Dear Imran Sahib, as a PTI supporter, I think you need to take a step back

Published: May 1, 2015
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While focus on health and education is important, infrastructure development cannot be ignored. PHOTO: AFP

While focus on health and education is important, infrastructure development cannot be ignored. PHOTO: AFP A member of the Insaf Students’ Federation said that they were responsible for Imran Khan’s security. PHOTO: REUTERS

Dear Sir,

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) supporters across the country celebrated the party’s 19th foundation day a few days ago. Indeed PTI has come a long way since then, through your sheer perseverance and determination. Today, PTI stands as the second largest party in the country and has positioned itself as a challenger to the status quo.

You yourself have said that,

“PTI is an idea whose time has come.”

However, going from number two to number one is perhaps the most difficult step. As they say, the last mile is the hardest. And the way PTI is going right now, I am afraid that it may not make it.

Being a PTI well-wisher, voter and supporter, I will be very candid here. The feedback is based on my interaction with countless supporters and workers. I am often surprised the core committee of the party does not convey the on-ground sentiments to you, or maybe they are just too intimidated by your presence and do not dare speak up, or is it that you choose to ignore these sentiments?

Whatever it is, it is very concerning.

Let’s start from post-general elections and critically analyse each major decision that PTI has taken. This introspection is absolutely important if PTI plans to lead the pack in the near future.

You decided to retain NA-56, Rawalpindi, instead of NA-71, Mianwali

Yes, you wanted to root out even the remotest possibility of Hanif Abbasi regaining this seat due to the killing of a PTI worker, allegedly killed by his men. This objective could have been achieved by fielding a good candidate in that constituency. In hindsight, it remains to be a poor decision as you should have strived to retain your home seat.

The people of Mianwali have trusted you since 2002. The next possible option could have been NA-1 Peshawar, which created history and voted for PTI in order to give birth to your dream of ‘Naya Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P)’. But why choose NA-56? No disrespect to the voters of NA-56 intended, but this is just intuitive, isn’t it?

Your demand for the prime minister’s resignation was always deemed unpopular

In principle, we all support your struggle against rigging and the fight for free and fair elections. It was your sheer determination which churned out so many supporters at your dharna. However, almost everyone I spoke to at the dharna was not so convinced about your demand regarding the prime minister’s resignation.

Almost everyone was of the view that it was a maximalist position and the formation of a judicial commission with acceptable terms of reference, and electoral reforms should have been the sole demand. Once the fact about rigging was officially established, only then the demand of the prime minister’s resignation would have been fair as well as legitimate.

Accountability of wrong doers is important but focus on electoral reforms going forward is even more important.

Idealism is good; it gives us hope as well as sets a benchmark to achieve the highest possible standards. However, we expect an aspiring prime minister of our country to manage expectations while simultaneously not over-promising things.

You often go overboard while criticising your opponents

It needs to be said. I will not shy away from mentioning that there is a difference between hard criticism and ridicule. I am afraid that you occasionally have gone all out ridiculing party heads, which has not gone down well, even with your own supporters, let alone the opposition party supporters. Your ‘angry young man’ stance has helped to gain a response from apolitical youth and disgruntled factions of the society, but now to get to the first position you need to ‘convert’ people to PTI from parties they have been supporting and voting for generations.

This will only be possible if your speeches focus more on your dreams about ‘Naya Pakistan’ and achievements in K-P. Issue based criticism is important but more weightage needs to be given to the bright future rather than the dark past. Hopes of a better future, coupled with performance in K-P will matter and eventually win over supporters from other parties.

Religious right is not and will never be your supporter

Look at the broad base of your supporters. Most are centrists or left-centre. That is precisely your target audience. Sometimes it feels that you are going the extra mile to court in the religious right-wing, which in my opinion, is counterproductive and a futile attempt. For religious right-wingers, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) will always be the next best option, if not the primary option.

PTI’s socioeconomic policies hover around the welfare system, an enhanced role of the state in governance, anti-privatisation of strategic assets, women empowerment, equal rights for minorities, and devolution of power. All these policies place PTI on the podium of left-centrists, something that is very different from PML-N’s pro-capitalistic approach.

Let’s admit that your Taliban-policy has been a turn-off for a more progressive vote bank. Perhaps not because you advocated talks to isolate the ‘reactionaries’ from the ‘ideologues’, but because your inability to effectively put across a backup solution in case these talks failed.

While you have sporadically mentioned the army operation under a political umbrella, you continuously undermined that aspect and failed to balance it out. This has hurt the party’s growth, particularly in Karachi. Not to mention that the opponents and critics latched on the opportunity to brand you as ‘Taliban Khan’, which I consider unfair.

Focus on internal organisation is the key

PTI’s performance in the Cantonment Board Elections has been way below par, particularly in Lahore and Rawalpindi. I know this because many of our supporters did not go out to vote. I have talked to numerous voters in the area, most of who have complaints about PTI’s inability to carry out door to door campaigns, shuffling of candidates till the end, and issues within the party.

This should be a wakeup call for the party. How long will we keep repeating the same mistakes? The consensus is that PML-N’s campaign and ticket allotment program was much more organised and well planned.

Performance in K-P remains the trump card

Although the progress in K-P is slow, it is certainly going in the right direction. It is great seeing the focus shifting onto police reforms, health, education, key legislations such as the right to information and services, computerisation of land records, effective steps to curtail corruption, Sehat ka insaaf (justice to health) and the establishment of a Dispute Resolution Committee.

However, these programs are less marketed. I have found a large chunk of PTI supporters who are completely unaware of developments in K-P. Also, you and PTI’s second tier leadership spend more time criticising the opponents rather than telling the audience about the good work being done in K-P.

On the flip side, the K-P government’s budget lapse and neglected spending on infrastructure projects has been getting relatively more air time on the media, which is a matter of concern. While focus on health and education is important, infrastructure development cannot be ignored.

In the end, everything adds up.

You, sir, need to take a step back, consolidate the gains and reformulate your strategy with proper system of internal organisation in order to move forward. Supporters also feel that you need to take a backseat, reduce your airtime on television, and appear only to comment on critical issues until the general election campaign kicks off.

Overdose diminishes marginal utility.

The bottom line – your slogans of corruption, nepotism, status quo, Naya Pakistan, and tabdeeli (change) have certainly resonated with the disillusioned and apolitical majority, particularly the youth and women.

However, in order to change your status to the largest party in the country, issues targeting criticism, marketing the performance and gains in K-P, a vision of Naya Pakistan, and re-organisation of the party at grass root levels will be the critical factors in allowing your party to move forward.

Immad Ud Din

Immad Ud Din

The author is an investment banker and passionate about business & politics

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.