SHAFAQNA- “THE PTI has failed to capitalise on the body,” remarked a supporter a day after the loss of a young life in violence in Faisalabad. It was a cruel remark, but one that focused on an eventuality everyone had been talking about. It was like asking that now that the incident predicted had taken place, would things follow the formula from that point on?
The word violence is what the political debate over the previous few weeks had centred around. The government projected the PTI as a party courting violence. In return, the government was pulled up for its obdurate positioning, the theory being that if it could yield to anything, it could yield to violence. After all these weeks of debate on the subject, it was eerily logical that someone was now asking if the PTI had been able to use the sacrifice of its worker in Faisalabad to its advantage.
The question was rooted in the controlled, by some accounts subdued, PTI protests on the day of the killing and on the following day. The party was compared with others resorting to the politics of agitation in the country in the past and then it was compared with itself — as it existed a few years ago.
It is obvious that Imran Khan sees great promise in his legal battle against the alleged rigging of the 2013 general election.
As Faisalabad happened, the Pakistan National Alliance’s campaign that ousted Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1977 was much in discussion and while contrasts were evident, similarities between then and now were also found.
There are many versions about how the PNA protests back then had developed into an unstoppable movement and one of these pinpoints an incident on Lahore’s McLeod Road. A PNA rally was fired upon in front of a cinema house on McLeod Road and this according to many gave the campaign impetus. After all these decades, the analysis has narrowed down to the possibility of Faisalabad giving Imran Khan the momentum.
The PTI’s ‘preferred’ brand in the past was also compared with its needs in the present. In the past, PTI was thought to be ‘incapable’ of — or disinterested in — doing the popular brand of politics that required a party to be occasionally found at the centre of a violent situation in order to move forward. The crowd around Imran Khan was thought to have comprised people from ‘the educated middle class’ — professionals, students, women, expats, et al — who may have been committed to going along with their leader’s expedition for change, but who were ‘unwilling to risk’ violent confrontations.
That may have been too naïve an analysis but it served the purpose of keeping things simple for the audience. The audience was constantly reminded about how unfit and unequipped the PTI was for the Pakistani terrain. It was told that the party was a collection of ‘mummy-daddy’ fun-seekers, of bored housewives and apolitical corporate executives who would fade away soon.
The most famous incident from the past that has been often cited to explain the PTI’s reluctance or inability then to take on the bullies head-on involved Imran Khan and the Islami Jamiat-i-Tulaba. The venue was the Punjab University campus in Lahore and it was during the Musharraf period.
The PTI chief was manhandled by the students affiliated with the Jamaat-i-Islami but he refused to angrily confront his attackers, choosing reconciliation with the Jamaat despite the fact that so many youngsters on campus were willing to stand up for him and fight. A PTI politician had later said that the party chose not to build on the incident since it wanted to avoid violence. Amid scenes of rioting in Faisalabad on Monday, the question was asked once again: was the PTI ready to cross the threshold?
The formula appeared to be repeating itself amid reports that an angry Imran Khan was on his way to the industrial city to take on the PML-N whose local leaders were alleged to have masterminded the shooting that left a PTI supporter dead. Not only was he heard vowing that he would go to the police station to get a murder FIR registered, one news report said he planned to go to the house of Rana Sanaullah, the PML-N stalwart, which could lead to an ugly clash.
For some, it was a bit of an anti-climax when after he arrived in Faisalabad, Imran didn’t exactly order an all-out assault then and there, to take home the ‘advantage’ that he now had. He chose to under-react and the next day the PTI gatherings in different parts of the country were also strikingly sober. There was a bit of tyre-burning, some slogan-chanting, flaunting of frayed tempers, but the devastation that some people had been predicting in the aftermath of the ‘body’ was avoided.
Times have changed. necessitating adjustments. Back in 1977, the PNA was pressing for military intervention. The PTI, on the other hand, is looking for adjudication by the judiciary in the name of justice and rule of law, which would presumably require it to be operating within a legal framework rather than appearing to be a gung-ho destroyer of the system.
It is obvious that Imran Khan sees great promise in his legal battle against the alleged rigging of the 2013 general election. He is confident that the case will reveal sufficient problems to discredit the entire election — in the eyes of the people even if the government continues to refute his allegations as lacking in evidence.
The PTI chief has already said he and his party colleagues will not return to the assemblies regardless of the result of the pending election cases. It will be difficult to disagree with the logic that, notwithstanding judicial verdict, he has been able to create sufficient doubt among the public about the conduct of the May 2013 election — painting the administration as being desperate enough to fall back on old, violent formulas.