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The zero man

Updated February 18, 2018

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ALLOW yourself a little irritation. Forget hate or love for a minute. Whether you love him or hate him or will vote for him to the end of eternity or never in a million years, forget that.

Allow yourself to be a little irritated with Imran.

Because, by God, is he annoying. The Lodhran loss could be a blip or it could be confirmation of what many have long suspected — that Imran can’t win, doesn’t know how to win.

That’s fine.

Many have lusted after power, few have achieved it. Imran has over-promised and under-delivered for so long now that a definitive defeat the next time round wouldn’t be such a big deal.

At this point, Imran winning may be the bigger surprise.

But even in defeat, an impact can be had. So you don’t get to be in government or parliament in large numbers, but there’s still a chance to shape the governance agenda or the national discourse.

Kinda like the PPP did with the south-Punjab-province gamble. Knowing it was heading for a walloping in the last election, the PPP tried the ethnic card: vote for us and we’ll give you your own province.

There’s nothing really — nothing new, significant or potentially lasting — that Imran has added to politics here.

It was all kinds of stupid. Two Punjab provinces would have doubled Punjab’s share in the Senate and representation in the CCI, ECP, NFC and sundry federal bodies. It would have given Punjab two high courts, possibly funnelling more Punjab judges to the Supreme Court.

If the smaller provinces think they have a bad deal of it right now, two Punjab provinces would have been a whole other headache.

But the PPP was desperate, the Seraiki vote was its only chance in Punjab and an election had to be fought.

It did cause a change of sorts, though. Alarmed by the possibility of their prized possession being split and concerned that the separatist genie may be difficult to put back in the bottle, the PML-N began to take south Punjab seriously.

A decent electoral haul from south Punjab followed and the past four years have been spent pouring money into the region. South Punjab isn’t and will never be Lahore, but the political distance between Lahore and south Punjab has shrunk.

The heavy turnout in the by-election was a clue as is the problem of having too many winners in the PML-N camp. Having too many winners in the same constituency fighting for the same ticket can be a problem, but it’s a better problem than having no winners.

Point being, the PPP’s desperation forced the PML-N to respond to the ethnic card by doing more of the stuff the N-League is handy at, like pouring cement and tar and sprucing up infrastructure and handing out stuff.

So back to Imran. Imagine he disappears and the PTI implodes. Poof, gone, suddenly, all of it. What would the contribution left behind be, to national politics, to what other parties do, to how the system behaves?

That’s what’s so irritating about Imran.

You can’t think of anything.

It’s all the more frustrating because of how far he’s come. From a party of one he’s dragged the PTI all the way to becoming the second largest party in the country. Even now, he’s still got a realistic shot at power in a few months.

But there’s nothing. Nothing durable that the PTI has contributed, by design or accident, to the national game. PTI groupies harp on about the anti-corruption stuff, but it’s mostly more of the same.

Sure, Imran has made anti-corruption his signature message, but by narrowly focusing on Nawaz, and occasionally Zardari, he hasn’t moved the needle on systemic corruption. ‘My opponent is corrupt’ isn’t exactly a novel political message.

PTI haters will flag the coarsening of political rhetoric that the PTI has effected. It’s true that Imran has been crude and the PTI got a jump on the social-media game with a mocking, ugly tone.

But tales of what BB suffered at the hands of the IJI and the PML-N before the Sharifs became holier-than-thou are hardly forgotten. And the universality of social-media ugliness suggests it’s less the PTI and more the medium that has unleashed wretchedness globally.

Up and down and through the PTI agenda you can sift and search and there’s nothing really — nothing new, significant or potentially lasting — that Imran has added to politics here.

There’s nothing even that Imran has forced the PML-N to change tack on.

Unless Nawaz barnstorming the country like Imran is considered a change. Given the success Nawaz seems to be having with it, if you were the PTI you’d probably rather that Nawaz hadn’t taken to matching jalsa for jalsa.

Electoral reforms were the great possibility — and the catalyst was definitely Imran’s campaign to delegitimise the results of the last election. But once it became clear that the PML-N wasn’t about to be ousted, Imran lost interest in electoral reforms.

In the end, the electoral reforms package was overshadowed by the Nawaz-as-party-president clause and the repulsive character who arrived in Faizabad.

So vote for PTI or don’t vote for PTI, love Imran or hate Imran. But also allow yourself a little irritation.

Because for all the noise Imran has made, for all the votes he’s won, for all the disruption he’s caused, he’s managed to achieve virtually nothing.

He doesn’t seem to know how to win nor has he forced, directly or indirectly, deliberately or unwittingly, positive change in anyone else or the system itself.

It’s annoying, irritating and exhausting.

The writer is a member of staff.

cyril.a@gmail.com

Twitter: @cyalm

Published in Dawn, February 18th, 2018