On October 31st 2011, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s Inquilabi Nazriya erupted on the streets of Pakistan. But then something inexplicable happened. Having achieved critical mass on the basis of our message, the PTI initiated a course contrary to its political ideals. Now that the electorate were convinced we were different, that we represented the disenfranchised middle and lower classes, we began recruiting opportunists from other political parties. The leadership felt that these ‘electables’ were needed to ensure victory in the 2013 elections. Elections, which despite a wave of support, were lost due to the resultant internal strife.
Nevertheless, party loyalists supported Imran Khan because he had consistently assured us that like Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital, we would make the PTI an institution, so that its core values would remain intact, no matter who came or went, and for generations to come.
Today, the PTI faces a far greater existential threat than the PML-N or the PPP because its future is tied to the fate of one man. The latter two will survive their current leadership because they have hereditary succession. While this is not particularly democratic, having no system at all, virtually guarantees the PTI’s early demise. Much like Ayub Khan’s Convention Muslim League or Pervez Musharraf’s ‘King’s Party’, in its current state, the PTI will go the way of the dodo.
The inability to build this institution has also profoundly demoralised party workers across Pakistan. Our repeated failure to fill the vacuum created by the PPP’s decline in Punjab, and the MQM’s continued fracture in Sindh, have further exacerbated matters. Despite countless opportunities, God-given, people-bestowed, and establishment-provided, the PTI has lost momentum. History, politics and people rarely create political opportunities of this magnitude. I am deeply saddened to see the way in which we are squandering ours.
It is ironic that a leadership which based much of its recent political strategy on the sanctity of the Supreme Court, has largely ignored its own party’s constitution. The concept of universality seems lost on them. They have forced out not one, but two chief election commissioners, for attempting to enforce it, through the implementation of a free and fair intra-party election. The consequent failure to enforce the rule of law and to democratise the party, a prerequisite for any organisation hoping to democratise a nation, has devastated party unity and discipline.
This lamentable absence of rules has enabled the PTI’s own version of carpetbaggers to take over the party, and institute a sort of ‘Billionaires’ Darwinism’. From ticket allocations to party positions, everything is decided unilaterally, using the central executive committee as a rubber stamp, undermining the democratic principles on which our party was built. Needless to say, Imran’s reliance on, and inclination towards these ‘gatekeepers of Banigala’, doesn’t go down well with the party faithful either.
It is now critical for Imran to realise that these billionaires have derailed our movement; the one for justice, that is. We are no longer held together by ideals. Now, the driving force is the power of money and the pursuit of power. Most of us who founded the party have either left, been side-lined or died, whilst others have been co-opted. What is left is a steady supply of plutocrats, opportunists and camp followers. Much to the detriment of those who poured blood, sweat and tears to uphold party principles. Principles that Imran has wantonly sacrificed at the altar of political expediency. One doesn’t have to be a genius to understand that when new politics begins to look like old politics, old politics wins out.
Even if one accepts that electables are a necessary evil to win a plurality of seats in Parliament, there is no rational basis for also making them the faces of our party. Instead of plotting intrigues in Banigala, these opportunists should be in their constituencies delivering their end of this Faustian bargain. The job of preserving and of speaking for the party’s values should lie with those who have lived our struggle.
After all, it is hard convincing voters that we will protect the farmers from exploitation when our party is run by sugar barons. Or that we will end corruption in Pakistan in 20 years (let alone 90 days) when our party’s ‘electable MPAs’ sold out in larger numbers than members of any other political party during the recent Senate election. Or, even that we stand against Mauroosi Siyasat when we parachute the progeny of leaders discredited by the Supreme Court, into constituencies as heirs apparent. And, with what results?
Most importantly, who are we to convince voters that we have a worthwhile agenda for the future when we are encouraging our youth to become a lynch mob, ready to denigrate in an abusive manner, the motivations of those who voice opinions different than those of the Supreme Leader, or his sacred cows. Jinnah’s vision for Pakistan never included its transformation into a North Korea, did it?
We had set out to build an institution, but sadly, what we have now is a cult of personality. It is extremely unfortunate that the aspirations of millions of Pakistanis have been reduced to rubble. Even if by some major miracle we win, what locus standi would we have to claim the moral high ground that enabled our meteoric rise in 2011?
All that is left really, is the mirage of the PTI’s coronation by the ‘men behind the curtains’. Given our track record, it is more likely that they will take centre stage themselves.
Imran often quotes Einstein’s definition of “Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Sadly, Einstein isn’t around to tell him how many more electoral defeats the PTI must endure, before he re-aligns it with the vision that once galvanised millions. For now, Einstein turns in his grave, our opponents rejoice, and the PTI leadership dances to the tune of the Pied Piper. Or perhaps, they are just staggering in the dark.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 27th, 2018.
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