PTI resisted the urge but what if it had joined the road show?
At the peak of Dr Tahirul Qadri’s long march, my six-and-a-half-year old daughter won a bet with her older sibling, who’s all of eight-and-a-half, that Imran Khan would not join the march. I was left consoling the latter, saying even I had suspected he would!
What does this say about the two claimants of the revolution? To begin with, that the Pakistani landscape is pretty polarised. Both Tahirul Qadri and Imran Khan share the same mantra — they even admit to it. However, they did not converge together on Islamabad for the same purpose.
The general perception was that Imran Khan was confused — a frank admission of which he made in his subsequent television appearances. His heart said yes, but his head, no. He now says he is grateful for resisting the temptation. He also admitted that he was flooded with desperate calls and messages from the restless party cadre, who wanted to unleash their street prowess.
Much of Khan’s premise is rooted in hindsight. Former Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher once said the wisdom of hindsight, so useful to historians and indeed to authors of memoirs, is sadly denied to practising politicians. In Khan’s case, it springs from the general consensus that the container deal was a face-saver — sought by Qadri and given by those with a vested interest in the status quo.
However, few can say with certainty if that would have been the case had Khan’s Tehrik-e-Insaf jumped in and managed to pull in a crowd of say, even 50,000 plus. There’s no knowing what momentum shift would that have rung because unlike Qadri, Khan’s party has long prepared for a political plunge and a combo may have had a tremulous effect in Islamabad’s corridors of power (although one can’t imagine Khan being contained in a container!).
Even though Qadri appeared to have miscalculated his potential to bring down the government and force some sort of intervention, he still managed to get more than what in popular parlance would be described as a “lollypop”.
Four bitterly cold nights of what was a surprisingly resolute assemblage had done enough to create a ripple, and some of the manifestation — for all its contrived nature — is apparent. The Election Commission has suddenly acquired a spine and banned both jiyala recruitment and stopped the flow — and diversion — of funds that otherwise had the bearings of naked pre-poll rigging. The power stakeholders are beginning to feel the heat.
If they survive the worst, ironically, it would probably be down to a disparate opposition — much like the perception about Imran Khan’s PTI only serving to divide the vote bank of PML-N to the PPP’s advantage.
Even though President Zardari is a proven man of crisis for his party, and once again demonstrated his craft at selling a “paper” deal to the status quo challenger, the situation may have been pretty nerve-racking had Imran Khan thrown his hat in the ring — as admitted by many of the stakeholders in private. Alone, Qadri had little choice, especially with no political depth in the electoral sense.
This is, of course, not to suggest that the Kaptaan should have compromised his 16-year plus struggle for ringing a change through the ballot. Rather, it is just an educated guess at what might have entailed if Qadri and Khan had converged on a single charter of demands and stuck it out at D-Chowk. The same had, indeed, at one point become the focus of some debate, especially when Qadri wondered why there was a “separation of path when the ideology was the same” after singling out Khan for praise.
So has the Kaptaan saved the day for his party given the capricious face-saver that it looked like on the 17th after the roar of the 14th? On paper, it does seem so. For instance, Khan has been hailed for his ‘maturity’ in upholding the democratic principle of choosing the ballot over any extra-constitutional means to dislodge a pronouncedly unpopular government. Secondly, it will go some distance in dissuading people from readily assuming that he is the security establishment’s man looking for a shortcut.
But what is clear is that Khan would never play second fiddle to Qadri, who, too, would be loathe to the idea of playing the vice captain now that he thinks he has shaken the rafters. Politics, they say, is the art of the possible and if the Minhajul Quran chief were to pitch poll campaign tents as has been hinted at, an alliance can still not be ruled out (Khan has also hinted at that).
Coming back to PTI’s decision of not upsetting the applecart, insiders say, it was actually the overriding view of the ‘electables’ at the party’s helm. It was premised in the fact that there is very little time left for the elections. Be that as it may, it would require rigorous campaigning — particularly, in rural strongholds where 63 percent voters make the count — for PTI to regain the momentum it lost in the last year. This will have to be done hitting the ground running.
Having said that, by no means is it easy to predict what will happen. The battle between the forces of continuity and the forces of change is unlikely to be fought on a level playing field given how entrenched the former are. Ironically, despite being apparent rivals, the former have united to protect their interests, but the latter despite being on the same page, have yet to issue a one way ticket.
The writer is Editor, Pique Magazine. He can be reached at [email protected]