Pathan’s political pitch & perilous run-up to power

Taking an anti-corruption and clean-governance electoral plank, Khan renamed his party the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).
Express illustration.(Sourav Roy)
Express illustration.(Sourav Roy)

NEW DELHI: Among the most iconic — and innuendo-laden — T shirt one-liners in the late 1970s was Big Boys Play at Night. This sprang from the day-night World Series Cricket that Australian media tycoon Kerry Packer started in 1977.

And the only cricketer who unabashedly donned and flaunted the T shirt emblazoned with the provocative one-liner was Imran Khan. Khan’s long mane, an immaculate run-up to the wickets, the sheer pace with which he delivered a cricket ball combined with his devastatingly good looks had electrifying effects — mostly off the pitch and among the women of the times and later. Many women, certainly in India, associated the catchy one-liner not so much with Khan’s bowling abilities as much as his reputation of being a playboy and sex symbol. His fan-following in India was legion — Moon Moon Sen, Zeenat Aman and Rekha. Grapevine in Pakistan even announced his engagement to Benazir Bhutto, who was then yet to become PM and get married. That was also the time when Khan featured in a controversial Cinthol soap advert that women on this side of the geographic divide would swoon over.

Khan’s entry into cricket was fortuitous. In Imran: The Autobiography of Imran Khan, he recalled that he wouldn’t have taken to bowling had it not been for an accident which broke a portion of a skin around the groove of his elbow. Hailing from a privileged background, Khan earned a BA from Keble College at Oxford, in 1975. He debuted for Pakistan in 1971 at the age of 18 and soon turned into one of the most suave cricketers. By the time he and four other Pakistani cricketers played as ‘rebels’ in Packer’s World Series Cricket, he had turned into a genuine fast bowler, hurling the cherry at 139.7 kmph. Khan soon evolved into a nifty all-rounder — he introduced the ‘reverse swing’ — and a captain par excellence, winning for Pakistan the 1992 World Cup.

After this victory, Khan retired from all forms of cricket, channeling his energies into building a cancer hospital in the name of his mother Shaukat Khanum. This philanthropic act endeared him to many Pakistanis.

The playboy image turned real as Khan entered and exited several relationships, beginning with his first steady girl friend in Sita White, the daughter of British industrialist Gordon White, in 1982. His family life has also been a roller-coaster, with three marriages. After his exit from cricket, he formed the Tehreek-e-Insaf party in 1996. Six years later, in the 2002 general elections, Khan won a solitary seat (from Mianwali) and sat in opposition.

Taking an anti-corruption and clean-governance electoral plank, Khan renamed his party the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). He boycotted the 2008 elections. PTI emerged as the second largest party in terms of votes in the May 2013 elections and sat in Opposition in Punjab and Sindh. Khan has mostly been supportive of the military establishment. He did have a soft spot for General Pervez Musharraf and took a reconciliatory position towards the Taliban. A fighter on the cricket pitch, Khan followed a combative approach in politics too, leading massive rallies against the PML(N) government of Nawaz Sharif.

This agitationist approach bore fruit in 2018 when PTI won 176 seats in the National Assembly even as political commentators attributed the victory to the support from the all-pervasive army. Khan’s popularity soared and in 2019 he was among Time magazine’s 100 most influential global leaders in the world. Khan’s stormy tenure as prime minister, however, ended in April 2022 when he had to step down following a no-confidence vote in the National Assembly.

Since then, he has riled against the very military that was allegedly instrumental in pitch-forking him to power. There have been times, when in power, he would often shoot himself in the foot. But much of Pakistan was stunned when, in reality, he was shot at in a rally on November 3.

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The New Indian Express