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Beware the winning symbol

Updated July 06, 2018

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I AM not too sure how they go about it now but there was a time when the clever souls who wrote plays for PTV would have various themes or tracks running through their offerings from the outset. The drama then proceeded according to which track won more popularity among the viewers. The less attractive themes were placed on the back burner. The same can be said about an election in Pakistan.

There is absolutely no intention here to argue that the polls in the country are scripted. To suggest that would be to make a mockery of the great democracy we are all in the process of creating. The analogy between fiction and fact in this case is strictly restricted to studying just how certain trends take over from others in the run-up to a general election while some do not quite live up to their promise after an early spurt.

One favourite of Pakistanis during this all-encompassing scramble for power is where certain mysterious or even plain-looking election candidates are projected as the king’s men. They might or might not be associated with a political party and may in certain cases be recognised purely on the basis of the telltale election symbol they are assigned. Like Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan. The gentleman is contesting the July 25 vote as an independent after falling foul of the new PML-N leadership, the Nawaz-Maryam combine. 

There are always election symbols that are considered more equal than others in Pakistan.

By all accounts, Chaudhry Sahib has a tough fight ahead of him. Most interestingly, having revolted against the ‘bachon ki qayadat’ or the novice leadership, he is up against a PML-N opponent who is in jail right now and whose campaign is being run by his son, 11.

If this is not complicated enough, the PTI presents Chaudhry Nisar with a formidable challenge of its own. It is utterly bewildering then that the PML-N rebel is by some accounts placed way ahead of the other contestants on the basis of a single occurrence that has taken place recently.

Chaudhry Nisar is one of the many who have managed to secure the election symbol of jeep, and the sign seems to have been assigned tremendous powers in the legends that make up a Pakistani election. The general opinion seems to be that this is no coincidence that the Rawalpindi veteran has obtained for himself a symbol that is associated with people with power. Amidst these powers is said to be the power to get a few candidates through an election. 

It is not at all as simple as it is often made out to be. This is quite usual for the election, in case Chaudhry Nisar’s supporters were in any way inclined to claim that their leader was being hailed as no one in an electoral race in the country has ever been. There are always election symbols that are considered more equal than others in Pakistan.

In not-too-distant past, knowledgeable people with the additional ability to read the signs have forecast easy victories for election candidates fighting with the aid of a particular election symbol. But unfortunately for these so-called favourites, the track has not quite yielded the climax that had once been promised.

Not too long ago, the Pakistanis were asked to keep an eye on those fighting the general election with the symbol of ghara. Nothing exceptional came out of the exercise in which the ghara was followed right down to the moment when it was phased out of the picture, unceremoniously.

In another instance, attention was drawn to the great potential in the crescent — or was it a crescent with a star? — to ensure a candidate’s presence in the country’s power galaxy. Much energy was spent on chasing the movement of the chand through various parts of the country. But in the end, it once again proved to be as futile a chase as it is every now and then for our moon-sighting committee.

In these cases, it was as if someone was playing with the curious audiences who could not quite keep away from following the obvious leads that they were being provided. The people aimed high in their search for conspiracies and schemes, but if they were surprised by the script not unravelling as they had expected it to, it in no way shattered their faith in the ability of the unknown powers to have their own men and symbols penetrating an election.

This comes from an unshaken belief in and resignation to fate and a trust in the players who must prod us on towards our destiny. The ghara and the crescent did not measure up right in the final analysis, but the hints they dropped were very vague in comparison. Let this be no hurdle in the way of the jeep to drive people crazy with its ‘very obvious’ connections to you know who. Only, those who are fighting with the symbol of jeep — whatever number they may be — should be a little careful .

They should rather campaign today than realise later that they have been taken for a ride — not least by the pundits and people who had imparted to them the importance that they, maybe, didn’t actually deserve. They should take no chances and would be well advised to not depend too overwhelmingly on the power of their sign to see them through. What they ought to remember is that even if the election does appear to initially have a sub theme of special people travelling on special tickets, there are no guarantees that this theme would not be dropped abruptly.

There is no assurance that the jeep or the chand or the ghara will not be forgotten midway, with bigger entities clashing hard and taking over totally in the last lunge towards the finish line. The individuals, even those relying on special symbols, must try and rationalise their worth when there are contesting against entire parties with aspirations similar to theirs. After all, in the context of seeking the blessings of the right authorities, it is an election of the like-minded.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

Published in Dawn, July 6th, 2018