The need for a new narrative

Knowing that Khan’s populist rhetoric chimes with his electorate, it is evident he will continue to build on the same

Rahat Hussain April 16, 2022

Constitution has reigned supreme, a prime minister has been ousted from power in an unprecedented democratic process, courtesy its litany of shortcomings. So what’s next on the political agenda?

A short rewind of the last two months would have any political observer admit that Imran Khan, as a prime minister, has spun some really compelling narratives.

He’s been nothing short of a master propagandist and his surge to power circa 2018 was fuelled by his anti-corruption rhetoric and the promise of a new Pakistan. This fairytale notion grappled the urban middle class with new hopes and dreams, and banked on their sentiments that the nation needed a tabdeeli from the tried and tested faces.

Fast forward to March 2022, as the momentum amongst the opposition parties grew for a no-trust motion, he again harbingered on a new narrative — one powered by his divine mission as Pakistan’s saviour from foreign powers.

In the past his Goebbelsian narratives of anti-corruption were bought well by the general public as well as the powers that be, galvanising a support base from urban centres that wasn’t seen before.

Now, as his ouster came closer, the new narrative that he spun has again been accepted by his support base. Part of the reason is his charismatic holier than thou persona, and of course building upon his overarching sense of righteous mission.

The downside to all this is that his support base chant in his support of denigrating national institutions, such as parliament, and belittling the Constitution. He has persistently pushed the Overton window to the far left, setting a new norm in every morality defying action with his hollow propagandism.

As events unfolded over the last few weeks, it became evident that the foreign conspiracy reasoning hatched by Khan was nothing but a facade.

An interesting observation has been the role of national media. His divisive politics has not only divided the public but also the media where one segment still supports him while the other doesn’t.

Despite credible news reports citing it as a routine matter, Khan built again on his rhetoric, giving national addresses and repeating the same issue over and over again, to the point that it consumed the public at large to believe it as true. Similarly his motley crew of advisers and ministers went on verbal diarrheas on prime time television talking about the same conspiracy. Why did the media, when aware that such diplomatic cables are a norm in foreign service, allow cultivating this narrative on national television, shaping public opinion in support of this?

It was imperative for the discussion to move away from a non-issue, such as this, to the real issues at hand. But then, this has been a problem with our media all along — bringing the spotlight on questionable subjects, to drive heated debates and arguments, eventually carving a naive public’s opinion that sympathises with the losing side — bereft of any morality or sense of right or wrong.

Knowing that Khan’s populist rhetoric chimes with his electorate, it is evident that he will continue to build on the same.

As the new government comprising major opposition parties come to the foray, they must mull over the possibility of building a new narrative, especially the two pillars of state, the executive and the media — a narrative that hails the supremacy of the Constitution guaranteeing democracy, and a national consensus on rebuilding the economy.

While elections in Pakistan are won with jalsas and sloganeering, it is now time to shape a new narrative, with all the resources at its disposal, to steer not just the nation in the right direction but also the national discourse.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 16th, 2022.

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