Imran in the Zone?


There are occasions in a sportsman’s career when everything he touches seems to turn to gold. Every move he makes, in whichever sport he displays his wares, seems a most natural and easy thing. Time slows down, the ball floats towards him and the feet move effortlessly. The senses of sight, speed and instinct are heightened. Every shot he tries comes off seemingly without effort. His mind is calm as a millpond. And winning just happens!

In sport, this is known as being in ‘The Zone’. All athletes strive to be in ‘The Zone’ but it is an elusive spot. Only the champions are in or near the zone most of the time. This is the Holy Grail of Sport.

At the twilight of his career, in 1992, Imran Khan was surely in that zone. He predicted that he would capture the World Cup. Literally down and out (the odds were indeed long: 50-1) when he made that claim, he had pinned his hope on a miracle – and the miracle happened for him.

In the political arena, which has been more of a ‘timeless test’ spanning nearly 16 barren years he has been consigned to the wilderness – to the point that the ‘exile’ almost seemed to have attained a sense of permanence. He seemed at a loss, desperately in search of another miracle.

Now all of a sudden after a decade and a half’s sweat and toil, and being mocked at, something that would have broken the heart of the most persevere, especially with so little to show for all the effort, he is again predicting a triumph – an electoral victory that will catapult him to power.

If the turnout at Gujranwala and Faisalabad had given him confidence, Lahore’s mammoth gathering– with well over a hundred thousand responsive souls in attendance and a rocking middle class carnival effect– was a resounding statement that must have, above all, surprised him. After many a false start, the size of the audience at Lahore alone seems to have given Imran a sense of arrival, and a born-again self-belief.

He had come to his home town to beard the self-proclaimed Lion of Punjab in its den. Whether he has succeeded in that remains to be seen, but his impressive show has left the PML(N) smarting. The PTI had already assumed the status of a spoiler in the KP and central and northern Punjab, and that was enough to send shivers down the PML(N)’s spine, for this had been Nawaz territory since 1985. The threat must have been considered serious enough by the party think tank for Shahbaz Sharif to un-sportingly hold his own rally two days before and paint himself into a corner with a speech so uncouth and hysteric in nature that October 30 made Imran look even taller.

While Imran has raged and Shahbaz has ranted, the PPP has been cool and composed. Only one little statement from the PM: the PML(N) is targeting the government and the president only because Imran is denting it in its stronghold. The PPP’s not getting into a verbal brawl also was a hint that Shahbaz’s speech had little impact on it. If your ‘mortal threat’ in response gets a yawn, one should know where one is standing, and by now the PML(N) perhaps has got the message.

The MQM’s gesture in holding a rally in support of the government though must have been appreciated by the PPP. (The MQM certainly has a card sharper’s nous about producing the trump it needs at the right moment. It had turned Karachi into a vast killing field and was asking Zardari to resign when the intent was to pressurise the government. And now when it wanted to score with the government, an angelic pro-democracy, pro-Zardari and, to settle its own score, an anti-Nawaz show).

Imran may consider gathering under his banner apolitical middle class of all ages (but mostly the youth) a stellar performance, but does that make him the rising son of our politics? Is he really in The Zone politically? Has his path to power been paved by hitting his main Punjabi rivals for a six in the context of the jalsas?

The next elections are eons away. The public sentiment may change, and the PML(N) may regroup in the interregnum. Then the PTI has so far only been a one-man show, and that is not enough to get to power in a parliamentary democracy. While the jalsa was choreographed very well, a similar modicum of organisation is nowhere in sight where the party apparatus and working is concerned.

The fact that there is no dependable second tier of leadership for a party that has been around for a while, and Imran (‘The bigger the jalsas, the more people would join PTI’, has been his mantra) is depending on gathering his ‘electables’ by staying on the road. From the evidence thus far, he will get a decent audience, but whether this rolling around will get him some credible electoral moss is debatable.

To most political analysts, he may have lots of populist slogans, but he seems to lack a tangible agenda, any real depth and understanding of the issues confronting the country. The anti-climax on his big day was that he had nothing much to say, other than the same old spiel that he continues to mouth in one TV programme after another.

This though apparently doesn’t matter to his supporters. For them, it seems, the persona suffices. But it is definitely not enough to win an election– even from the urban centres.

Though one is not a betting man, the odds on Imran winning at the next hustings remain as long as they were on his team in that 1992 spring. Can he skipper his motley crowd of a party to similar success? Would another miracle happen for him?

The writer is Sports and Magazines Editor, Pakistan Today.


  1. "The anti-climax on his big day was that he had nothing much to say"

    I am not concerned about what he says ,What concerns me is what he does! , In the realam of practicality Imran has the most illustrious track record.

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