Imran Khan! Throwing a heavy stone in still water
November 04, 2011
The public gathering held and addressed by Imran Khan at the heels of such an event by PML-N in Lahore has taken the pundits by surprise. It was expected from him to make a good show, but the way the whole affair turned out to be, might have surprised Imran Khan himself, whereas it must have sent shivers down the spines of his opponents from all sides of the political spectrum. Now the important questions to consider are: A. To what extent Imran Khan can translate voice into votes? B. How would he penetrate into areas which are up till now no-go for him such as interior Sind and Balochistan? C. Which candidates he would field to score electoral successes? D. What strategy he would embark on to grab lion’s share in rural areas as the major chunk of electorate still reside in such areas?
Answers to these questions would determine the extent to which he can make his mark in the political makeup of the country. The political temperature which is already quite high because of the pot stirred by Shahbaz Sharif by threatening to hang Zardari if things are not put on the right track received another upward jump by Imran’s hot-ballooned rhetoric while addressing that mammoth gathering in Lahore being described as the largest such demo in the last two decades. What the man in the picture has done is that he has built on the momentum which he carefully carried through the thick and thin of the political ups and downs of the country in last three years. Lahore is the pointer to the shape of things to come for deep-rooted political pocket-constituency-holders in the city and its suburbs. Here the biggest challenge is for PMLN, which feels quite at home in Lahore, taking it for granted that whoever secures the ticket of the party is sure to win. But this time the situation is not going to be that comfortable for the party in the metropolis. Lahore is going to be the litmus test for PML-N and crucible for political confusion if not a bellwether for change in the country. With Lahore on an edge, it would be a hard-fought battle for PMLN in the next elections whenever they are going to be held under the current rise and fall of things.
The challenge for Imran Khan to stay relevant to the political scheme of things in the country is that he has to create chinks in the armour of both PML-N and PPP. He has already rattled both, but his vote block is concentrated in the territorial belt and age group of the country which is conventionally tilted towards Muslim Leagues of all kinds springing from time to time. His constituency is in Northern Punjab and some parts of KPK where his audience is urban educated youth and middle class income group. This is an area and section of populous which comes handy for PML-N, and PTI’s growing voice and swelling ranks are a nightmare for the party. What is coming up is that PPP is feeling happy as it sees its arch-foe PML-N being under severe strain from PTI. On the other hand, PML-N is trying to downplay the rising popularity of PTI as it does not want to see itself compared with what it sees as amateur in politics. Imran Khan has also come to conclude that his first measure of success is to cause sleepless nights in the camp of PML-N and then take the battle to other parties. This strategy is working well for the time being but its efficacy would come under a test when it is going to unfold in other parts of the country targeted at other parties.
The sound and fury unleashed by PTI is audible far and wide in the political circles of the country, but making electoral gains is a different story. The people of the country are now savvy enough to go to hear different and competing candidates from all parties at the hustings, but they decide on their own. This is true in urban areas of the country where voter decides not only according to predetermined affiliations but in line with his own temperament, party manifesto and candidate’s performance. It is too early for Imran Khan to win a decisive electoral victory, but at minimum, he has now emerged as newer voice which is often felt missing in the dreary political landscape of the country with two major parties at federal level and few regional parties with the parties of right coming in from the cold due to extra-territorial events such as MMA’s electoral success in the wake of the US invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001.
What matters for Imran Khan in this election is that in how many constituencies he is able to tip the balance in favour or against some party. Winning seats in the elections in a good number is still a far cry for him. But it does not mean that he is going to be a spent force after such an electoral performance, if the current democratic interlude continues; at some point of time in near future he would be able to stand up and counted as a force to reckon with even within the power corridors, and not only at public gatherings. Right now the party is able to carve a niche in the political landscape of the country and as the time passes, it is going to increase its clout as it does not feel constrained by incumbency factor unlike its other contenders. If people are craving for change, then PTI has come forward with the message of change, although change is not that easy to materialize for political parties which make it their slogan as realities of governance and rhetoric of electioneering often clash with each other. What Imran Khan has to offer to the electorate and how far he can go is a matter of time which is evolving fast in the direction of next elections in the country.