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Crazy times

Updated June 01, 2018

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IF any more proof was needed, some recent events indicate that this election could leave us empty and exhausted, if not turn us into crazy souls chasing the invisible. There have been just too many incredible occurrences in succession, not least of them the ones which make the layman wonder if we are going to have the polls, and if so, then when.  

In the case of the controversy just thrown up by Punjab, it boils down to how the PTI has been or not been preparing for the election in the last five years since it lost or was unfairly beaten in the general polls of 2013. The party has been firing on all cylinders against the PML-N.

It has been going on, and without let-up, about reforms and corruption, and until recently it was protesting against old, used and spent politicians. It has been agitating about so much else, including issuing statements about the good work undertaken by its own government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The Nasir Khosa episode betrays in the PTI a certain kind of panic that an outfit claiming it was all set to win could hardly be proud of.

The question is: has it been working with due diligence towards training its members, making a party out of the crowd it has gathered around it and ensuring that each one of its members got what they fully deserved or had earned? The episode where former bureaucrat Nasir Khosa was first named and then discarded exposes weaknesses in Imran Khan’s party and also betrays a certain kind of panic that an outfit claiming it was all set to win could hardly be proud of. 

There are many PTI sympathisers who say the buck stops with Mian Mahmoodur Rashid, an MPA and the party’s leader in the Punjab Assembly, or some other individual(s). It has been time and again argued that the gentleman, who has no doubt fought many a political battle in Lahore on the way to his current exalted status, does not quite symbolise the change the PTI has been clamouring for.

He is not the only one who has been criticised. Before the 2013 election and during the five years since then, advice has been piling up for Imran Khan to do something about his Punjab leadership. He has been repeatedly reminded of the hazards of wasting — or simply concentrating — all his energies on Mian Nawaz Sharif. This left Shahbaz Sharif in his customary role of chief minister of Punjab to roam free. And Shahbaz has been successful to a large extent in winning hearts, or at least convincing a large number of minds, that he was the best man around to lead the powerful province, which has increasingly been looked upon as a role model by the smaller units in the federation for one reason or another. 

Mahmoodur Rashid, with due respect, is no match for Shahbaz, or his likely successor from the Sharif camp should Shahbaz be unable to lead Punjab for any reason. The problem is not that the PTI, with a handful of members, does not have what you would call an inspirational or at least a half-efficient leader in the provincial assembly here. The problem is there is clearly a dearth of charismatic leadership outside the assembly that could take on the deeply entrenched PML-N stalwarts here, beginning with Shahbaz Sharif.  

There already are voices in and around PTI that consider this to be a golden opportunity for the party to shed the ‘extra baggage’ personified by the now ‘exposed’ Mahmoodur Rashid, notwithstanding whatever effort he has contributed towards the making of the party as it stands today.  This is the most convenient solution: killing the messenger, your own in this case. The protestations, not least by Mr Rashid, that he was only doing a job assigned to him by his ‘seniors’ in the party, are apparently having no effect on some of his strongest critics in this moment of crisis for the party. 

There’s danger for the PTI that this controversy and attempts to find the fall guys to pin the blame on for the Khosa nomination fiasco could accelerate a crucial debate within the party. It is a debate about the old, original workers and those who have jumped on the Imran Khan bandwagon when it was ready for its power trip. The divide is already deep and clear as the electioneering heats up. There are candidates upon candidates surfacing in the streets hailed by banners upon banners with old and not-so-old PTI aspirants peeping out of them. They far outnumber their PML-N rivals, with the Sharif camp sporting a more settled appearance. In comparison, there’s a lot of energy in the PTI camp, where many of the enthusiastic workers are spurred on by one single line: the PML-N will not be allowed to come to power this time.

Obviously, it will not help the PTI to go on a mission to find the ‘culprit’ who had tried to plant a ‘Sharif loyalist’ in a crucial position for the coming election. It is a blow to the party’s reputation as a pro-reform outfit that is here to correct the wrongs perpetuated by the others in the name of politics and democracy. Imran Khan must show his skills here to navigate his team out of the unfortunate situation as calmly and with as little fuss as possible. But once it has come out of this controversy of its own making, it may want to have another look at the list of demands the people are justified in making of a party that is out to revolutionise and reform.

Having well-initiated, trained workers to do the basics right and avert embarrassments such as the one caused right now over the nomination for caretaker chief minister is an absolute must. A disorganised crowd can only be allowed to proceed at the cost of the party. The question is: do we have a party here — one even in the making?

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

Published in Dawn, June 1st, 2018