coincidence of occurrences; hopeless youth, disappointed masses, corrupt politicians, economic turmoil, ongoing war, the media, CJP heroism that triggered the lawyers’ resistance, the Arab spring and his good looks! Everything conspired for him. Having been abundantly embarrassed by politicians, generals and cricketers alike; Khan remained resilient.
The tale had another twist soon after. Khan’s alluring pull attracted everybody into the loop including the electables. He admitted to Pankaj Mishra that when his party was expanding and attracting electables, he felt he was being ‘…being pulled apart in different directions’. That usurped the idealism people associated with him. Ask Musharraf and he will tell you political actors do not always make rational choices.
To be fair to him, he did not have a choice either. In politics; pragmatism is unavoidable even for an idealist and a dreamer. Nelson Mandela acknowledged that when he finally decided to lead the armed wing of ANC. In spite of opportunists [fine, not all of them], in rank and file of the Tehreek, the dream is still alive. President Clinton successfully embarked on his ambitious economic drive to empower the middle classes with his wealthy colleagues; some of them were the richest men in US at that time.
I can appreciate some of the ideological contradictions in the Tehreek. They are not unique to his party or indeed to the parties of Pakistan. When Prime Minister Cameron made expensive claims and pronouncements earlier this year while pushing for The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, many ‘ideological’ supporters of the conservatives viewed that as a divorce from traditional position. Whatever Tehreek’s contradictions might be, nothing is as frivolous as the Islamic Socialism of the 70s. That too added up.
The only ideology that drives the modern political parties is to bring the median or swing voters into the fold. Politics is essentially about getting votes. Parties now have dropped ideological baggage; all they rely on is the: ‘catch-all ideology’. In the coming few weeks, Khan is going to move further away from his extreme positions. His speech on 23rd March is an indicator. Never mind the rhetoric, PTI would have to settle for post elections alliances, should they choose to sit on treasury benches. Ideologies may not be relevant but the question of change is: Is change more plausible when Khan voices it or when it comes from Nawaz Shareef? The Republicans too, raised the slogan of ‘change’ under McCain, however, Obama was more persuasive. Whatever change means, it certainly isn’t more of the same.
These elections aside, PTI has altered the politics in Pakistan. Khan provides an alternative the country long hoped for. Whether they criticise him bitterly or jealousy guard all his moves; he is now the new face of Pakistani politics and perhaps, the way forward too. In spite of PTI’s overtly ambitious policies on economy, energy and education; Khan epitomises not only what Tony Mendez described in Argo as; ‘… the best bad idea we have’. In fact, he offers more. He is not, unlike the Moghuls of Raiwand, detached from the issues of the people and more importantly, the order in which they fall. Arriving on a June flower as a catalyst, he has inspired the depoliticised country to actively participate in the political process. It was long overdue. The Rabdeeli-Razadar initiative is a terrific development.
From the look of it, PTI isn’t likely to sweep elections. They may not form the government at all. Nevertheless in a journey of the thousands of miles towards Naya Pakistan; PTI after the intra-party elections has made, however small, that first proverbial leap.
The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.