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Imran’s Hamletian dilemma

There surely was a touch of magic in what transpired on the floor of the Senate on Thursday afternoon. There they were, 64 of them standing to be counted as signatories to a no-confidence motion against Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani. And while you watched it all on television, they shrank to exactly 50 in a very short time.

So, how did this happen? We know how magicians play their disappearance trick. Now you see them, now you don’t. But those are illusions that can later be explained. For that matter, the trick applied in the Senate must also be known to those who acted behind the curtain of ‘secret’ balloting. However, this spectacle was not meant to entertain an audience. The country has watched it with a sense of awe and foreboding.

Perhaps we need some time to absorb the meaning and purpose of this potentially vicious act of deception. There is also this impression that what people can see and know does not matter. They must learn to be content with the results that are announced. They have to pay the price, also in a figurative sense.

This Senate episode has stirred up a real hornets’ nest. We can talk about democracy, horse-trading, morality, the integrity of our legislators and the choices that are made by the political parties in selecting their candidates. There is the question about what our national sense of direction is, in light of what is happening before and behind the cameras.

In the midst of all this tumult, let me try to focus on how this incident and other recent developments would affect Imran Khan’s and his government’s image. If we include his allies, we should be talking about this entire dispensation that is now completing its first year in office. Yes, the month of this anniversary has ominously begun with the Senate operation.

A year is a long time and I have seen some assessments of the PTI government’s performance during this period. In a passionately polarised society in which many observers only see what they want to see, without the assistance of any magician’s tricks, this is a tough job because the viewers and the readers also have their blind spots.

Yet, one has to reckon with hard facts, with what you see with your eyes and hear with your ears, with visual evidence as well as with results that carry the stamp of an authority or judgments that are delivered in the sanctified premises of a higher court of law. In addition to all this, we all have our own personal experiences and our encounters with reality – and illusions.

Unfortunately, it is not possible for me to sum it up in a chronological way. This is bound to be rather impressionistic, with images that emerge in my mind about this year of so-called ‘tabdeeli’ and ‘Naya Pakistan’. Since the Senate episode is my point of reference and since it almost crowns the endeavours of an entire year, I am tempted to say that one notable achievement of Imran Khan during this year is to give us back the ‘Purana Pakistan’, in terms of how politics of power and expediency is played.

If you want to put it in the basket of U-turns that the Kaptaan has taken, I would tend to disagree. Not because the basket is already overflowing. Also, I am not taking a shot at the disparity in what he had said and what he has done. The point I am making is that the Senate stratagem stands apart in its significance. It deserves a place in the gallery of acts of ignominy that have shaped our history. Its images will linger in our memory.

There are other images of the past year that will not be forgotten, if we are able to retain our collective memory. There was Irfan Siddiqui, hand-cuffed and proudly holding a pen. Here was an allegory that matched the imagery of a Greek or a Shakespearian tragedy. It happened. We saw it.

Talking of images, there is so much else in this year’s repertoire. I have mentioned that the television cameras saw the Senate proceedings. But hidden cameras or videos shot on cell phones also tell a story. In this category, one of this year’s most revealing incident was the video involving the accountability court judge who sentenced Nawaz Sharif. A blockbuster that has serious implications. A sequel is also promised.

No less scandalous was the video about the chairman of the National Accountability Bureau that appeared in the mainstream media and quickly disappeared, as if with a magician’s sleight of hand. We don’t know what it was meant to project. Yes, this and many other videos have remained in circulation in the social media. But many kinds of illusions are posted in this domain.

Another incidental video that has flashed in my memory was shot in January this year on a road in Sahiwal. We saw how an elite force of the Punjab murdered four unarmed people, including a woman and a teenage girl. It became big news. Now, do you remember Sahiwal?

Then, there are images that relate to political leaders attending courts and being dispatched to prison. An entire serial can be built around Nawaz Sharif and his emerging daughter Maryam. It was a fateful day, September 11, when Begum Kulsoom Nawaz died in London when her husband and daughter were in Adiala Jail. This tragic incident in a prominent political family prompted many touching images.

On its part, the PPP story, when told in images, would have its dramatic moments featuring big stars like Asif Zardari and Bilawal Bhutto.

You would be right to point out that I am trying to stage Hamlet without the prince of Denmark. The lead role, in what we see on the screen, is certainly being played by Imran Khan. He is beyond doubt a star, though he speaks the same dialogue while in power that he had memorised during his container campaign.

Hence, Imran’s will be a separate montage. There is a touch of glory in his recent visit to the US. There are the shining images of him meeting Trump and addressing a very large and enthusiastic gathering of expatriates whom I call our absentee patriots. But his performance also underlines that proverbial Hamletian dilemma. For him, the question is whether to occupy the high moral ground or climb down the lower depths of dirty politics, with the likes of Firdaus Ashiq Awan holding his hand.

Ghazi Salahuddin, "Imran’s Hamletian dilemma," The news. 2019-08-06.
Keywords: Political science , Political parties , Joint opposition , Senate operation , Political family , Elite forces , Horse trading , Democracy