Slowly but surely, Imran Khan and his PTI are falling like new ingredients into the murky soup of our parliamentary democracy. Those inspired by the promise of changing the rotten system, the millions of supporters and voters of the party, can do little more than watch their shiny beacon of hope get more and more submerged in the murkiness of this multi-party soup. Should they be happy that their party is well on its way to join the system that it wanted to disband?

To be fair to Imran Khan, he did shake things up when it was needed. In an environment of despondency, actively promoted by the leaders of our entrenched political parties, he articulated a message of hope. At a time when the bulk of electorate had become disenchanted with our so-called democracy, he breathed life into it and inspired a multitude to participate in the process. His much-maligned dharna, despite its serious flaws, played a part in our political evolution as well.

It burst the bubble of our ‘chartered’ democracy and the elitist anti-people games played by our established political parties in the august halls of parliament. By focusing on the corrupt and nepotistic ways of the government and talking incessantly about the rights of citizens and responsibilities of a democratic government, Imran Khan and PTI leaders raised the bar of public expectations and forced the government to mend at least some of its autocratic ways.

The main issue agitated by the dharna was rigging in the 2013 elections, of course. And it was the refusal of the Nawaz government to take any step whatsoever for satisfying the concerns of the second largest political party in the country on that count that pushed the PTI to take to the streets. While one might disagree with the timing and strategy of the dharna, it did bring the nation’s attention to something crucial.

There’s no denying the central importance of a fair electoral process for democratic governance or the fact that fairness of elections in our country are compromised by many forms of rigging and irregularities as a routine.

The flak that the PTI gets for raising the issue of rigging in elections is completely unjustified. Even if the charges of rigging in any particular case are untrue, there’s nothing wrong with bringing the electoral process under the microscope. It could only improve the process and identify the problems that plague it. I’d be more concerned if the PTI stopped agitating the issue of rigging as that would signify the party’s complete absorption in the dirty mainstream. Unfortunately, that’s where it seems to be headed.

It started with the party leadership’s penchant for the so-called ‘electables’, another name for the entrenched political players that the party had originally claimed it would chase away with the fresh untainted faces that it would bring forth. Not only were these traditional power players brought to the fold of the party, they were elevated to important positions over the heads of the ideological core that had remained loyal to the party during its days in the political wilderness.

It was confounding that the party opted for this course despite making its mark without the support of these ‘electables’ in its landmark Lahore jalsa, the first occasion when a diversity of people came together for a mammoth gathering in support of the PTI agenda for change. Instead of translating that support into an organized political party, the leadership decided to cash it for bringing in political heavy-weights. This actually amounted to shortchanging its supporters. The party is now run by these ‘electables’ with an expertise in jor tor politics.

Despite the glitches and divisions, it was a great idea to hold party elections and this could have paved the way for a democratic structure to run the party but that was not to be. The leaders elected at the grassroots were treated as little more than tokens of democratic legitimacy while the decision-making remained in the hands of the same inner circle of ‘electables’ and Imran Khan’s elitist coterie of friends and advisors.

A political party seeking to change the system would have probed more deeply into the issue of ‘electables’. What are the socio-economic factors that make these persons more ‘electable’ than others? Won’t the PTI reinforce the unjust structures of power in our society by bringing such people into the party-fold and adding to their power? Is there no way to defeat these political players? Is there a way to mobilize people to defeat these entrenched players?

After all, there is politics beyond jalsas, rallies, money and biradari? A political party that wishes to change the existing configuration of power cannot hope to do that by relying on the same elitist structures of power? The same vacuum of imagination and vagueness of purpose lie at the root of the failure of PTI to come up with a vision that challenges the prevalent neo-liberal economic model or the umbrella of corporate imperialism under which it operates. So what makes it different from other parties then?

The die-hard supporters of PTI have only one answer to all the questions: their kaptaan. They seem to think that because of his sincerity, he will take care of all the shortcomings of his party and party-men. The fact is that no matter how sincere the leader is, changing the system requires not only a vision but also a strategy to bring it about. It requires not only a team of able individuals who think on similar lines but also an organized cadre of political workers who are committed to the vision. The PTI has none of that.

What we see instead is an ambitious politician from Glasgow, who was imported by the PML-N to be the Governor of Punjab and eventually joined the PTI to become the Chief Organizer of the party in Punjab in no time, telling us that he would take the issue of rigging in NA-122 to the UN and EU? Is this the road to naya Pakistan? I don’t think so.