The Pakistani voters have spoken and as expected, spoken in favour of Imran Khan, yesterday’s cricket legend and today’s messianic leader of a grass-roots political party. Imran is not a run-of-the-mill type leader to millions of his fawning and adoring fans and followers. To them, he is indeed a political messiah whom they can count upon to deliver their dreams where traditional leaders have failed miserably and disappointed them.
Out of the 105 million-plus registered voters, a good 43 per cent were young—under the age of 35. Nearly 15 million of them, young and bubbling with enthusiasm, were voting for the first time. Eulogising Imran as Mr Clean in a pack of deeply tainted and corrupt Pakistani politicians, they tilted the scales in his favour.
The young aficionados of Imran shared his dream of a ‘New Pakistan’ cleansed of its rogue, mostly dynastic, leaders. They were the ones who latched on to his slogan of Tabdili (Transformation) and made it their battle-cry.
A battle it was, indeed, in a country deeply anchored in a culture of privileged and feudal monopoly of politics where dynastic elites took turns in ruling the roost. As Imran said in his victory speech to the people, these robber barons laughed at his temerity and ridiculed him when he gatecrashed into their exclusive club 22 years ago. But he dug in and didn’t relent. In the end his perseverance and grit paid off.
However, the electoral exercise of July 25 hasn’t been all hunky-dory. It stands tainted by the losers—chief among them being the brother of incarcerated former PM Nawaz Sharif who is holding the fort for his disgraced sibling—crying foul. But this isn’t surprising at all given the history of the losers reacting exactly in similar fashion on previous occasions. No election in Pakistan’s chequered history has been without controversy and blemish.
Imran himself cried wolf after the 2013 general elections and loudly remonstrated that he’d been short-changed because of massive fraud and bungling at the polls. When he didn’t get any redressal of his grievances, Imran whipped up mass protests and paralysed Islamabad with a sit-in that went on for months.Today, the boot is on the other leg and the privileged elites, used to election results tailored to their fancy, are bewailing that their ‘mandate’ has been stolen through ‘electoral engineering’. Their finger is pointed at the omnipresent and powerful ‘establishment’ perennially suspected of keeping a finger in the electoral pie.
However, cries of foul play are unlikely to have any traction with the people who have voted Imran in largely because they were fed up with the chicanery and shenanigans of corrupt politicians who did nothing for their welfare.Routed, most notably, are the religious parties and their long-entrenched stalwarts. The people of Pakistan have thus, once again, nailed the canard that they were captives of religious fundamentalism. The bearded bigots are the ones shedding most tears over their ‘stolen mandate’. The EU observers have, however, given a clean chit to the Election Commission of Pakistan and absolved the maligned ‘establishment’ of interference in the electoral exercise. But it has lamented that a level playing field wasn’t provided to all those participating in the elections, thus vaguely suggesting the establishment’s bias in Imran’s favour.
With the results for the 270 general seats of the parliament declared, Imran’s PTI has won 115 seats, just over 20 short of the required figure to form a majority government. This, however, will not be an insurmountable obstacle for him. A motley of smaller parties and ‘Independents,’ who won without party affiliations, seem already eager to jump on to his rolling bandwagon. He has as good as sewn up the prime-ministership of Pakistan.
What kind of a polity will Imran’s ‘New Pakistan’ be?
It will be an egalitarian state wedded to the welfare of the poor and the underprivileged. He will, in his words, root out the festering culture of privilege, warts and all, and hold those who have looted Pakistan accountable to the last penny of their loot. Ridding Pakistan of its endemic corruption by the privileged was his primary motivation to enter politics and he’s sworn to making his dream a reality.
Imran’s New Pakistan will pursue peace with honour with all, especially with its immediate neighbours. That’s where India, the most sensitive neighbour of Pakistan, comes into the equation. Alluding to India in his victory speech to the nation, Imran seemed to take pride that he was better known in India and had more Indian friends than any other Pakistani because of his immaculate cricket pedigree.
However, Imran lamented the negative role played by some Indian news outlets for portraying him during his election campaign as a “Bollywood villain”. But he was conciliatory and said he’d take two steps forward in response to each step taken by the Indian leadership to repair their badly tainted relations. As the bigger partner he would expect India to take the first step.
And Imran wasn’t shy of mentioning the Kashmir dispute, which is at the crux of relations between India and Pakistan, and expected India to negotiate with him to find a peaceful solution. Imran is suing for peace and has adroitly lobbed the ball into India’s court to reciprocate in what can only be a mutually beneficial pursuit. He isn’t a romantic to not know that his vision of peace in South Asia will be no less back-breaking than his dream of transforming Pakistan into a poor-friendly state. It took Imran 22 years to reach the threshold of his dream coming true. How long it would take for peace with India to materialise is anybody’s guess. Is India listening?