The way Imran Khan crushed dissent within PTI to boycott the joint session of the parliament is interesting to say the least. The hold of an elitist coterie over decision-making in the party is obviously slipping. It could pave the way for the dictatorship of its Chairman and his whims or, if he is smart about it, open up new channels of input for decision-making that are more democratic. Which way it goes depends on him.

The worst-case scenario would be a return of PTI to the same coterie of power-players and rich men. The electable-driven politics has already cost it much. With traditional power players at the forefront, PTI has lost both credibility and steam as a vehicle of tabdeeli, the sweeping change it talks about. We have seen the brand new party getting absorbed in the dirty matrix of our multi-party parliamentary system. Does the party that had set out to change the system have what it takes to change itself?

To be fair to PTI, unlike other entrenched parties in the parliament, its co-option in the corrupt system is not complete. As the recent Raiwind March showed, it continues to be somewhat of an outsider. There’s no doubting the seriousness with which the party is mobilising public opinion on an important national issue that everyone else would like to brush under the parliamentary carpet and take it in their democratic strides; the blatant corruption of our royal family.

As the Prime Minister has continued to evade accountability over Panama-leaks revelations, other opposition parties have preferred to go through the motions of various ineffective parliamentary processes and, despite making no headway, would rather not agitate the serious matter on the streets. For them it is business as usual. The much-maligned PTI dharna created a similar situation. While every party in the parliament was crying about rigging in elections, it was only the PTI that took the matter seriously and agitated for a reform of the electoral process.

One could disagree with the timing and strategy of the dharna, the association with Tahirul Qadri’s parallel show and so much more, but the dharna did bring to the fore a crucial national issue that is central to our democracy project. So why is it only the PTI that takes important national issues like rigging and corruption seriously? Why can’t Imran Khan take these monstrous problems in his parliamentary stride and wait for 2018 like everyone else?

Surely, it’s not because of the electables and their apologists in the party. Much like entrenched power players infesting other political parties, they’d take rigging and corruption in their stride where it suits their power-playing interests. In fact, what makes them electable, much like their counterparts in other parties, is essentially the ability to use the rotten electoral exercise to their advantage in undemocratic and underhand ways. They ride similar networks of patronage and corruption used almost as a rule to win the expensive contest called elections.

Despite the electables and their apologists dominating the decision-making and riding the PTI like any other political party, the PTI is still somewhat of an outsider. What makes it different is Imran Khan who has a clean image when it comes to corruption and the veritable support base he has inspired, a support base full of hope for changing the rotten system rather than cynically adjusting to its corrupt compulsions. By embracing the philosophy of electables, Imran Khan has followed the latter course and distanced himself from his support base. Is that about to change? I hope so.

At Raiwind, Imran Khan built a solid case for the accountability of Nawaz Sharif, something the prime minister has been comfortably evading with tacit support of other parties entrenched in the parliament. He’s right about how important it is. He’s also right about the failure of national institutions to make the prime minister answerable and why it leaves him with no choice but to come out of the parliament and on to the streets. He’s given ample time to the government to make amends.

However, being right is not always enough. Imran Khan and his PTI were right on all such counts for launching the dharna against rigging as well. It might have raised awareness about how widespread rigging in our elections is, but it hasn’t brought us any closer to free and fair elections in the future. Imran Khan’s PTI would have to do better than its dharna to make the prime minister accountable. To begin with, Imran Khan will have to distance himself from his privileged coterie and find ways to reconnect with his support base and the non-traditional leaders in his party that he has estranged due to his politics of electability.

Opening up channels of input that go beyond the coterie of power-players would bring many benefits other than effective mobilisation for the upcoming protest. He might find strength in knowing that most of his supporters endorse his decision to boycott the joint session of parliament, that, unlike his coterie, they see it as the big farce that it really is. They might even help him imagine democracy beyond the fraudulent parliamentary system we have in place.

Hemmed in by his coterie, Imran Khan would remain blind to his blindspots, whether they pertain to the belief in our parliamentary system or the upholding of western democracies as ideals we need to follow. Listen to him and it seems that he’s stuck in the end of history, totally oblivious to developments around the globe; the debates around democracy in the so-called developed world he idealises so blindly, the robust critique of neo-liberal economy he can’t think beyond, and the worldwide war between the empire that defines his worldview and the China-Russia nexus that is challenging it.

Distancing from the coterie of power-players he has surrounded himself with and connecting with his support base, the crop of fresh leaders he once based his hopes on, will make Imran Khan smarter about the world we live in for sure. It might even help him change it for the better.