Why Imran's 'my way or the highway' mantra is so dangerous

Published December 28, 2015
Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan. — AFP/File
Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan. — AFP/File

Scene 1: Imran Khan sits in front of Karan Thapar in an interview. The seasoned journalist lobs question after question like hand-grenades but Mr Khan knows exactly when to duck, when to stall and when to go on an offensive. Picture of a shrewd, calculating man emerges who goes an extra mile to be charming, moderate, even liberal.

Scene 2: Mr Khan has joined Christiane Amanpour in her show from Pakistan via video link. Once again a very articulate, likeable person appears on the screen. He knows what to say and when to say it.

Scene 3: Imran Khan is sitting on his container where he says awful things, day in, day out. Caution is thrown to the wind. If someone was to marshal together an assortment of gems that were shared with us for four long months on live television, the outcome could embarrass any sane person.

Examine: Profile: The man in the container

And finally, he is addressing the 3rd convocation of Namal University in Mianwali.

“The completion of Knowledge City of Namal University is my passion and politics is my mission,” he says.

“Four acres are lying in front of the university building but owners are reluctant to sell the land.”

And then he drops the bombshell. He threatens the owners of those four acres to sell it to the university before he comes to power. Once he does, as he evidently believes he would, he says he will confiscate it under Section 4 of Land Acquisition Act. His supporters would casually try to dismiss it as part of Mr Khan’s peculiar sense of humour. But was it really.

Take a look: Imran ‘makes jibe’ at land owners

When you make a casual remark in jest, you usually do not take the pains of memorising the exact section of the law to be applied.

The image of a naïve man, ignorant of exigencies of power and of political correctness, often used in his defence by his supporters, is inconsistent with his persona abroad and hence unrealistic.

The fact that he mentioned the exact section of the correct law shows some thought and research went into it. On the face of it, it is perfectly legit to bring up the reference and Mr Khan is well within his rights to do so. But given that he is no ordinary man but a self-professed contender for the top job in the Islamic Republic, there is more than one problem with his declarations.

As a self-appointed voice of change, Mr Khan, who once promised to do away with the Patwari system, cannot and should not rely on such outdated devices.

Political baggage and a feudal mindset

The first issue is of political baggage.

Mr Khan is a partisan politician. To ensure quality of education in the varsity, he should have kept it insulated from his politics, if not his person.

Second is the mindset.

There is no gain saying that Namal University in its scope is a laudable project. But its expansion and growth should essentially reflect the principles of civility it is supposed to preach.

The four acres that Mr Khan ostensibly plans to confiscate belong to the same Seelu clan that donated the land that currently houses the institution’s existing structure. If in order to acquire further land, you resort to bullying such benefactors, you can be accused of betraying a feudal mindset peculiar to our political culture.

Stature and influence

Such conduct is unbecoming of the stature of a serious contender for the office of Prime Minister. Not that the people who have held that office so far are angels. But they most certainly have kept such matters away from the prying eyes of the media and in general from public spotlight.

As someone who enjoys considerable influence over the young population of the country, Mr Khan does not seem to be sending the right message. As long as you can justify the ends, you can use any means necessary to get that. That is not the kind of message that you want to give to the impressionable minds of the young for the result would be bedlam.

The law of the land

Finally, there is the matter of the law itself. The Land Acquisition Act of 1894 is among the vestiges of our colonial past. Though amended in 1969, right in the middle of country’s most tumultuous existential crisis, it has not managed to shake off the colonial and dictatorial influences.

As a self-appointed voice of change, Mr Khan, who once promised to do away with the Patwari system, cannot and should not rely on such outdated devices.

It is not that the law of this sort does not exist in other countries. In the US, it is called the power of eminent domain. In the UK, it is called the law of compulsory purchase. But the scope of use of such powers is restricted to national emergencies or concerns of national import. A private university hardly fits the bill.

Moreover in a country where a previous government’s attempt to nationalise industries and private properties backfired badly, even suggesting such a thing is not just counter-intuitive but also counter-productive as it damages the trust between citizens and a state that is already fighting to establish its writ.

Read: Imran Khan’s remarks

Then there is the matter of the compensation for such an acquisition.

According to the judicial observation, compensation essentially has to be based on the principle of gold for gold not copper for gold. This undoubtedly means that the person whose land is being acquired must be compensated in kind and value.

But that’s not what Mr Khan said that day. He believes that if Section 4 is enforced, owners of the land will not get the same amount in compensation as being offered today.

So there lies another problem with his threat. He used his political stature to influence a private transaction.

All of this brings us to the question highlighted at the very start: Is Imran Khan really that naïve? Or are these things done on purpose?

I believe it is the latter because he can do much better. But why do it at all?

Somehow in recent years, Imran seems to have started to believe in the notion that in order to get his way, he must use all means necessary.

I would hazard a guess that he has very low opinion of this country and thinks that is exactly the way we like to be ruled. Sadly he does not realise he is popular today because of the very people and their love and sacrifices.

How can we forget the days when the same people lined up to contribute their life’s saving for the construction of Shaukat Khanum Memorial Hospital?

They deserve much better and most certainly not such rants.



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