With credibility dented, the arduous path ahead
With the elections nearing, the venomousness of accusations among political leaders is intensifying at an alarming pace. It remains a paradox that the only party that is likely to suffer as a consequence of this malicious campaign is the party that has a fair reservoir of credibility: Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf. All the other leaders have thick layers of muck pasted all over their faces as they go around unashamedly laying claim to national leadership.
In spite of contentious decisions taken in the wake of the unprecedented success of the October 30 gathering in Lahore with regard to allowing a vast cross-section of leaders with a dubious past into the party, PTI remains clean in the context of not having been tried so far. Imran Khan can also lay claim to nationally- and internationally-acclaimed successes in the field of sports and social welfare. His work in building a cancer hospital that treats most of its patients without charge and Namal University that provides quality education in a number of domains to the economically- and socially-deprived segments of the national population are projects that accord him a distinctive place. His work in providing relief to the calamity-struck people has also won him countless admirers.
In a country where such initiatives are scarce, where extensive and intensive corruption is the hallmark of all public sector projects and where every leader worth a mention has benefited from the state largesse in despicable manners, there was much hope associated with the emergence of Imran Khan as a potential leader. His integrity was unchallenged, his achievements were irrefutably ground-breaking and his leadership qualities were broadly acknowledged. Then, why is it that, in spite of these integral ingredients, there are not only serious question marks about his prospects to succeed in the coming elections, but also on the conduct of his professional and social projects?
One point-of-view is that since he is the only leader who has emerged as a threat to the forces of the status-quo, there is an unseen collusion among his opponents to sow seeds of doubt about his party and his person. But there are others who say that the promise of change has long since been submerged by the influx of battalions of turn-coats and self-promoting constituency politicians who have literally taken over the party and are influencing its decision-making. In spite of serious preparations for holding the intra-party elections, discretionary appointments continue to be made at senior positions in the party, thus diluting the prospect of PTI emerging as the only genuinely democratic party in the country.
Paradoxically, instead of exploiting the high of October 30 on the platform of ‘change’, PTI has allowed the tentacles of the status-quo to dig deep into its echelons. Imran Khan may still be untarnished, but surrounded by scores of leaders who have served every corrupt dictator and ‘democrat’ alike, there is little freedom and maneuverability that he would be able to exercise to bring his cherished political dream to fruition. It is this decision alone which has also created the space for the fence-sitters – even some diehard supporters – to start doubting the seriousness of intentions and the potential for delivery of the party.
The rationale that the intra-party elections would serve the purpose of bringing forth clean and credible leadership at all tiers that would be acceptable across the party spectrum also appears to be faulty. In spite of the efforts to hold genuinely transparent elections within the party, the results would be broadly contested which may lead to internal strife over a period of time. The curve that is generally accepted for bringing order back to a political party may stretch anywhere from three to six months, but may leave behind scars that may never be healed. Moving into the general elections with a party that is not fully united may be taking a mammoth risk.
But the one thing that PTI cannot allow to happen is a question mark about the integrity of its leadership or the transparency of its past and ongoing ventures. The matter cannot and should not be brushed aside by an emotional outburst or a campaign on the social media. It requires serious debating and strategizing. The core problem with the party is the penchant to consign such issues to the dustbin because of the very character of the people who have thronged the party. They are distinctly insensitive to these accusations because they themselves are the product of such undertakings. That unfurls the conflict that is now emerging for the party to address: should PTI stick to its popular claim of being a party committed to ‘change’, or should it forsake this and concentrate on constituency politics alone vide these battalions of status-quo leaders?
It also brings forth the problem of the missing orientation of the party. Fighting against corruption can be an important ingredient of this orientation, but it alone cannot constitute or sustain the drive towards ‘change’. There has to be deeper thinking that must go into evolving a credible ideology backed by a sustainable program and implementation mechanism. Breaking the votes of the right-of-centre parties will not be enough to bring PTI into power. The party has to create its own distinctive vote bank that is independent of influence from either the right or the left. The intra-party elections may establish a structure in the party, but a liberal orientation is the only way for it to move forward.
The credibility that PTI could claim on October 30 has been vastly dented on account of unwise, hasty and unsustainable decisions taken in the context of the party’s abiding political positioning for bringing ‘change’. Leaders guide their lieutenants to become leaders. They don’t ‘import’ leaders to move forward. It is time to understand this cardinal principle and begin the effort to undo the damage and reclaim a leadership position for the party – a position that should rest in the hearts of the people, not the over-emphasized ability of the constituency politicians.
The writer is a political analyst and a member of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf. He can be reached at [email protected]