NOW, when was the last time you heard Nadeem Afzal Chan speak with such conviction? We have all seen him on television shows, with his trademark grin, doing everything he can to maintain a clean aura. Apart from protecting his own reputation as a sane soul sticking it out valiantly and dutifully on a sinking ship, he has been a very low-key, apologetic defender of the PPP. He has been politeness personified in the face of the most vicious of attacks on the corrupt outfit he belonged to.

But Mandi Bahauddin on the historic day, April 25, 2018, was starkly different. It was the day when Chan, the best-behaved kid in everyone’s lexicon, shifted loyalties to Imran Khan. He has done it, mainly, he says, at his father’s insistence, solely, for the purpose of defeating Nawaz Sharif. He has also — rightly — reminded all that it wasn’t the PPP he began his politics with.

He could well have admitted that the requirements of local politics placed him, his biradari and his group in opposition to those aligned with the PML-N. But he chose not to dilate on such unnecessary intricacies of local politics. On the occasion, it was convenient for him to wrap his own little grass-roots secrets in the grand slogan — serving the public and, of course, seeking to defeat the PML-N.

This is Nadeem Chan in his new role, the new Nadeem Chan, brimming with emotion, so much so that he actually appeared to be the opposite of the Chan who had previously been seen in all those television debates. Mr Chan of the PTI is far more forthright and confident about what he wants to say and what he wants to achieve than the one who was on shows earlier.

Mr Chan of the PTI is far more forthright and confident about what he wants to achieve than the one who was on shows earlier.

What could be the reason behind the great transformation?

First, it could be because of the locale. This was Chan’s constituency, the very reason why he had been given plenty of advice to ditch the party and save the political fortunes of his family and his own legacy. He could now no more afford to keep the old ‘rather neutral’ look that he had been maintaining during the time when the PPP had been under attack for its grand failures in Punjab and Pakistan. He had to sound as if he was sufficiently interested in the contest to be able to take part in it and, hopefully (for him), win it.

Two, Nadeem Afzal Chan could well have been reacting to some nasty things having been said about his eventual exit from the PPP. The issue had long been hotly discussed, with PPP jiyalas, or whatever remains of them in Punjab, placing bets against this prized PPP politician walking across to the rival camp.

There was much talk about his exit after Chan finally made it known that he could no more resist the biradari pressures on him to dissociate himself from the PPP. In the face of some sizzling innuendo thrown at the defector, Nadeem Chan’s supporters had reacted by saying that it was not him but Asif Zardari’s PPP which had given up on Bhuttoism — more or less the line that Chan himself put forward during the ceremony in which he joined Imran Khan.

That he chose to offer this explanation at the joining ceremony, in the presence of Imran Khan, is revealing of the emotional swell accompanying the shift. Chan could well have delayed it for a later time, and obviously, he is going to get plenty of opportunities to offer his version of events and factors leading to his ouster from the PPP. Yet he chose the awkward moment standing next to Imran Khan to get it off his chest — perhaps he wanted an early and final conclusion to the debate about his move so that he could concentrate on other pressing prepoll matters.

Or perhaps it was simply the excitement or the relief of having been finally released from the long bondage in the name of loyalty. Nadeem Afzal Chan is a free man again and he has a message for those who had been proudly calling upon him to persist in his role as their most loyal soldier. The decency of voicing allegiance to the unknowns and the mysterious Bhuttoism aside, he has already made it known what his old leaders at the PPP needed to battle against: the party’s Sharjeel Memon reputation.

It could again be too simplified an indictment of the party by someone who was ultimately forced by his own immediate realities to jump ship. It is by no means one man’s account of just how easy it is to remind the PPP that it was unable to do anything to dispel some basic impressions about it. People — everyone from old critics to new defectors — find it very easy to just refer to the raging stories of the PPP’s corruption and turn their face away. There are simply no counter-stories where the party has taken any steps to, in any way, distance itself from the bad guys. There are absolutely no such stories. None.

All we have by way of an effort to revive the party are the leadership’s air trips and secret parleys which are capped by nothing exciting at the end. Charitably put, it may be that the leadership is doing the best it can and is still not getting the response it had hoped for. Consequently, all it can do is to try and create an impression that they are still around and wait for the time when a real attempt at resurrection can be made. In the event, the remarkable part is not that the likes of Nadeem Afzal Chan are leaving. Imran Khan is right. The more remarkable aspect is that it took them so long.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

Published in Dawn, April 27th, 2018



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