Following my post yesterday, I am now going to continue sharing my thoughts on a recent episode of Mr Najam Sethi’s television show, “Aapas ki Baat” about Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s jalsa at Meenar-e-Pakistan in Lahore on 30th October.
As Mr Sethi and the show’s presenter, Muneeb Farooq, continued to compare the PTI jalsa to Benazir Bhutto’s legendary 1986 rally. Mr Sethi related the glory of that 1986 event, explaining that BBs rally was anti-establishment; a movement against martial law and the rule of General Zia-ul-Haq, a noble cause for the furtherance of democracy and freedom. The participants of that rally, he added, were from across all sections of society: poor, rich, old, young, etc. as it was for an important and serious struggle. BB took 14 hours, he said, to reach Minto Park from the airport and continued, after the event in Lahore, to go from city to city to take her struggle forward.
In contrast, Mr Sethi explained, Imran’s rally was merely electioneering, an attempt to attack and discredit Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari, in order to gain voters. He arrived 15 minutes before the start of his speech, and left quickly as soon as it was over. The whole show lasted only about three hours, and there was no anti-establishment flavour; some even claim that it was pro-establishment. BB ended a dictatorship & ushered in democracy. The mood on that day was very different; it was a true movement and there is really no comparison between the two.
I agree with Mr Sethi’s sentiments about BB’s 1986 movement. It was indeed a significant period in Pakistan’s history, a time of hope and expectation. The Bhutto legacy and the promise of change inspired the general public to come out in support of BB and to sweep her into power as the 11th Prime Minister of Pakistan in 1988. However, when I think about how the hopes and aspirations of the people have been dashed, how their trust has been betrayed, I have to ask myself, “What was the point of that so-called historic occasion? What did the people of Pakistan truly gain as a result of that glorious day?”
When I think about how the leadership of the PPP has focused primarily on maintaining their hold on power, on accumulating personal wealth and property both in Pakistan and abroad, on surrounding themselves with cronies and yes-men, on appointing friends, relatives and supporters to key posts in government and in the bureaucracy and on glorifying themselves, I feel sorry for the thousands who walked for 14 hours to escort BB from the airport to the Meenar-e-Pakistan. I feel sorry for the men, women and children who waited with excitement, through discomfort and disorganisation, the whole day, for a glimpse of their beloved BB who was going to be their saviour. I feel sorry for those from outlying towns and villages who came in their droves, brought in on buses and trucks, to scream slogans in support of their Rani who would give them justice, fair opportunity, employment, development, a decent income, roti, kapra aur makaan and, above all, respect and honour.
I feel sorry, because today the legacy of that leadership, with the late BB’s husband and her son at the helm of the PPP, has been injustice, unemployment, inflation, hunger, despair, an energy crisis, crime, broken institutions, twisted priorities, mismanagement, corruption and, above all, dishonour and disrespect.
As I control my emotions and start to think rationally once again, I think about what the 30th October rally represented, and I cannot agree with Mr Sethi that it was merely electioneering. In my mind, it was as much a movement as BBs 1986 rally was; not against a military dictator, but against a system that has led, over the years, to a steady decline in the fortunes of this country and its peoples, while the individuals who we have entrusted the reins of control to, have grown steadily wealthier, more powerful and more apathetic to our fate. It was a movement against lies, against betrayals, against corruption, against weakening of institutions, against dishonesty, against nepotism, against mismanagement, against incompetence and, yes, against Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif, because there is not a single person in Pakistan or abroad who can truthfully claim that they are clean, honest, competent, patriotic and dedicated leaders who have a vision to take the nation forward and have the courage, intellect and commitment to implement and execute strategies to achieve that vision. On the other hand, there are millions who will readily tick, for Imran Khan, the box that says “All of the Above”.
The show moved on and the discussion was then about Imran’s rhetoric. Mr Sethi expressed surprise that after opening with Allah’s name, Imran went on for about five minutes invoking the name of Allah, appealing to the conservative constituency that is Nawaz Sharif’s support. I was surprised to hear this, as I did not remember him doing that. So, I went back and did a quick YouTube search later and here’s what I found:
Imran starts with “Bismillah” at 0:14 in the video, and despite two or three quite lengthy pauses, has moved on to talking about the 15 year struggle of the party around one minute into the video. So, at most, he spent 50 seconds on the opening and went straight into this content. Far from that overly religious opening being 5 minutes, it wasn’t even 1 minute. Mr Sethi’s assertion that he was trying to woo the conservative element of PML-N’s support does not seem credible to me, and I believe that he has misjudged Imran in this respect.
