What was promised to be a grand protest against corruption has now had the air squeezed out of it. PTI had been continually proclaiming it would lay siege to the capital on November 2, and had managed to generate sympathy when it came to its position on the Panama Papers leaks, but the protest ran into significant roadblocks. A major one was the size of the crowd, due to what can only be described as intimidation by the government through policing and roadblocks. The proceedings at the apex court provided the PTI with room to withdraw from its earlier proclamations of laying siege to the capital. The bow out was not graceful. Had they decided to back down a few days early, they would have saved their supporters from harassment and arrests, and framed their withdrawal as one done out of concerns for national peace, and maybe even generated internal consensus over the action.
The fallout now is not from those resisting the protest but from PTI’s own. While at the top, Imran Khan can make decisions at whims, his workers may not have much of a say. The middle management on Tuesday had no clue what was happening on top. Five MPAs and PTI office bearers from the Rawalpindi district confined themselves to their homes and switched off their mobile phones after getting thousands of messages from workers and supporters asking for reasons on Tuesday. “As we were unaware about this, we opted to stay silent,” one of them said. While Imran Khan is often unquestioningly obeyed by most party workers like a messiah, something he is purportedly rebelling against when it comes to other parties, many joined the party as they did not want to be part of a king’s army.
So as Imran Khan reached Parade Ground and started his speech, “We are not against the federation, we are against thieves,” met by chants of “Go Nawaz Go”, what they are giving thanks for is still moot. If the dharna was about Nawaz Sharif’s resignation, and was stopped for something the Supreme Court was going to take up anyway, it would be strange if PTI supporters were not asking some serious questions about those who lead them.