The eternal bridesmaid

Updated Aug 07 2016


THE good news: he’s in second place. The bad news: he’s in second place. Imran Khan. The man who would be prime minister. The face that has launched a thousand dharnas.

The eternal bridesmaid.

At this point, there’s not much left to say. Everyone knows what he wants and everyone knows how desperately he wants it.

Love it, hate it, seethe at it, be thrilled by it — whichever side of the fence you’re on, you know exactly what he wants and you already know what you make of it.

The man who would rule.

But here’s the thing: he’s quite rubbish at it. End of the day, politics is about winning. The top job. Numero uno. Becoming prime minister.

The problem is that that Khan doesn’t know how to become prime minister. And it’s got tiring. Very tiring.

Even those who know their place in the pecking order hanker for it. You can’t not. It’s in the DNA of a politician.

If you believe you should represent, then what greater representation, what higher aspiration than prime minister itself? So, Prime Minister Khan isn’t fundamentally the problem.

He may go on to become a historic disaster — if he ever gets there. More likely, he’ll end up in the pantheon of pygmies who have occupied the office.

So, no, Prime Minister Khan isn’t fundamentally the problem. The problem is that that Khan doesn’t know how to become prime minister.

And it’s got tiring. Very tiring.

The rabid partisan or the twisted mind may appreciate Imran’s single-mindedness. He won’t give up! His goal is noble! He’s not like the rest of them!

But, dammit, that’s not the point to this. Or it shouldn’t be.

Right now, Imran is dragging his party kicking and screaming towards another round of — what exactly? And why exactly?

Nobody seems to know. Not even in his party. Sure, there’s the pro-agitation lot, the ones who want to throw the kitchen sink at the N-League until Nawaz is dislodged.

But what’s the plan here?

Because the PTI’s got a government in KP and incumbents can assemble a crowd, it may make sense to kick off with Peshawar-Attock.

But just because Imran likes to yell at Nawaz from atop a shipping container in front of a few thousand, or even tens of thousands, of folk, that doesn’t translate into a plan.

A plan — it’s the one thing Imran never seems to have. Energy, yes. Defiance, plenty. Zeal, check. Message, maybe. Plan? Unhappily, never.

It is puzzling. Strip away morality and shrug off notions of right and wrong and you can see it for what it is: Imran has tried hard, damned hard, to win.

He aligned with the military. He’s flung open the party doors to electables. He panders to the bearded lot. He’s embraced money. He takes to the streets. He’s unconstrained by political norms.

That’s fine. You’re in the game to win. But always missing with Imran is a plausible route, a path to power — a plan.

When he aligned with the military and swept into Islamabad for his epic dharna, it was clear what was in it for the boys, but what kind of deal had Imran struck? Turns out a pretty shabby one.

When he flung open the PTI’s doors to electables it made a kind of electoral sense — but then he lets the electables and the originals savage each other and allows the enemy to coast to victory. Over and over and over again.

When he panders to the bearded lot, you can see he’s trying to capture the vote to the right of the N-League that Nawaz has moved away from — but then that alienates the core PTI chap, the anti-corruption crusader in the city.

When he embraces money you can see in it a pragmatic acceptance of modern politics — but then he opens himself up to accusations of hypocrisy by relentlessly attacking others for the same.

When he takes to the streets you can see how the possibility of mass mobilisation panics the government — but then he doesn’t invest in a party machine that can churn out the crowds.

When he speaks and acts unconstrained by political norms, you can see the non-PC stuff is lapped up by the base — but then he goes all thin-skinned when attacked in the same way and comes across as uncertain and too emotional for the job to everyone else.

None of that is stuff that can’t be fixed — if there were even a modicum of a plan. The PML-N is not invulnerable and Nawaz is hardly the inspirational sort.

But the only plan Imran ever seems to have is to become prime minister. And that’s exactly the problem.

Good or bad, right or wrong, the moral or immoral route, the thing that rankles most about Imran isn’t that he tries, but how rubbish he is at it. Every time, all the time.

The only plausible explanation left is this: Imran is a victim of the reverse Goldilocks effect. That he’s got enough support to sustain the belief that he can become PM, but not anywhere near the support he needs to actually become PM.

The reverse Goldilocks: he sees enough fervour around him to believe that passion is the only plan he needs, but minus an actual plan Imran can’t get the level of national fervour he needs to sweep into office.

The good news: Imran is in second place. The bad news: Imran is in second place.

The problem isn’t that Imran keeps trying. But politics is ultimately about winning. And Imran, the eternal bridesmaid, doesn’t seem to know what he really is: a loser.

The writer is a member of staff.

Twitter: @cyalm

Published in Dawn, August 7th, 2016