Wednesday April 24, 2024

Naya Pakistan 2.0

By Rahat Hussain
April 25, 2022

A change in script was in the offing, especially once the foreign conspiracy agenda was put to rest. As the dust settled on the no-trust move, the PTI’s narrative teetered on a three-way pivot – pointing the blame indirectly towards state institutions and blatantly towards foreign powers, for a few days, before finally zeroing in on what Naya Pakistan 2.0 election rhetoric will collectively comprise.

Imran Khan’s show of political might since his ouster has been remarkable to say the least, spontaneous calls ushering in waves of supporters to his rallies. What is interesting to note is the carefully crafted script Khan and his PTI are sticking to as they muster up the momentum and continue to mobilize support in the run up to the next polls.

Khan’s tirades in political rallies have been very clear, simple and to the point. Making an obvious connection with his support base – the urban middle class – a naive subset of political youth. While pre-2018 rhetoric centered on anti-corruption, and how accountability will fix the country’s problems, the new rhetoric pre-2023 is about how national sovereignty is at stake and how being an independent country will automatically solve all our problems.

No strategy, just gimmickry. In both of his public addresses, Khan has not once mentioned any of the myriad of problems the country faces, let alone offer solutions. He has not talked about development and economic reforms or what his next plan is to bring the country out of the current economic mess that the PTI government left it in.

Instead, he is building on his overarching mantra as Pakistan’s saviour – telling his support base that only a sovereign independent state, free from the clutches and influence of imperial powers, will lead the country to prosperity. He smartly pivots between calling himself as somebody who is not anti-West, priding himself as having gotten respect from Western leaders because of his stature as a free independent Muslim leader who doesn’t bow down to anyone, while also capitalizing on an inherent anti-American sentiment.

Meanwhile, Khan has directed his guns towards the judiciary, attacking the latter by painting himself as the victim, having made sacrifices for the independence of the judiciary, and now facing the brunt of their supposed activism. Interestingly, the mounting criticism is to ensure a continuous pressure on the judiciary for a number of cases that are to follow – the most important being the foreign funding case that has been pending for the last several years with the Election Commission of Pakistan.

The ploy is simple and multipronged: continue to ratchet up the narrative that due to foreign interference, the sovereignty of the state is at stake, and compromised leaders have been installed courtesy external powers. He will endure with his brand of divisive politics to create a wedge in the civil society and in national institutions – all the while targeting the judiciary to mount pressure that the latter’s constitutional safeguarding came at the cost of his populist support and the will of the people.

This is exactly like the same anticorruption fairy dust Khan sparkled before 2018. These ideas sell well for the cult that follows him for multiple reasons. The youth bulge forms a major chunk of his support base, a demographic that stands at a disconnect from the stark realities of governance and sees his cultivated image as a political crusader in the chequered political history of the country. The narrative is also simplistic and resonates with the naive urban middle-class electorate that is hustling in an age of disinformation, populism, economic misery all in an environment where any narrative, bereft of rational proof and logic, can be conveniently acceptable.

Irrespective of all this, it is important to note that Khan’s brand of politics didn’t turn into election victory for him – both in 2013 as well as 2018 – without engineered support. And even despite that he didn’t have two-thirds majority and had to rely on coalition partners for a simple majority. The PTI’s supporter turnouts in political rallies in urban centers during the two previous election cycles and now again are precisely the false sense of inflated bravado that fuelled the PTI’s confidence that they were riding on a wave of popular support last time nationally. Though it is worth acknowledging how Imran Khan has refreshed the political sentiment and mobilized his supporters who have responded to his calls even during Ramazan, especially in Karachi.

While the pre-power mantra of anticorruption and dynastic politics appealed to the people because of an underlying need for change in the political system, it remains to be seen whether his current narrative will continue to fuel his election momentum and solidify his prejudiced electorate, if not snowball into additional support. After all, jalsa numbers don’t translate into electoral success, as constituency politics have a different reality.

The writer is a political analyst based in Karachi.