The PTI reinventing itself
Finally the PTI is back in the parliament, and barring another crisis, hopefully for good. The ruling PML-N, after rubbing salt in the wounds of the Khan — already reeling from the Judicial Commission rejecting PTI claims of organised rigging in the 2013 general elections — has finally bailed him out. After letting the matter fester for some days it finally persuaded the MQM and JUI-F to withdraw the unseating motions against PTI members in the National Assembly.
Now, it’s high time the party sets up shop and gets down to the real business of playing the role of an effective opposition within and outside the parliament. This is not to say that it has not adequately played the role of opposing government policies.
Imran Khan’s 126-day dharna almost cost Sharif his government. But the PTI, the third largest party in the country and perhaps the only alternative to PML-N in Punjab, has confined itself to an extremely narrow bandwidth.
Khan’s strategy in the past two years was based on two planks: The 2013 elections were rigged as a result of a grand conspiracy hatched by the Sharifs in connivance with the then CJP Iftikhar Chaudhry. Furthermore, that he is the only honest guy in town as the rest of the lot in politics is corrupt and discredited. He also firmly believes, or has been made to believe, that in a fair and square fight he would be king.
It is more than two years since the general elections and effectively a little over two years remain if the present assemblies complete their five-year term. But the PTI stubbornly remains in a permanent agitational mode.
Perhaps the party, largely run by a cabal of political novices quite contrary to claims of being the most democratic, does not know any better. The Khan and his stalwarts need to do some serious introspection that is hitherto lacking.
There have been too many setbacks and somersaults that have damaged the party internally as well as in the public perception. The Sharifs have proved themselves more adept at playing politics and hence have effectively out-manoeuvred and outfoxed the Khan.
It is more than two years since the general elections and effectively a little over two years remain if the present assemblies complete their five-year term. But the PTI stubbornly remains in a permanent agitational mode
During the heyday of the dharna the ruling party was successful in co-opting the rest of the political spectrum around it when the PTI decided to resign from the “bogus assemblies”. The Khan on the other hand, while showing formidable street muscle in cahoots with Tahirul Qadri, was entirely relying on the fabled third umpire to boot the Sharifs out.
In the end analysis it was the PTI that found itself boxed in a corner. Imran, as an exit strategy to end the dharna, rightly used the Peshawar school massacre in December 2014.
This was also a good opportunity to change gears. But it was squandered away at the altar of Khan’s jaundiced and somewhat naive approach towards his place in history.
The PTI bargained hard on terms of reference of the Judicial Commission (JC) and largely had its way. It even made Ishaq Dar concede to the demand of the CJP heading the JC.
To be fair to Sharif he took a political risk by agreeing to the formation of the Judicial Commission. And in the end it paid off.
The PTI chief, somewhat chastened, has accepted the verdict of the Commission that there was no organised rigging. But his party stalwarts keep insisting in their public pronouncements and through social media that there was a grand conspiracy to rob PTI of an assured victory but that it was difficult to prove.
The PTI has returned to the assemblies after a bit of brinkmanship from both sides. The ruling party instead of waiting for a week should have simply put the matter to vote if the MQM and JUI-F were not playing ball.
Khan’s threat, that he was willing to go for by-elections in 28 constituencies, if made good would have been tantamount to a referendum on PML-N rule. Similarly others in the reckoning were not prepared for elections despite expressing bravado to the contrary.
Undeniably the PTI is at a crossroads both internally as well as regarding its role as a political party in the opposition. Imran Khan’s leadership qualities are at stake and he needs to put them to test.
On one side he has to resolve the internal crisis in the PTI. The kind of groupings and dissensions being witnessed in the party are inexorably damaging its brand. The so-called ideological brigade is being spearheaded by justice (r) Wajihuddin and Hamid Khan.
Washing dirty linen in public has become the norm rather than the exception. The Khan was right in taking disciplinary action against Wajihuddin. However, he should keep in mind that there is a large swath of PTI supporters who joined the party for ideological (no matter how flawed) reasons.
Most of them, though themselves unelectable, perhaps feel traditional politicians have hijacked the party. Of course the PTI chairman faces the dilemma of keeping his ideological brand intact while at the same time have enough winners in his stable to enable him to win hands down in the next elections.
Of course he has to somehow marry these ostensibly incompatible goals into a winning combination. This needs some deep contemplation and strategic decision-making on his part.
The party’s secretary general, Jehangir Tareen, the other day claimed in an interview that PTI was ideologically left of centre while being Isalmic at the same time
Addressing the media virtually every day is not going to be enough. The Khan will have to reinvent himself from merely being a naysayer.
The PTI, apart from repairing its internal cracks, needs to extrapolate its position on national issues and give the rulers a tough fight on issue based politics.
The performance of PTI members in the National Assembly has been lacklustre to say the least. Imran Khan fails to attend the “bogus assembly”. He should not only be attending its sessions regularly but should also play an effective role to give the government its money’s worth.
The party’s secretary general, Jehangir Tareen, the other day claimed in an interview that PTI was ideologically left of centre while being Isalmic at the same time. However, the ground reality is that its views on most issues apart from corruption are fuzzy.
For example it supports war on terror in the form of Zarb-e-Azb, but at the same time the Khan wants to negotiate with the Taliban. Similarly on the economy hardly any alternative positions are articulated.
True, the PTI presented its own version of the national budget. But that was hardly noticed. This is despite the fact that the party has quite a few technocrats in its folds.
Doing issue-based politics does not seem to be PTI’s forte. It has to envisage life beyond rigging and corrupt politicians.
It’s high time the Khan realised that the PTI is in real danger of losing its mojo. He should learn the right lessons from the 2013 elections instead of merely parroting the rigging mantra.