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Television politician

April 19, 2013

Awami Muslim League (AML) leader Sheikh Rashid. —Photo by APP/File
Awami Muslim League (AML) leader Sheikh Rashid. —Photo by APP/File

Television can give a new lease of life to politicians even if it fails to provide them electoral relevance and the self-proclaimed Farzand-i-Pakistan, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, is a classic example of this phenomenon. Having lost the last two elections from a constituency that was thought to belong to him, Rashid, who has already become a politician without a party, is teetering on the brink of political obscurity which is the fate of those who have neither a constituency nor a party.

It was not always so. Back in the 1990s, the man from Pindi was known for two things — his sharp tongue and his golden touch with winning elections in what is now known as NA-55. He had won the seat in all the six elections held between 1985 and 2002.

But after 2002, which was the first election he didn’t contest from the PML-N platform, he has not been able to win. He not only lost badly in 2008, but also lost the by-election held on this seat later. The first time around he was given a drubbing by the PML-N’s in-house rebel, Javed Hashmi, on NA-55 and in the next-door constituency, NA-56, he lost to Hanif Abbasi who was new to the PML-N.

Later in the by-election held on NA-55, he lost to an ordinary PML-N worker, Shakil Awan.

Though he claims that the people rejected him in 2008 and in the subsequent by-election over the Lal Masjid issue, his critics argue that the seat was always a PML-N stronghold and that Rashid won because he was the party man for the constituency. Once he left the party, he was nothing.

Those who have watched Pindi closely tend to agree with the critics for they remember how Rashid won in 2002 — even though he stood as an independent candidate, he promised in various corner meetings during the campaign that he would, after winning the two seats, “put them in Nawaz Sharif’s lap”.

Though Rashid has always denied these allegations, these promises are said to have won him the seats in 2002 after which he joined the PML-Q, the King’s party of the then military ruler, retired Gen Pervez Musharraf, and became federal information minister.

And since then the voters have never looked his way and the television channels have never looked away.

He has kept himself alive by turning up on talk shows and passing sweeping statements about politics that appear meaningful — only if one does not think deep. And thus he has become one of the few guests to have “ratings”.

But television ratings, however much they deliver for the channel owners, don’t offer much to politicians who need votes to win elections.

The Sheikh knew this because he is said to have tried very hard to land in the lap of a party. There are rumours that he tried hard to return to the Sharifs but failed. His efforts to endear himself to the third emerging force — Imran Khan — have been far more public.

He charmed, wooed and flattered at every opportunity he got to the extent that last year, Khan ended up attending Rashid’s annual Aug 14 jalsa. But apparently there was not much approval for the Khan-Rashid mutual admiration club within the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and the naysayers made sure that he was not able to join the party.

All the PTI offered him was seat adjustment on NA-55.

But if the talked-about PTI wave does materialise (and the PML-N infighting in Pindi continues), he does have a chance of a victory this time around.

But how relevant will he remain in parliament as the head of a one-man party? If he cannot change that, Rashid may have no choice but to practise politics by discussing it on television.