Tsunami in reverse


Imran Khan needs to seriously get his political act together. His popularity may not be plummeting but his party is in total disarray. The visible evidence – in the shape of more and more voices of dissent coming out and some senior members wondering where their ship is headed – is just the tip of the iceberg that lies beneath the shallows Mr Khan has taken his politics to.

Inevitably, the first cause of deterioration in the party’s internal order is in the shoddy manner the affairs of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have been handled. Imran Khan has been big on propagating how successfully the province is being run. This is good for media and public consumption, but it rebels against reality. The chief minister of the province isn’t the best thing that has happened to this place in the last many years. Nor are his cabinet ministers made in the heavens.

Ministerial inefficiency and internal rivalries have hobbled a compromised coalition government whose core members cannot think beyond their core constituencies, and their spending priorities are decided on the basis of that bias. There is no central vision. No blue print of comprehensive governance at hand. Everything revolves around getting the right image out, for which Imran Khan’s Twitter account is the best-deployed instrument other than media advertisements and hand-held interviews.

Because there is constant shifting of the blame about the lacklustre performance, there is increased reliance on putting everything in the framework of ‘how bad the situation is in other provinces’, to establish ‘how good the situation is in KP’.

This hardly the way to go about proving that a true revolution is taking place in KP. Moreover, public image building exercises do nothing to settle party affairs. In addition to a constant tug of war among different factions, the situation is further aggravated as everyone among Imran Khan’s favourite and favoured circle has an axe to grind. They use KP’s political resources to do their politics and business elsewhere in the country.

It was no surprise that the mighty Jehangir Khan Tareen had to face an awkward situation when a significant member of the party, a sitting MNA, simply refused to show his face in a rally in Jhelum for the PTI’s candidate. There are many more examples that document how tired KP’s representatives are of being used as fuel for Imran’s political jet’s endless flights. As local resentments pile up, the central leadership continues to play their chess games, imagining KP to be a storehouse of pawns.

This has thrown the party in this vital province in a tailspin. Meet anyone from any faction in the province and their tales of woe and sorrow can go on till midnight. The common thread in all these complaints is the feeling that Imran Khan is just not mentally geared towards handling political complexities on his own. He outsources his work to his loved ones and banishes feedback from his presence that His Worship finds jarring. That has led to his isolation from KP’s political reality and has further challenged his fairly ordinary sense of judgement.

However, KP’s political affairs are not an exception. They are the rule. The party’s situation elsewhere in the country is scary for a political force that is yet to take power at the centre. Punjab offers a harrowing picture as far as organisational matters are concerned. It is a Sunday bazaar of pushy vendors of personal stakes. Provincial divisions have degenerated into permanent fights among powerful individuals. Old guards vs new guards vs the vanguards of Banigala – all have their daggers out against each other. There is no sense of purpose, even less organisational capacity.

Very few are willing to join the ranks and many disgruntled members of other parties who at one point wanted to switch to the PTI have permanently abandoned their plans. The only thing that has swelled for the PTI in Punjab is the pen of fence-sitters within the party who are increasingly worried about their political future.

This is primarily the reason that the second largest political force in a province that houses half of the country’s 200 million population is now witnessing dwindling crowds at its processions. The PTI’s reliance on partners like PAT and Shaikh Rashid (who is put on the stage because of his alleged crowd-pulling capacity) is the surest sign that its organisational debility has fallen to worrying levels. So long marches have become short and revolutions that are pronounced through press talks do not last longer than Harry Potter movies. If this is happening in Punjab, the focus of all of Imran’s attention, energies, ambitions and planning, you don’t have to even wonder about the state of party affairs in Sindh and Balochistan. The rout in Azad Kashmir is too fresh to be forgotten.

But the party has not hit against this terrible tide on its own. It is the direct result of Imran Khan’s tsunami politics – how interesting that we don’t hear the term any more! – that has created a massive throwback, unsettling what at one point looked like a smooth sailing flotilla.

Imran Khan has been pushing against the logic of politics because he is impressed by his own statements that one day he will succeed. And even when he does not define the measure of this success that he always sees to be round the corner – other than imagining himself to be the prime minister of Paksitan – he could still be more intelligent in designing strategies towards that aim.

His actions have been bewildering for the most part. According to one count, in the last 15 months he has personally announced the “next plan”, or the next “phase of the next plan” a dizzying 55 times. That is four times a month. Just as many times he has made the forecast that this time he would definitely secure final success. By comparison, Shaikh Rashid, a far more vocal and out of control type of speaker, has predicted the success of public protests by a modest 12 times.

It is not as if there is no one in the party who speaks to Imran Khan about these issues that cause them much public credibility. Other than the usual ‘chamchas’, core committee meetings have members who offer plenty of sane advice. In the more recent one, there was an agreement that all plans to arrange marches and public protests must be debated before being announced. And yet, Imran Khan made a complete joke of this consensus when he decided to launch his Gujranwala to Lahore protest and also made it public.

This trivialisation of the majority view has deepened the impression even within core committee members that he either does not understand the consequences of his own actions or gets prompted by quarters that only he and Jehangir Khan Tareen know about and meet with. Either way the tendency to go solo has become so entrenched that the entire party’s central command ceases to exist.

This has had consequences, serious ones. It has brought down the level of participation in decision making because the correct assumption is that the decisions are already made and calling core committee meetings are a mere filler or formality. More than that, after being repeatedly treated like an irrelevancy in the mysterious planning process whose goals are always kept in the dark, some of the saner members have shut themselves off from most proceedings. They sit, speak, and come out without any ownership of whatever actions are listed for implementation.

Imran has created an echo chamber in which he only hears the sounds of his own words. Or those spoken by his rich pets. The entire party is a mere casing to the chamber, whose inner working is totally in control of Imran Khan and his personal friends.

Right now the only strategy that the PTI chairman has is the hope that somehow some form of lightening will strike Nawaz Sharif and the Prime Minister House will instantaneously fall vacant. Even if this were to happen and Nawaz Sharif were to disappear from the scene, Imran Khan’s entry to the treasured house will be little different from his entry into popular politics: a lot of noise, even more confusion but little substance or real achievement.

His real asset, the party, is a living testimony to the fact that he has not learnt the fundamentals of politics. He defines himself and his party by slinging mud at others. He has no time to look into the mirror and ask himself some tough questions.