Friday June 21, 2024

How PTI let Karachi slip out of its grasp

By Ebad Ahmed & Najam Soharwardi
April 24, 2016

Karachi : As the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) celebrates its 20th foundation day today, it is widely observed in Karachi that with back-to-back defeats in the local bodies and by-polls, followed by its candidate dropping out from an election at the eleventh hour and lately a sitting lawmaker joining the ranks of Mustafa Kamal’s party, the phenomenal political clout it had gained post-December 25, 2011 rally, which also stupendously reflected in the 2013 general elections, has fizzled out.

Speaking to The News, Mirza Jahangir Rehman, a founding member of the PTI and a former president of its Sindh chapter, admitted that the party had lost the opportunity to capitalise on its momentum.

“We had two chances to expand our party’s political base; in 1997 and 2013. We missed them both,” he said. “And the only reason for it is that we lacked organisational strength.”

Dawa Khan Sabir, the PTI Karachi information secretary, takes Rehman’s point ahead. “If we had polling agents on every polling booth, we could have won the general elections,” he said.

However, he added that though the party might have lost its momentum, all was not lost. “There was a time where despite being politically registered we were not an existential political party. But today our candidate contests elections in constituencies like Liaquatabad, which are considered Muttahida Qaumi Movement strongholds.”

He said the party remained a force to be reckoned with in the city because of the extensive vote bank it enjoyed of former voters of the Awami National Party and the Jamaat-e-Islami. But Rehman said the PTI’s potential and support would remain limited, until the grassroots leadership took charge of the party, instead of the leaders nominated by its Islamabad office.

Another PTI leader, Ashraf Qureshi, leading a dissident group against PTI Karachi organiser Ali Zaidi, believes that the nomination culture has been detrimental to the party. “There have been no regional level intra-party elections,” he noted.

“A particular class of people living in the DHA has monopolised the party by strictly holding positions and funds. And their interaction with the worker on the ground is zero. It’s ludicrous to see that the PTI offices are closed on Sundays. ”


Disenchanted students

Following its massive public gathering at the Mazar-e-Quaid on December 25, 2011, the PTI’s slogan of “Naya Pakistan” made its way into the universities of Karachi.

“As the new semester started in January 2012, many of my university mates who had never talked about politics became diehard fans of the PTI,” said Aleem Nasir*, a graduate of the NED University. “I was an active member of the Islami Jamiat-e-Talba and couldn’t believe that all of a sudden many of my friends had started supporting the PTI even though they were never affiliated with any political party, and they were heard saying the oft-repeated cliché ‘Yahan sab chor hain [they are all thieves]’.”

Nasir said distancing himself from the JI after realising that the party would never be able to bring about any change in the system, he had joined the student wing of the PTI to accomplish the dream of Naya Pakistan, but soon came to know that the student wing was nothing but a bunch of naïve people who neither knew anything about politics, nor were they guided by the party’s leadership. Nasir added that he had left the student wing after the general elections when he realised that it had failed to build any organisational structure.

“I also attended the PTI youth convention held at the Carlton Hotel in December 2012 where [Imran] Khan Sahib also showed up, but as a former worker of the IJT and a part of its excellent organisational structure, it was heart-wrenching to see that no proper plan was discussed to give the Insaf Students Federation (ISF) a proper organisational structure.”

Recalling the incident which compelled Nair to think of leaving the PTI, he said, “Both the JI and the APMSO gave us a very tough time in the university, but some of the PTI diehard supporters, most of them hailing from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, resisted to continue its existence. When the security in-charge strictly told PTI activists to stop their activities, the majority of the students distanced themselves from the ISF and I wondered what sort of political activists they were? The party leadership never came in to motivate the students.”

Studying in the chemistry department of the University of Karachi, Shahid Ahmed*, an activists of the ISF, also seemed disgruntled because of the party leadership in the city.

“Unlike the APMSO, the JI and other student wings of the political parties which are backed by their leadership, our [PTI] leadership in Karachi is unaware of the problems that the ISF faces due to a lack of coordination.”

“I believe in Imran Khan and his ideology. But I also believe that he should look into the organisational problems which are barring the party from emerging an organised political force.”

ISF activist Amir Azam*, a student of the mass communication department at the University of Karachi, said going into an alliance with the JI in the local bodies polls’ left many students disillusioned. “What else do you expect rather than a spectacular disaster if you go into an alliance with the JI in Karachi?”   


‘Collective failure’

But for the mover and shaker of the PTI in Karachi, Ali Zaidi, the city organiser, while speaking to The News said that “though there have been shortcomings by the party in the 2013 election, but it should be considered a collective failure.”

“We could not secure the votes polled in our favour in the elections 2013 as we had no means to control the rigging,” he said. However, Zaidi believes that the back to back election defeats of his party, it does not mean that it has lost its momentum.

“Our support base is as intact as it was before, they did not come out to vote in the local bodies and by-elections because of their disenchantment with the failed electoral process,” he said. “But I do believe that the central leadership, especially Imran Khan, should give more time to the people of Karachi, and we have raised this in our party meetings.”

Commenting on the media reports of his ‘concerns’ on joining of a few politicians in the PTI from other parties, without taking him on board,  he said: “Our party is not a private club, its doors are open for everyone. However, the party’s leadership hierarchy should not be compromised in decision making.”


Mustafa Kamal factor

Mubasher Zaidi, a renowned journalist and TV show host, believes that the prime reason behind PTI’s failure to become a dominant force in the urban Sindh is perhaps because of its chief Imran Khan’s sole focus on Punjab. “The PTI has ditched and dumped its Karachi voter maybe because Khan thinks that it all ultimately boil downs to Punjab to win an election in Pakistan. Win Punjab, Win Pakistan,” he said. “After 2013 elections there was a strong perception that the party would double its vote in the next election, but today it seems they would not even get the same number of votes in the next polls,” further adding that the period of consolidating its voters has already past.

 On the question of whether the emerging Mustafa Kamal-led Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP) would be able to woo the Urdu speaking community, which voted for PTI in the last general election, he said: “It all depends on the rally of PSP. “It’s a make or break rally because the voter would be anxiously seeing if the Kamal-led party is a political reality or not.”

* Names have been changed to protect privacy