Mr Sethi seemed to be overly critical of Imran’s use of cricketing metaphors and almost scornful of what he seemed to see as attempts to get the crowd excited into the same old hero-worship that Imran enjoyed in 1992. Come on, Najam Sahab! All speeches to large public gatherings, everywhere in the world, whether political or not, must have an element of trying to excite the crowd to be effective. And Imran doesn’t need to remind anyone of his cricket career to be a hero; he is one in many ways: think leadership, think courage, think honesty, think Shaukat Khanum Hospital, think Namal University. And, then think charisma, personality, magnetism and rugged good looks! 😉
Next, Mr Sethi focused on the importance of the location of the rally: Lahore. He explained that the main focus of criticism by Imran Khan and his party has been Nawaz Sharif, and any mention of Asif Zardari has just been a tangential. The reason for this, he said, was that the Punjab vote-bank is Imran’s main target, the evidence of which is the focus on Punjab for the last three to four months with three events in Gujranwala and Faisalabad, culminating in the 30th October jalsa. The PPP vote bank is not going to change by more than 10 or 15 percent, he said, so the PTI really needs to target the PML-N voters and that is the only treasure that they can tap into. Therefore, breaking the myth that Lahore is Nawaz Sharif’s town was such a critical part of the PTI strategy.
In response to Muneeb’s next question, Mr Sethi accepted that the participants were not the so-called “rent-a-crowd”, which you would expect from the PPP & PML, but this group was youngsters who are disgruntled and are looking for a better future. This was also a “media-crowd”, he explained, stating that there are three or four parts in the media and Imran has focused on TV, wooing young anchors, producers and reporters. Social media (Twitter, internet, Facebook) are also being leveraged, where people express support for Imran spontaneously and don’t even need motivating. This was certainly not “rent-a-crowd”.
In this apparent contradiction, where Mr Sethi speaks, on the one hand, about the PML-N vote-bank and, on the other, about disgruntled youth, my view is that he is half right. Or maybe a little less than half… Here’s what I mean:
For one, Imran’s speech was more an attack on Zardari and the PPP than it was on Nawaz Sharif and the PML-N. If anything, references to Nawaz Sharif were tangential, instead of the other way around. In any case, I don’t believe that the vote-bank that will swing the election in PTI’s favour will be PML-N supporters or PPP supporters. There are two elements that can make the PTI an election success. The first is the new, genuine and complete, voter lists based on NADRA records. This will eliminate the bogus votes that these parties have been using all these years to build up their own numbers. The second is those voters who never voted before, because their votes were not registered, because they were too young or because they just did not believe their vote would make a difference, so did not bother turning up.
The vast majority of people who were at the PTI rally were from among this number and they are the “disgruntled youth” that Mr Sethi himself refers to. When he says that PTI has no other treasure to tap for votes, he is, either deliberately or in his innocence, ignoring this large majority. Imran knows this very well. His petition to the Supreme Court to seek voter lists being redrawn, his drive to get young people to register their vote and his appeal to those who have never voted to come out and exercise their right, all point to the fact that he is counting on this “silent majority” in the next elections.
Also, I do believe that Mr Sethi is not giving enough credit to those people who have voted for the PPP for generations in his assumption that they will fail to recognise that the current leadership of their party does not represent the ideology of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and his late daughter and that they are corrupt to the core, completely incompetent, totally inept, utterly unsympathetic to the plight of their workers, entirely devoid of any compassion, thoroughly unpatriotic and wholly untrustworthy. Ask anyone what they think of Zardari, Gilani, Rehman Malik, Bilour, Ameen Faheem, Gabol, Jehangir Badar, Babar Awan, Kaira or any of the others that form the core of the current leadership. You will hear chor, badmaash, zalim, na-ehel, bay-rehem, bay-eeman, daakoo, and synonyms thereof. I do not think that the vast majority of common people of Pakistan are so stupid and uninformed that they would willingly vote for these people again who have already proved to be disastrous for the country and its citizens.
As I stated in my post yesterday, I am not criticising Mr Sethi or trying to attribute any ulterior motives to his analysis. I am merely trying to form my own views, by considering his opinions, taking into account the manner in which they were expressed, in the light of what I know and have learned. In particular, as most elements in the media have been, by and large, positive about Imran and considering a contrary view is usually more interesting and informative.
There is plenty more in the show that I want to talk about, particularly questions about which other political figures will join the PTI and the policy statements that Imran made (land-record and police reform, foreign policy, minorities and women’s rights), civil disobedience and support from other parts of Pakistan. Please look out for Part 3 over the weekend and give me your feedback and views.