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Naya Kaptaan

Karachi…Lahore…Multan. The PTI road show is going places. The adepts of tsunami, tabdeeli, azadi and naya Pakistan might just be beginning to see the proverbial ball they seemed to have lost in the impasse of Islamabad. The umpire’s finger was stuck and it never rose.

As the music changes, so change the steps, Z A Bhutto liked to say of politics. Even though a bit late, Khan realised that the Islamabad style of change wasn’t working. Though still enamoured by his evening show in the capital, the PTI chief’s plan to venture out regularly is a sign of his tactical retreat.

Who all should be worried about Khan’s change of tack? All the status quo forces. The Tehreek-e-Insaf leader no longer wants to be seen as a darling of the burger classes only. He is reaching out to the people – still the yuppie lot, though. And he wants to be seen going against the VIP culture. Thus the photograph splashed on the social media by Khan’s PR managers, showing him standing behind three people waiting to board a plane.

Khan reflects an aristocratic bearing – to some a ‘gora’ touch – unlike Bhutto, a dyed-in-the-wool wadera who could communicate with the awam. Khan loves to address those he does not like with ‘oye’. He is not like Fidel Castro’s closest comrade, Ernesto Guevara, who came from an upper middle class family in Argentina but liked to begin his sentences with ‘che’ the Spanish equivalent of ‘man’ or ‘dude’ or in a way the Punjabi ‘oye‘.  His Cuban comrades started to associate ‘che’ with his name, calling him Che Guevara, later to become the most popular name on T-shirts on campuses around the world.

Imran Niazi, who preferred the surname Khan, will not be Che Khan. He still has to transcend to the rural poor who do not have access to cable TV. With large political rallies in the interior, he can overcome the gap that separates the burgers from the peasants. Bilawal Bhutto should check his facts before dubbing Imran as someone from the army’s nursery because the story of nursery babes goes back half a century.

If Imran of the openly secret script was hankering after a quick fix on account of one year old election rigging charges, vintage Imran is the well-known champion of change. He is contesting the hold of two families over politics, offering a new style of leadership and a new set of priorities in governance. He promises to deliver social as well as penal justice. This debate, however, overlooks one basic factor of administrative system in the Indus valley.

The country is not really run by the permanent higher bureaucracy or political masters who come and go. For the common man, the system is run by the lower level of administrators. Considering their nomenclature – patwari, tehsildar, thanedar, havaldar – it is clear that this level of functionaries is centuries old. The Mughals added to the Hindu era officials as the Persian style titles suggest. These, combined with the lower criminal courts, are really the sarkar the citizens have to deal with. And as we all know almost nothing moves without some incentive or facilitation.

The British inherited this structure and sought to steel frame it with a superior cadre, manned first by the colonial administrators and increasingly by Indians. Of course, modernised departments of police, judiciary, revenue, customs, excise, taxation were developed. But here again it were the lower cadres called inspectors or equivalent who deal with the public. Greasing palms is the easiest and most practical way to get your cases processed, assessments altered and taxes lowered.

You can be sure that if you approach the seniors for a favour, they invariably ask the subordinates to do the ‘needful’. The rulers, especially the legislators, have to lean upon the officers who in turn revert to the lower level to accomplish the task. The heart-breaking news is that the political class and the senior civil administrators or judges merely preside over the vast lower level bureaucracy and judiciary who actually control the fortunes of the citizens. The whole debate about changing the top is meaningless without reforming hakumat on the ground.

Yet the Insafians are harping on their tune of removing the Sharif brothers as the harbinger of a new just order. Even if the argument about the prime minister being stuck in the same groove is conceded, the company Imran keeps on his container gives little hope of a change at the base. Oxbridge ideologues, nouveau riche manipulators and bona fide feudal types hardly make convincing pictures of a naya Pakistan or a revolution as some would have us believe.

The very idea of leading a revolutionary march on Islamabad belonged more in the realm of the surreal than the rough and tumble of Pakistani politics. Islamabad may be suited for palace coups, the type executed by the 111 Brigade. Imran did allude to something of the sort by repeatedly promising the umpire raising his finger. That hallucinating idea received a well-deserved cold shower from the other Sharif.

This week, Khan made a departure from the usual and took a plunge into the megalopolis of Karachi that is home to one-tenth of Pakistan’s population, its main industrial and commercial hub, and its finance capital. If he keeps a steady rhythm of meeting the people rather than looking down upon them from his container platform that may very well start redefining the political game.

Did Khan figure out the arithmetic of electoral politics a little better while in the city that is home turf to the MQM as also the PPP? Again, as far as the numbers go, Punjab remains the most important battleground. Though the PTI won in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, another victory cannot be taken for granted as the ANP, the JUI, the PML-N are likely to give a tough fight to the PTI in that province.

The imperative of an electoral system based on first past the post is that the party leader has to be on the move. Imran should consider taking his container on a nationwide tour. Rigging is no longer the battle cry it was a month ago. The people understood that Qadri and Imran were simply trying to fast forward the political game with the help of the third umpire.

‘Prime Minister Imran Khan’ as the Kaptaan likes to call himself will not emerge from the container parked in the no man’s land of Islamabad or the fancy neighbourhood around the Rawal Lake. PM Imran will rise from the burning and sometimes inundated hinterland, from the savannah of southern Punjab, from the rugged terrain of the Pakhtuns and the Hazara, and from the bustling mega cities.

There is no substitute for hard work. Imran should take to heart what Nawaz Sharif coyly proposed to him: Khan Sahib apni bari ka intizar karein (let Khan Sahib wait for his turn).

Email: saeed.saeedk@gmail.com

M. Saeed Khalid, "Naya Kaptaan," The News. 2014-09-25.
Keywords: Political science , Political parties , Political conflicts , Political issues , Political leaders , Social media , Political rally , population-Bureaucracy , Judiciary , Politics , Imran Niazi , Imran Khan , PM Nawaz Sharif , Bilawal Bhutto , Khyber Pakhtunkhwa , Pakistan , Karachi , Lahore , India , PPP , ANP , PMLN , PTI , VIP , JUI