When in 1997 my uncle pinned the 'diya' on my shirt, my joy knew no bounds. The diya was Imran Khan's party symbol at that time. In a very PML-N-leaning locality, I wore it around proudly all day.
Even when the shopkeeper told me that the ‘lion’ will decimate the diya, I was having none of it. I wanted Khan to lead my country because he was the hero, the new challenger on the proverbial block.
I was around eight at that time and of course hadn't a clue about politics. Besides I – like everybody who has grown up playing cricket and listening to the anecdotes of the 1992 World Cup – wanted to 'be' Imran Khan.
The legendary PTI jalsa of 2011 rekindled my earnest desire of seeing Khan as a front-runner in the race. Everyone saw how he came into his element at that time, the massive response from the masses and how the promise of a new future took shape.
Also read: Imran Khan: the myth and the reality
From that moment on, a new and reorganised PTI emerged. Not even political giants like Javed Hashmi could resist gravitating towards this new movement. A new chapter in the history of Pakistan had begun – a chapter of assurance of redress for the troubled public, of a chance for educated, informed and sincere people acquiring a role in shaping their country’s future.
Of course, the more astute of us knew it was not going to be a sweeping victory for PTI. Still, it now felt that we finally had a voice. The PTI lost on the national front but went on to form the provincial government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
We already knew the party had many shortcomings. The PTI is still young, we told ourselves. Most of us were willing, nay eager, to look the other way with regards to the party’s various failings.
However, when the project of setting up an innovative, progressive and judicious model of governance went horribly wrong, even the most loyal of us could not find enough excuses to hide behind.
How wrong did it go? The best way to find out is to examine the evidence of PTI's performance in the last two years.
Police and education reforms were the two flagship projects that PTI undertook as the government in KP.
The former were widely touted to be ‘revolutionary’ and one-of-their-kind in Pakistan. Time and again, it was claimed that KP police was completely depoliticised and had been turned into one of the most professional departments in Pakistan.
But when push came to shove, the blinders came off quickly enough.
Tear gas, baton charges, arrests, rubber bullets, you name it and the police did it. The recent local body elections also laid bare just how depoliticised the police force really is and it is now evident that the KP police erred on the side of those with political clout.
In the name of education reforms, what KP received was a sharp move backwards. The portfolio of education, which belongs to PTI, has been completely at the disposal of PTI’s coalition partner Jamaat-i-Islami – so much for a ‘changed’ education system.
Another promising education-based project was ‘Taleem ka Insaaf’. However, it was tackled so poorly by the government that it lost almost all financial backing and eventually had to be scrapped.
One of the most startling examples of just how much PTI has lost its course occurred during the dharna, when our resolute leaders almost wholly shunned their provincial responsibilities. We saw them stoop to the level of those brutish and selfish politicians that we wanted PTI members to replace.
During the dharna, they employed every tactic in the book of street-politics, to a point where not just local but international news publications ran accounts of the destabilisation caused by the party. Even the Financial Times and Washington Post speculated about the threat to democracy and a looming Martial Law in the country.
From thuggery to outright vandalism and hate speech to the harassment of journalists, from incitement and violence to destruction and arson, PTI appears to have committed everything.
All these antics of PTI have left many like myself dazed and confused. Where is the explanation for all these escapades?
The PTI of today is a party I, and many like myself, cannot recognise. A ghastly shadow of its former self, the party now seems completely like the polity of a very ‘purana’ and retrogressive Pakistan.
It is an oft-repeated truism that a politician or a party is not what sustains a movement, rather it is the people who do so.
The desire of a people for the better is what sustains a movement and hence a politician. There is nothing wrong with that picture except that too often the populous then bring in blind faith and enjoin all hope unconditionally with the politician, putting the actual purpose on the back-burner.
Such an effort for change then becomes a falsely contested and selfish agenda – a movement not for the better but for the worse.
That is exactly what happened with PTI.
In other words, the disappointment is not completely to be blamed on Khan or his party but on our own insistence of believing in them blindly, ignoring realities (and denouncing those who point our eyes towards it) and cheering PTI into believing its own myth as an infallible entity that could never fall prey to entrenched interests.
Let’s be honest with ourselves, we have mostly been at the losing end of the bargain in the power-play of the ruling classes. Granted we are desperate, but that is no excuse to swallow whatever revolutionary snakeskin oil anybody is selling.
There is no black-and-white in most worldly affairs, least of all in politics. We have to abolish this make-believe world where only one party, one man, one saviour stands for impeccable good and is incapable of error.
The fanatic emotional attachment with PTI will have to be treated with a heavy dose of rationality and supporters will have to quit being perpetual apologists for the party’s grand blunders.
I am not suggesting that we give up all hope for change or completely turn our backs on PTI; rather, just that we should honestly re-evaluate our beliefs in the holiness accorded by to it by its supporters and pay more attention to the good and evil of party policies and agendas instead of Good and Evil itself.
We don't want any more sentimental abracadabra chants of revolution and change because what we really need is reform, no matter which party brings that about.
Next time let us vote on the basis of whoever performed better, even marginally, from the rest.