A twist to behold

Published March 2, 2021
The writer is a journalist.
The writer is a journalist.

FOR weeks now, we have built up Hitchcockian suspense over the Senate elections, especially in Islamabad. Candidates and party leaders travel back and forth to canvass votes and woo parliamentarians, the prime minister throws out fantastical amounts of cash being exchanged behind closed doors and journalists speak knowledgeably of major upsets and the winds changing direction. It’s not just an election but a game-changing moment, we are told.

Constant eye-rolls have left me with a perpetual squint.

The state of my eyes aside, the political discussions have also reminded me of the good old days of my youth when a show titled Friends was all the rage in the US and the rest of the world. In its 10-year run, one storyline continued from the first episode to the last — whether or not two of the friends, Ross and Rachel, who dated briefly initially, would ever get together by the end. Every season would drop hints about them being in love with each other, while they were dating or even marrying others. This was an American sitcom, not Anna Karenina; of course they were going to end up together. The writers weren’t going to leave the audience in tears by the end. And yet, the ‘suspense’ continued till the finale. Will they or won’t they? Ross-and-Rachel became an adjective to describe an on-again-off-again relationship.

Politics in Pakistan is no different. We express doubt over the inevitable.

The issue here is that the Islamabad election is but a smaller story arc.

Take the Senate Islamabad seat. On the one side is Hafeez Sheikh, the current finance minister, who appeared mysteriously (once again) one day, after Asad Umar was asked to leave the finance ministry. It should be noted that news about the removal of Umar had been doing the rounds in Islamabad for some time. Sheikh appeared out of nowhere to take over the portfolio and most are convinced about the identity of who introduced him to Imran Khan and the PTI. And now we are expected to believe there is a chance he is going to lose the Senate election in Islamabad because those who cannot be named will now sit back and not interfere even if means Yousuf Raza Gilani defeats Sheikh in an indirect election. And then one can just imagine that Khan will be scrambling around to find a new finance minister; after all, if ‘they’ are not interfering, the successor is not going to appear as smoothly as Sheikh did.

And it is also logical to assume that the very ‘frustrated’ lot who pulled their support for Khan because the former skipper just isn’t up to the mark are now going to let him find a new finance minister. They have decided that Khan cannot run the country properly but despite this conclusion they will let him find a new finance minister? Why would they be pulling back and letting him go-it-alone if they believe he can’t go-it-alone?

The opposition too wants us to believe the establishment has suddenly gone neutral. Cue, Yousuf Raza Gilani’s statement to the media. This is what will help him win, he hints. And it creates ripples. But if this really was the case, would the PDM be wasting time running around trying to win a miserly Senate seat instead of dislodging the government? It is argued that once the opposition wins the Senate seat from Islamabad, they will have ‘proof’ of the neutrality (which they are claiming they know exists) and then they will organise to carry out, say, a no-confidence movement in Punjab or the centre. It is like going on a test diet for a week to find out if restricting food intake causes weight loss — before going on a diet.

Apparently, like those of us who sat down to watch Friends year after year, many of those watching and commenting on the Senate election too are holding their breath at the ‘tight’ race in Islamabad. We point to the Gilani statement, widen our eyes and ask his allies in the PML-N if they agree with the former prime minister. Alice in Wonderland all, for we seem to think the opposition is not in touch with those who must not be named and needs to win a Senate election seat to find out what the latter are thinking and planning. There is no other way of finding out what their views are for sure.

The government too feeds into the drama by its constant moaning and groaning about the money being thrown at the election. And its panicked efforts to control any ‘upset’ — the ordinance conditional on the Supreme Court judgement is a case in point — adds to the sense that there is a major upset in the offing. This is one government which despite harping on ‘one page’ sends out the most mixed signals about it being in trouble with the establishment — so much so that it seems like a deliberate plot line. Just like when Ross married someone else midway through the series. (For those who haven’t seen the series, he ends up taking Rachel’s name instead of his wife to be during the wedding ceremony and the new wife dumps him the very same day. Divorce follows a few episodes later and our hopes and dreams are saved from being shattered. As if anything else was possible.)

The issue here is that the Islamabad election is but a smaller story arc. Whichever way it goes is hardly going to change the ending. The drama over the larger story arc of the (love) story between Ross and Rachel having gone sour is a bit hard to accept. Everyone knows this, I think. But we spend hours debating over the ‘what if’. Why? It’s hard to find the answer. The writers of Friends had a reason — the series was a hit and they wanted to keep it going for as long as possible to make the moolah.

The writer is a journalist.

Published in Dawn, March 2nd, 2021

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