PTI: Too many cooks in the kitchen
As Imran Khan’s political movement gathers steam, the core-group driving it has grown exponentially. While the long-term effects of this increasing capacity remain unknown, the absorption of various core-groups is transforming the PTI from within. Politicians like Jehangir Tareen, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, and Makhdoom Javed Hashmi will transform the PTI in their own ways. While some will impact the organization positively others will stamp their own traits on Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf.
Group theory as defined by Mancur Olson in the 60s offers a unique perspective into the effect that divergent groups and individuals have on a core-group. Olson’s theory can help us understand the underlying contradiction at the heart of Imran Khan’s idealistic rhetoric, and the pragmatic political manoeuvring he has made to grow his movement by incorporating contradictory interests.
Olson, an American economist, proposed a radical idea fifty years ago, which centred on an assertion that small groups of dedicated individuals with a private interest are better catalysts to achieve an objective, compared to larger groups with a public interest. This idea would transform conventional understanding of groups and the people who participated in them.
Before Olson, larger groups were seen as the optimum catalysts for change. Using the example of US labor unions in the thirties and forties, Olson reversed the prevalence of ‘larger is better’. Instead he argued that smaller groups of not more than seven people offered more cohesion and private incentive for achievement.
To understand the evolution of the PTI at the group level lets focus our attention on the first of Olson’s three unique sub-groups, the privileged group, at the heart of Imran Khan’s movement.
This is a small, cohesive, ‘inner’ group of the few, driving the PTI, and has been in place since his movement began some sixteen years ago. It includes individuals such as Arif Alvi, Imran Ismail, and Samar Ali Khan. These individuals, in turn, go on to form core groups of their own, even multiple core groups that become part of the PTI structure. It extrapolates into multiple other groups as the movement’s base expands and it absorbs others from outside.
Olson argues in The Logic of Collective Action that any individual becomes part of a group to preserve his own private interests and that of his patronage first. The group for its part absorbs elements, both positive and negative of the individual, who over a period of time fine-tunes to the demands of the group.
A man who has the potential to impact Imran Khan’s core group positively is Makhdoom Javed Hashmi. The politician from Punjab is considered a mythical figure in the folklore of Punjab politics. Hashmi’s book, Han mein Baghi Houn, which he wrote in captivity, tells of his struggle for democracy against General Pervez Musharraf’s dictatorship. After almost two decades with Nawaz Sharif’s PML, Hashmi joined Imran Khan’s resurgent Tehreek-i-insaf.
Hashmi represents just one of the many interests being absorbed by the PTI. As these core groups develop within Imran’s organization, it will go through a period of major contention both within, and from outside. According to Olson, this contention will lead to fragmentation, which in turn will lead to further contention, forming an almost cyclical process.
If so, PTI’s core-group will extrapolate and multiply to form other interconnected groups within it. These sub-groups will have their own centres of power. If he is to succeed, Imran Khan will need to synergize these cores, often operating on divergent interests. This will be a delicate task indeed as not everyone joining the PTI will affect it positively.
Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s entry into the PTI might affect the organization differently. Critics of the induction would argue it will affect the ideological bearings of the organization vis-a-vis accountability. Qureshi’s previous alignment with Asif Ali Zardari might fuel this reasoning.
Any core group, be it Hashmi’s or Qureshi’s will survive in constant dispute with each other and with other groups in the Tehreek-i-Insaf. This will depend, in large, part on the personal gains members of these group extract. As such, those joining the PTI will be doing so to satiate their demands first. For Hashmi and Qureshi this might be the promise of a Seraiki province, for Tareen it could well be the preservation of business interests.
But there will constant strife over power and returns, and if for some reason any group stops receiving patronage in the form of private goods, then their association with Tehreek-i-Insaf will be in jeopardy. Once benefits become exclusive, individual association to a group ends.
Group dispute over resources in the PTI will lead to a period of instability. If Mancur Olson were to assess the PTI, he would conclude that contention between divergent interests and groups will shape the formation of the party in the months ahead.
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