Cleanliness in politics comes through ideology, a lack of which results in compromises. The political arena in Pakistan can be divided into three periods, Pre-martial law (1947–1958), Post martial law (1958–1985), and free fall (1985 onwards). Despite manipulations and teething problems most politicians were financially clean till 1958, plots, permits and patronisation were not part of the equation. The flood gates of corruption were opened in 1985 after the party less elections which contaminated the entire process and have resulted in free fall of the nation.

The political divide in 1947 was centered around parties that wanted strong federal structure and those that favoured provincial autonomy. Muslim League the founding party worked for ‘Mazboot Markaz’ (strong central government) whereas the ‘Red Shirts’ under Ghaffar Khan wanted more power for the provinces. Compromises, floor crossing or party hopping (Lotacracy) was unheard of. Despite clear differences in ideology, politicians on both sides were honest. As a Muslim League family we were raised to support the party position but my father always praised the ideological commitment of Khan and his followers.

I.H. Ispahani, a prominent politician from Bengal after working closely with the Quaid, wrote that he was pleasantly surprised to know that there can be honesty in politics as well. It was Jinnah’s steadfastness and ideological commitment that resulted in the creation of the first Islamic democracy of the world. The muddled political arena of Pakistan Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (ZAB) re-introduced ideological politics in the sixties. The political divide being the progressive left or the retrogressive right.

In the Western wing progressives supported ZAB en mass, while on the Eastern side autonomy was pursued. After coming into power in 1971, after the breakup of Quaid’s Pakistan, ZAB introduced major socio-economic and political reforms in the country. By 1975 instead of pursuing his agenda of change, ZAB surrounded himself with status-quo politicians. In order to exploit his popularity for their political revival they even convinced him to hold elections ahead of schedule in 1977. The trap was laid. Overnight an opposition group Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) emerged on the scene with a one point agenda to get rid of ZAB.

In 1996, Imran Khan promised to bring back ideological politics in the country with a clear divide between the clean and the corrupt. Like ZAB he too promised to shatter the entrenched status-quo and bring change. Initially the progressive ideologues were reluctant to joint mainly because of ZAB’s compromises in the past. The situation changed when Comrade Ahsan Rashid a founding member of PTI took control of Punjab in 2006. As a result of his dedicated hard work the party emerged as a ‘clean’ alternative to the corrupt to the core political set-up in the country.

The Lahore Jalsa in October 2011 followed by the Karachi gathering in December 2011 was the turning point. The distinction between the clean and the corrupt was lost. Kaptaan insisted on a framework followed by Interparty Elections (IPE). Unlike the two family-controlled mainstream parties PTI had to be different to drive change. ZAB came into power in December 1971 and was able to introduce major reforms till he was trapped by the corrupt in 1975. This period in PTI’s case was only 56 days (Oct 30, 2011 to Dec 25, 2011). Since then there has been a viscous attempt to convert the party into any other political outfit – thereby neutralising its edge of clean politics.

PTI is the party of change. Till today Kaptaan remains the only clean political leader in the arena. All other parties and their important players both current and past are heavily stained. Even Kaptaan cannot baptise them and present them as ‘Mr. Clean’ once they join his team. Unfortunately for the party and the country their presence is seriously effecting the credibility of the movement and its leader.

Within the party there is a strong opinion that electables are needed in certain constituencies, which may have some merit. But then these notable players of the past should have been confined to their own areas of influence and not imposed on the party or allowed to alter its policies as has been the case.

There is a clear divide between the clean and the corrupt. Both PML-N and PPP have never claimed their cleanliness but are in the process of pointing out the un-clean players within the PTI the movement for change and clean politics, which smells of hypocrisy. This finger pointing at Kaptaan’s crusade is damaging and should have been avoided. Over two decades of hard work by the Kaptaan and his comrades is being lost by defending the un-defendable.

In order to prevail at the ballot and then effectively deliver change PTI has to be different with no fowl odors of corruption within its ranks. If merit and fair play is being promised to the nation then it must be exercised within the party otherwise the house will remain divided. Another honest IPE is needed to cleanse the organisation and heal the scars of the previous one. Though Kaptaan’s personal appeal and support remains intact but without the passion of the youth and the necessary institutional support, electoral victory may be difficult to achieve. The nation is longing for clean politics as such the era of the corrupt must come to an end. Restorations and transplants cannot revive the turn of the already bowled out layers of PML-Q, PML-N and PPP. How many more turns do they need to complete their centuries? Kaptaan should declare their innings to save the match and come out of the free-fall era of politics.