Do you hear that screeching sound? It’s the sound of countless columnists and analysts applying the handbrakes in a desperate attempt to pull a 180 degree turn on Imran Khan. Recycle bins across the country are full to bursting with trashed columns, replete with self-satisfied prose about why the Imran Khan rally failed. It didn’t fail, of course, and not since the Library at Alexandria burned has so much writing disappeared from existence. Others are going to go for the ‘Yes, but…’ option, bravely explaining why the Lahore rally really doesn’t change anything. I’d do the same but sadly my creative writing skills just aren’t that good and I don’t like the taste of humble pie.
Imran’s been criticised for being arrogant, but humility isn’t exactly a leadership trait. Go through the list of leaders — both local and global — and you’ll hardly find them to be self-effacing types. Gandhi is an exception of course, but it can be argued that humility was in fact his greatest arrogance. Imran’s also accused of being a one-man show and a cult personality but again, the same can be said of any leader. The PPP of old didn’t win because people were impressed by the crack team they had put together or were wowed by their wonderfully written manifesto. They won because of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s spellbinding personality. It is that personality, and the cult it engendered, that ensured his daughter’s election and on which the current rulers still rely for their support. Obama didn’t win because the Democrats’ platform was so much superior to the Republicans’, but because something in Obama himself appealed to voters. And, of course, the fact that his predecessor was a blithering idiot — a parallel that applies in Pakistan as well — also helped.
As for the accusation that Imran is being backed by the establishment and is in effect a proxy of the deep state, let’s face the fact that, first of all, the ‘establishment’, contrary to popular belief, is not all powerful and the crowd at Minar-e-Pakistan really didn’t look like undercover spooks to me. Secondly, just about every single politician in Pakistan has been accused of being an establishment proxy or agent or, as the supremely overused phrase goes, a product of dictatorship. As for his programme, that was neatly laid out in the speech. If you were expecting a PowerPoint presentation, then go back to business school.
Then there is the contradictory complaint that he has no real ‘mainstream’ politicians on his side. I say ‘contradictory’ because the same columnists routinely castigate those very politicians for ruining the country. And enough already with the Zohair Toru jokes. At least the lad got out of the armchair favoured by so many analysts and onto the street. If he was guilty of anything, it’s idealism, and it’s idealism, not cynicism, that ultimately changes the fate of nations.
What I saw was a leader who had come of age, who had a message that was current and crisp and spoke not of the accusations of the past, but of hope for the future. Azaan breaks and rock music coexisted peacefully on the same stage and the crowd was disciplined and spontaneous without the need for commissars or professional sloganeers. Contrast that with MQM and PML-N rallies. The MQM crowd, devoted supporters all, had the look of people who have sat down to watch a favourite movie for the hundredth time. The PML-N also seemed hopelessly behind the times. No disrespect to Jalib, who is undoubtedly one of the greatest revolutionary poets of our times, but his words aren’t exactly going to resonate with the youth of today. They love their poems of protest as well, but they want to hear them from Shehzad Roy, not Shahbaz Sharif.
I must confess that I thought choosing a venue like the Minar-e-Pakistan was a massive miscalculation and was all set to write something clever about how dismal the rally was. I stand corrected. Oh and Senator Rashid, I’m still waiting for your resignation.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 01st, 2011.