ISLAMABAD: For Zubair Faisal Abbasi, an Islamabad-based public policy analyst, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Awami Tehreek’s (PAT) continuing protests in the capital have weakened the government and may have serious repercussions for the country.

“It’s like a popular soap opera, which people watch every day just to relax and enjoy time with their families,” remarked another PTI critic, when asked about the ongoing sit-ins in from of parliament. “The mix of catchphrases the PTI chief uses to hit out at the ruling party and other political figures, as well as the popular music played by DJ Butt and cameos from celebrity guests and singers make the 40-odd minutes of Imran Khan’s speech fascinating television,” he said.

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Mr Abbasi says that one natural outcome of such using pressure tactics against the government of day is a necessary shift from ‘hard governance’ to ‘popular decisions’, which may be detrimental for the country in the long run. The penultimate years of the Musharraf regime as well as the PPP’s final months in power were similarly fraught, and both had to take the popular route, sacrificing several key projects and focusing instead on popular decision.

Then there are those who say the speeches of Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri, beamed live into people’s homes from Constitution Avenue, have become repetitive, full of rhetoric and are at best, venomous attacks aimed at his political opponents. However, nearly everyone agrees has become an important part of people’s their daily routine.

Protests have become a part of daily life for Pakistanis at home and abroad

Some watch over dinner, others make sure they are done with their chores before the PTI supremo raises his hands and clenches his fists, a ritual he practices every day prior to his speech. His detractors, though, refer to them as “sermons”.

Whatever their reasons for tuning in, there can be no doubt that the sit-ins and their constant coverage have changed people’s TV-viewing habits. Disenfranchised viewers who had given up watching the news now tune in religiously to hear what the protesting leaders have to say.

An office bearer from the cable operators association confirms that nearly all TV channels which have been following the protests closely have experienced a surge in television rating points (TRPs).

“During the past five weeks, we have been watching Imran Khan live from D-Chowk. It is a necessary ritual for my family before going to bed. Even my children stay up waiting for Khan’s speech as they love to sing along to the songs inserted by DJ Butt during his speechs,” said Ms Razaq, who teaches at a local government school.

Obviously, die-hard PTI supporters tune in religiously. They need to know their leader’s every move, the color of his shalwar kameez – which switches from black to white on alternate days, and the number of people attending the sit-ins, which keeps fluctuating over the week with weekends being the best attended.

Outside Pakistan, among Pakistanis settled in Europe and North America, Mr Khan is definitely popular. The PTI has a strong presence among the diaspora and due to the time difference, many Pakistanis settled in the UK and other European countries watch Mr Khan’s speech over tea and bicker among themselves while berating the PML-N and PPP for scratching each other’s backs at this crucial point in the country’s history.

Nazir Ahmad is a London-based attorney. Talking to Dawn over the telephone, he said that he and his friends would usually decide a venue in advance where Mr Khan’s speech would be telecast and would meet there in the evenings to watch the coverage.

“Since the early 2000s, I am part of a group that regularly participates in Imran Khan-led fund raisers, both for his hospital and his politics. We have seen enough of the PPP and PML-N, let’s give him a chance,” said Mr Ahmad, adding that listening to Mr Khan live every evening had also become a part of the routine for many Pakistanis living in London.

Across the Atlantic in Brooklyn, New York, Mohammad Iqbal is glued to the TV set in his convenience store every morning. He wants to know whether the Khan has something new up his sleeve to lambast Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari with. He also pays heed to the statistics the PTI chief always seems to have on hand.

But for known political commentator, Dr Rasool Baksh Rais, Imran Khan had reached millions of Pakistanis both inside and outside the country, “Something no politician has ever done in the history of the country.”

Mr Khan has successfully de-legitimized parliament, evoked popular sentiment against the “established political establishment” and introduced a new political discourse at the household level, Professor Rais observed.

But whatever the outcome, it is certain that this is one revolution that was televised.

Published in Dawn, October 2nd , 2014



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