He utters the same clichés, spouts the same idiom, his intensity and passion are no different while he holds out the same platter of promises. It is all so déjà vu. Yet he stands out in this sea of din. “We believe what he says because he is saying so”, Mohsin Hamid quotes a cab driver in his perceptive take on the phenomena of Imran. This perhaps sums it up all. Imran is infecting this nation with a strain of belief that is pristine and well nigh infectious. A nation hurtling down the abyss, the maddening urge to believe in some messiah is natural and instinctive. After Bhutto this is only the second time in our history that a man has so captivated nation’s imagination. Imran has become a glimmer of hope threatening to unshackle us all from the deathly embrace of status quo. As his support multiplies, we stand breathless wishing in our hearts the destruction of stasis and birth of a newPakistan.
So what is going Imran’s way? Can he or can he not? As I said earlier his biggest strength is the belief he inspires in his supporters. But belief is also a double edged sword and cuts both ways. Failure of Imran will be a deathblow to hope as this poor nation lavishes its last reserves on Imran. They believe in him and why not. He made us believe he could win the world cup and he did. He brought glory to the ravaged. He said he could build a cancer hospital to treat poor and we sniggered. Unfazed, he went on like a man possessed. Today Shaukat Khanum hospital stands a monument to a man’s will and the generosity of a nation. Namal university in the backwaters of Mianwali is another blow to the doubting Thomases. That these institutions are not only up and functioning but carving a unique space for themselves in the realm of service and management is only heaping credibility on Imran’s word. He is often denigrated for being inept in the art of politics and that setting up these institutions is no reflection of his skill in taking on politics. Since when politics became an art form inPakistan? If anything it mirrors incompetence, duplicity, nepotism and greed. That Imran is not cut from the same cloth, his very ineptness in this glorious ‘art’ is endearing and comforting.
Arab Spring is a stunning tale of middle class wresting its rightful stake in the political process. Perhaps Imran’s kiss of life to this moribund segment ofPakistansociety would be no less stunning. Middle class in our part of the world has historically stayed out of the political process. This indifference is borne of relative affluence or even pessimism in the ability of the rulers to deliver. Imran has dragged this inert class out in the open. The rallies inLahoreandKarachiwere attended by professionals, women and children who came of their own accord driven by their belief in Imran. Whether or not the numbers in rallies translate into votes remains to be seen. If they do then Imran’s portents of a tsunami may actually come true. Middle class inPakistanis estimated to be 35 million strong. Social media has morphed the dispersed middle class acrossPakistaninto a monolithic grid. The grid will form the perfect backdrop for Imran to push through an agenda of radical change.
Then we have women willing to brave the social taboos and participate in political rallies. Imran’s personal charisma may have been the real driver here but the fact that they did come out trumps what brought them out. Women, girls interviewed in the PTI rallies inKarachiandLahorewere unequivocal in their allegiance to the new political force. Enlightened women claiming their space in a thrivingPakistanhas ramifications that go beyond politics. It will have consequences for the family as the building block of our society.
Driven to procreation when idle, we have created an army of young under 30 which social scientists refer to as Youth Bulge. Youth Bulge if harnessed can be a boon or else an incubator of disaffection and frustration.Pakistanis now experiencing its largest ever Youth Bulge with almost 50% of the population between 15 and 30. Unlike many western countries where an ageing population is a drain on national resources,Pakistanis blessed with young, brimming with energy, waiting to be led. They are disillusioned with the present lot and want to give Imran a chance.
There are other factors too going Imran’s way. 35 million fake voters have been expunged from the electoral rolls and a similar number added. This will have a definite bearing on the elections but in whose favor is anybody’s guess. Opinion polls conducted by third parties have revealed enormous support for Imran. Given the pervasive sense of ‘have had enough’, fulminating middle class and an enamored youth, we maybe on the brink of a monumental change. A change actually driven by masses.