The fundofication of PTI
Now that the liberal-esque packaging is coming off PTI, the buyer’s remorse is slowly sinking in.
Three and a half months into the tsunami, things do not seem to be going in the direction many had hoped. What started out as a campaign to bring about positive and lasting change by bringing the youth and Pakistan’s moderate majority on board has now turned in to a lota/fundo-fest.
But the believers still cling onto the words that were said on October 30, during that historic jalsa in Lahore. The idea was that Pakistan was for everyone - liberals, conservatives and moderates coming together under the banner of one party that promised to build an Islamic welfare state and take out the old guard in one steady action (like a tsunami). And yet, three and a half months down the lane, reality is far from it.
So, what has been going on with the Pakistan Tsunami-e-Insaf?
Well, the answer to that can be multi-pronged but in the simplest terms, there has been a shift in the party's ideology and now it’s just coming to the forefront. On October 30, Imran Khan came across as a uniting figure. At his jalsa, conservatives were standing shoulder to shoulder with liberals.
In his own words, he said:
I have struggled for 15 years, but it was all cross-sections of society. It was girls coming in jeans. It was women coming from deeni madrassas, it was Urdu-medium, English-medium, the religious. All of them came…
So, initially PTI was being hailed as the saviour of all classes and backgrounds; the upper and middle class and even the poor. PTI was going to help everyone out. Regardless of your religious and political beliefs, Imran Khan was promising an end to corruption in 90 days and a functioning state for all - and people bought this. But what most people forgot in the euphoria is that PTI was always a politically rightist party.
From the day it was conceived over 15 years ago, it was a center-rightist party. That was the main reason it was on good terms with PML-N right after its inception; that is why it has always been on decent terms with the Jamaat-e-Islami throughout its existence. PTI combined the socialist values that are found all over the JI manifesto, but combined them with the capitalistic nature of PML-N’s ideology. So in essence, if you go through the PTI manifesto over the last 15 years, it is basically a mix of JI and PML-N. It’s ideological positioning also shows this, where it has been right of PML-N and left of JI.
But these are the technical points of PTI.
The PTI Imran Khan tends to promote is based on his persona. And in that process, people tend to forget the very foundations of his party. What is happening now is that the foundations of his party are being exposed and that is disappointing the liberals who were seen as his core support and are still his core constituency. Although this is not surprising to a lot of observers, a large number of his party officials that were there pre-Lahore jalsa were old Jamaat people. And yet, somehow, his support base ignored this.
Now, take a couple of recent events that have forced people to start re-assessing what Imran Khan and his party really stand for. The first one was when Imran Khan called liberals ‘scum’ in an interview with the Indian NDTV. This was quickly hushed up by the PTI and its supporters as a one-off event where something their great leader said was misconstrued as some sort of a conspiracy and what not.
Next, the initial denial and then eventual acceptance that PTI was sending its representatives to Difa-e-Pakistan Council’s jalsas to read out messages on Imran Khan’s behalf. The trouble with this whole episode was that PTI initially flatly denied it back in December, saying there is no way that Imran Khan will ever go to a DPC jalsa and that anyone who goes there does so in their personal capacity. PTI supporters bought this. And then eventually Imran Khan recently asked what was wrong with going to a DPC rally or meeting. This sudden change of stance for many of his staunchest supporters was surprising to say the least.
What a lot of PTI’s support base is undergoing is buyer’s remorse. A large portion of PTI’s base identifies itself as liberal or moderate and they always assumed that their beliefs were embedded in Imran Khan’s persona and by default, in his party. But because most of them were late converts to PTI, they overlooked the basis of the party, which is center-right on the political horizon.
The assumption was that Imran Khan is a progressive man who speaks well and is educated abroad. The chances of him being a sympathiser of religious parties and other ‘fundamentalist’ groups was very limited given his background - that is what the majority of his base bought.
But now that PTI is slowly evolving into a political party bent on making electoral waves, they are showing their true political colours and are going overboard with it. To its current base, this might sound and feel wrong but for PTI this is a logical step. The fact is that the vast majority of people in Pakistan are social conservatives who lean to the right on the political and social spectrums. And right now PTI is trying to attract that vote.
The base was crucial in getting the party off the ground but it’s the majority of the social conservatives that will get it some share of political power. And having jump started the PTI from its 15 year political slumber, the party’s base that showed up in Lahore, now feels betrayed. Now that the liberl-esque packaging is coming off PTI, the buyer’s remorse is slowly sinking in.
So while some say that PTI is undergoing ‘fundofication’, I say it is merely just getting back to its roots - left of JI and right of PML-N.