If Imran Khan is to be believed, 2015 is an election year. How this will happen is anybody’s guess since there are no indicators in this direction.
Some derisively call it “container politics,” But the ploy has paid off. The container at Islamabad’s D-Chowk may not have helped secure prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s resignation but there is no doubt that it caused tremendous political upheaval and gave many sleepless hours to Nawaz Sharif. Besides, ultimately it won the demand for setting up a judicial commission to probe into Imran Khan’s charges of rigging
(dhandli) against the ruling party in the 2013 general election. That was a glorious achievement of container politics.
Imran Khan’s container was more like a turtle’s home than a fortress. Inside, he held meetings and retreated for rest. The roof worked as the stage. From there he addressed his supporters, interspersed by the strains of D.J. Butt’s music and dancing by the enthralled audience.
That raises the question as to why his party was totally routed in the byelection to NA-246 in Karachi because he did not use his container when he addressed the election campaign. Reham Khan tried to weigh in with her charm offensive. But it could not resuscitate what Mr. Khan called zinda lashein (live corpses) of the voters so they could vote for the PTI. Even the perception of establishment’s support for Mr. Khan’s party, reinforced by the spectacle of its candidate moving about with a heavy contingent of rangers in tow, could not bully the voters to submission.
The contest was tough. The constituency was the MQM’s heart - its very headquarters. For the MQM therefore, it was a life and death struggle. But Imran Khan did not consider the situation worth more than a fleeting visit. He should have brought his container down to Karimabad and Azizabad in Karachi and from its roof addressed meetings for some days. Music and dance would have then helped lift the spirits of the voters. This would have been a new experience for them and might have swayed them towards the PTI. Who knows?
Or perhaps he did consider all this but gave up the idea, because the ambience of the container would have been out of place for NA-246, which is inhabited largely by the lower middle class -artisans, hawkers with push carts, mechanics and small shopkeepers. D.J. Butt’s musical strains would be alien to them. Even the better-off people living on the other side of the main road in this area are not so sophisticated as to appreciate song and dance. NA-246 was no Clifton. Period.
Some say, he missed the chance. But, again, who knows? The Kaptaan has his sights set much higher. As he said, winning or losing one National Assembly seat does not matter in his scheme of things. He is looking, longingly, at the Prime Minister’s House and the opportunity to shift there from Bani Gala as soon as possible. But there appears no sign of his dream being fulfilled any time soon,
The proceedings before the judicial commission are going on. Two constituencies have so far made headlines: NA-122 of Speaker Ayaz Sadiq and NA-125 of Defence Minister, Khwaja Asif. About six more constituencies are under question. Imran Khan has declared that he would accept the findings of the judicial commission. But supposing he succeeds and all election to those constituencies is cancelled. Then what? There will be by-polls and even if PTI wins all those seats (which is unlikely) all that will happen will be an increase of PTI’s seats from 33 to 39 while PML(N)’s number will be reduced from 187 to 181. The overall picture will remain unchanged with PML (N) still enjoying a solid majority in the parliament. Besides, Nawaz Sharif will remain ensconced in his prime ministerial chair to Mr. Khan’s chagrin.
But the nuisance value of Imran Khan’s container politics cannot be denied. Earlier, it blocked the visit of the Chinese president and, according to the government, caused a heavy loss of revenue to the exchequer. It was like a thorn in Nawaz Sharif’s side, who was also denied peace of mind to pursue his pet projects of motorways and metro buses.
The kaptaan talks of 2015 being an election year. What gimmick he has up his sleeve he does not let on, because, on the face of it there are no indicators to encourage such assumption. It could happen only if Nawaz Sharif resigned or was overthrown. None of this seems possible. He does not seem to be in any mood to resign without completing his third innings. As to being ousted, it would be a pipedream. There is no one who can topple him.
In the early days of Imran Khan’s protest and dharna in Islamabad when the confrontation between him and the government was at its peak, the grapevine buzzed with speculation about such a possibility. Khan’s oblique references to the umpire raising his finger, fuelled such apprehensions further. In fact he was believed in knowledgeable circles to have been set up by the establishment. But the finger was never raised. And the dharna was ultimately called off in the wake of the Army Public School massacre in Peshawar.
Meanwhile, Nawaz has caulked the cracks. He is on the side of the establishment. Fences have been mended and everything looks hunky dory. Yet Khan must be up to something when he talks about election in 2015 with such self-confidence. A few days ago he announced taking his container once again to Islamabad and the government went into a tizzy putting security arrangements in place with extra police. Khan has not yet elaborated on the issue he plans to agitate this time. To the naked eye, though, there is no such hot button issue at the moment as to warrant a political agitation and dharna.
The controversy about the route of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is one issue at the moment that is receiving much publicity. KP and Balochistan allege that according to the original plan the road to Gwadar was routed through Dera Ismail Khan in KP and Quetta. But later it was quietly altered to pass through Punjab and Sindh, leaving KP and Balochistan high and dry. But in the All-Parties Conference that Nawaz Sharif called to allay the misgivings of those provinces there was not much controversy, perhaps, because the attendees were reassured by Ahsan Iqbal’s assertion that no change has been made in the original plan. Any agitation on this issue would therefore be premature until the ground breaking starts. And Khan knows it.
But, once again, who knows; he may pull some other rabbit out of his hat. We may only wait and watch how the situation unfolds. One thing is however, certain. If Imran Khan wants to make this an election year, he should start working to that end in right earnest, because it is May. Nearly half the year has already gone, so there is not much time left.
Imran Khan has declared that he would accept the findings of the judicial commission.