Just before writing this piece on Wednesday evening, I tried to listen to Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan’s speech at a public rally in Haripur, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. I tried hard to concentrate on his speech, but listening to Imran Khan’s speech is an ordeal. Despite his repetitive stuff, his speeches, however, have the element to keep his followers glued to TV screens and YouTube channels if they are far from the venue. Those present on the ground never lost charge during his speech. This is miraculous.
Nowadays, PTI is hard news. I spoke to my newsroom staff the other day at an editorial meeting about the usual stuff for the editorials and the front page. All of them agreed to the point that the PTI and Imran Khan would be a must part.
Question: What makes the PTI and Imran Khan news sensation?
This is the first time that I am writing about Imran Khan and his party in my column. I delayed the topic for weeks. But we cannot avoid Imran Khan and his party, whether we like them or not.
Right now, the PTI is fighting on many fronts: the PML-N-led federal government in Islamabad, the Pakistan Media Regulatory Authority, the Election Commission of Pakistan, the PPP government in Sindh, the judiciary, Islamabad police, a major part of the media and the establishment. The energy of Imran’s followers is matchless as the party has held record rallies, and well-attended, in recent months after the ouster of the Imran Khan government. The party has the power to call a rally and hold it successfully just on a 24-hour call. Other than the rally venue, the party supporters listen to Imran Khan’s speech at designated venues in all major cities in Pakistan and abroad.
The rallies become family affairs for the PTI cadres as families with their women and children come in droves to the venues and clap and dance and celebrate politics.
A million dollar question: Will the party survive and prolong its fight with the establishment?
My guess: No. A big “no”.
I am convinced that the PTI followers are good at rally politics, but they do not know the ABCs of protest politics. The PTI gets strength when it fights traditional political parties, but it may become weak when it will enter into a head-on clash with the establishment. But the government’s action energizes the PTI cadres. If PTI drags this fight to the next month’s by-elections and by giving a political colour to the arrest of Shahbaz Gill, Imran Khan can win nine by-elections and boost his public popularity. This success will double his political importance and the coalition government at the Centre will have to sit at the negotiating table with the PTI.
The by-election fiasco will cost the ruling coalition a heavy political price.
National Assembly Speaker Raja Parvez Ashraf on a fine morning or evening, deliberately accepted the resignations of PTI members from the ‘selected’ constituencies where the ruling alliance believes that the voting position of PTI is weak. So far, the process is in the nomination papers. In the coming days, the situation will become clearer. The ruling alliance has fielded the most suitable candidate against Imran Khan in every constituency. The establishment is neutral, but the PTI is constantly targeting its neutrality. PTI’s fielding of Imran Khan in nine, out of 11, seats in the upcoming by-elections means that the party lacks electable candidates. But Imran Khan is a formidable candidate. He has left the ruling side with limited options. If Imran Khan wins all nine seats or most of them, he will inflict serious damage to the government. That is why the other side is banking on the expected disqualification of Imran Khan before the polling day.
The PTI needs to narrow its fighting fronts.