Many columnists and commentators have compared the meteoric rise of Imran Khan with that of Zulifikar Ali Bhutto’s rise and emergence of Pakistan Peoples Party in the 1970s. Both leaders have the same kind of appeal and Khan, like Bhutto, is riding on a wave for change and their popularity is based on immense public support.
However, Bhutto’s slogan of “roti kapra aur makan” instantly appealed to the masses as it promised them relief and basic necessities of life. Bhutto understood the mob mentality and raised a slogan which made him a darling of the masses. As against this Imran Khan’s anti-corruption, bad governance, across the board accountability and anti-drone attack rhetoric do not have an instant appeal for the poor masses of the country.
Ordinary people are more interested in jobs, reduced cost of living and provision of basic necessities of everyday living. Imran Khan thus is a somewhat an elitist leader and has mainly attracted the youth and educated middle class. He has not yet developed appeal among masses which Bhutto had and which made him a leader of the masses. Imran Khan, however, has certain other advantages which Bhutto did not have. Khan’s main advantage is that people are sick and tired of other major political parties and leaders who have failed to deliver in government and opposition.
People want a change and want to give Imran a chance who is a new option. Imran has no major problem as other political leaders are all discredited and disliked. There is no leader on the political horizon who is even close to Khan in popularity. He has shown tremendous perseverance and willpower and has not given up his mission despite being in the political wilderness for over a decade and a half. A lesser mortal would have given up but not him.
As against this, Bhutto struggled only for about five years. Prior to that he was an important cabinet minister in Ayub regime and parted ways with Ayub Khan as a matter of principle over the Tashkent Declaration.
Bhutto had other big advantages, like a political background and the gifts of sheer brilliance and of being a great orator. Imran Khan is a well-educated, well-spoken and handsome cricketing-hero-turned-politician. Even though he does not have Bhutto’s brilliance and intellect, he compensates them with his persistence, hard work, sincerity of purpose and self-confidence.
Imran Khan’s catchword “change” has caught the fancy of the youth and middle class. However, he must be very careful in selecting his party nominees and candidates who are to contest the elections. If he puts up too many electable old faces who are now joining his party by dozens, as his candidates, his wave for change will collapse under their weight. It must be understood that there is a wave for a complete change and this is the driving force behind Khan’s immense popularity.
Shah Mahmood Qureshi is a good addition to the party since he is clean, well-educated and eloquent. But Khan has to be extremely cautious in future lest his “tsunami” subsides too quickly and the wave for a change runs out of steam. He should stick to his principles and not accept unscrupulous turncoats even if they seem good candidates now.
He is a risk taker and should place all his bets on the wave of complete change. The greater the risk, the greater the gains. Hopefully, Khan will be more selective at the time of granting party tickets because right now he does not seem to be in a position in stopping people from joining his party as it is open to everybody.