IMRAN Khan and his supporters, according to the Twitterati, are ‘the worst thing to happen to society’ — they’ve ruined tehzeeb, family get-togethers, WhatsApp chats, marriages, friendships, even diets. I am, of course, being a little facetious, but do you recognise yourself as someone who believes this or is perhaps the victim of this rhetoric? Wherever you land, do you believe we can move forward?
I’m here to offer a sliver of hope.
In 2013 and 2018, when I went to vote in Karachi, I was surrounded by PTI supporters, excited and assured of victory. Because we had to wait a while in line, people got to chatting. There was a lot of disbelief when someone in line said they weren’t voting for PTI. Or that they weren’t voting for the first time. “No educated person could vote for the MQM,” the woman in front of me told another in 2013. “You’re destroying Pakistan’s chance of survival by voting for Jibran Nasir,” a lady told me in 2018. As an aside: I think it’s time to retire this ‘save Pakistan’ idea. We need saving from our misconceptions, nay delusions.
A few days ago, as I stood in line to cast my vote, there was a lot of camaraderie as PTI supporters welcomed each other in the line, but when others said they were voting for Jamaat, no one baulked. Everyone agreed you should vote for who you want. One elderly woman told another younger woman that she wouldn’t tell her who she was voting for because “mujhey gaaliyan parein ge” (I will receive abuse). That woman said no, it should not be like that, you don’t have to reply, we just have to vote. Even though the mood was defiant, it was also jovial.
I’m not that naïve to think people have decided to reclaim polite discourse, but I do believe this tiny exchange points to a people’s awakening and then mobilising to challenge the status quo. I believe the way people came out to vote — and for who – is evidence of this, too. People are tired of broken systems; nothing is working and the impact of polarisation has caused alarm. To belittle people’s choices or heap scorn on them serves no purpose. Having said that, today’s angry voters must accept that their stolen mandate was, in previous elections, someone else’s stolen mandate.
We must go back to disagreeing without being disagreeable.
This division across party lines benefits those angling for power at whatever cost, who know they have accomplices to help them achieve their goal. This habit of a sprinkle of engineering here, a speck of it there — as happens every time — will only take you so far.
This is why I feel hopeful the anger will help bring people together to defy the odds. We’ve seen glimmers of it in constituencies like Parachinar, where Shias and Sunnis united to vote their opponent out. They rejected the status quo and the hatred that sectarianism has created here. To remind, we have spent more time living together peacefully — commemorating our different sects’ occasions for example — than engaged in hatred.
Another group that continues to defy the powerful is the media. As a keen follower, and sometime practitioner, I was thrilled to watch the reporting and analysis of the clear criticism of the election process — there was nothing ambiguous about it. This must be celebrated because an independent media is vital for democracy to function. The more people see themselves and their issues on mainstream media, the less they will rely on propagandists on YouTube.
A special mention must be made of the journalists and analysts who suffered from PTI’s abusive campaigns, but did not let that impact their professionalism. I am here to remind party supporters that no one cheered Imran Khan’s conviction the way Nawaz Sharif’s was celebrated by journalists in kitchens and bathrooms. I will also remind you how everyone slammed the iddat case and conviction, calling it morally reprehensible. It is time for all supporters to frankly grow up and learn to deal with criticism — as has been our way in the past. We must find our way back to disagreeing without being disagreeable in all fields. Our elders must show us that way.
I believe the very platforms that caused polarisation can also reduce it. I see a glimmer of hope there too. Independent candidate Jibran Nasir, who lost this election, has, along with other lawyers, created a ‘Safeguard Karachi’s Votes’ legal cell and is offering aid to candidates across party lines who feel their mandate was stolen. ANP’s Samar Bilour taking a bouquet of flowers to PTI’s Meena Khan to congratulate him on his win is one example. This in-person exchange, versus the notable congratulatory tweets by other politicians, reminds me of who we are: good people who want to live in harmony.
The writer is an instructor of journalism.
Published in Dawn, February 11th, 2024