He was a charismatic captain, leading Pakistan in 48 tests, winning 14, losing 8 and drawing 26 of them. Some of his teammates described him as a ‘benign dictator’ on the pitch (one of them comparing him to ‘Stalin’), but he became the first Pakistani captain to win the Cricket World Cup. At home, he was the lone male among five siblings, used to being pampered by his family. Sigmund Freud once wrote that “a man who has been the indisputable favorite of his mother, keeps for life the feeling of a conqueror.” After raising funds to establish Pakistan’s first cancer hospital, he worked briefly as a ‘special advisor’ to Pakistan’s Cricket Board and later as Pakistan’s first ambassador for tourism.

Following the timely demise of General Zia, Pakistan entered a phase of democratic transition in 1988. For the next decade the national government was formed by either Pakistan Peoples’ Party led by Benazir Bhutto or Pakistan Muslim League led by Nawaz Sharif. Instead of empowering democratic institutions, the focus of ruling parties remained on political point-scoring and one-upping the opposition of the time. Financial irregularities were commonplace and the financial situation was dire, partly due to lack of funds from the US after their withdrawal from Afghanistan. Private schools and universities established during Zia’s reign churned out politically naive, disaffected youth into a chronically anemic job market. For the disaffected, politically benign educated elite, there was no “third option” in politics. Voter confidence took a nose dive in 1997 with a historically low voter turn-out.

It was under these circumstances that Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf was formed in Lahore by Imran Khan. Its essential platform was one of social equality allied to national self-reliance. The initial manifesto read “All through Pakistan’s history, stooges of the past and present colonial masters have led us. Their contribution has been merely to mortgage our children’s future and short change our dignity by making compromises under the guise of much-abused supreme national interest”. It seemed like a whiff of fresh air in the nauseating pit of Pakistani politics reeking with corrupt, self-serving politicians.

During the election campaign for the 1997 elections, Imran’s speeches combined the key financial appeal with rousing, quasi-religious sermons attacking feminism, atheists, politicians, “evil” western values and “brown sahibs”. During the election campaign, famous music band, Junoon, released the song ‘Ehtisaab’ (accountability), which became the unofficial campaign song of PTI. The newly established party contested 48 seats in the national assembly, with Mr. Khan appearing on the ballot in eight constituencies. The speeches, songs and whirlwind tours failed to arouse the passions of ordinary Pakistanis and his party gained between 130,000 and 160,000 votes of the 19.3 million votes cast. It was also the first time that Imran had voted in an election himself.

After the elections, Mr. Khan made an alliance with Benazir Bhutto and other political parties (including MQM, ANP and Tahirul Qadri’s PAT) called the ‘Grand Democratic Alliance’ with a one-point agenda to remove Mr. Sharif from power. He was among the people who cheered on when General Musharraf ousted Nawaz government in 1999. He initially supported Musharraf and his bogus “referendum” but had a falling out when the general decided to pit his force behind the Chaudrys from Gujrat. PTI participated in the national elections held in 2002, managing to win only one seat from Mianwali (by Imran himself) and getting 229,125 votes out of 28 million votes cast. In the parliament, Imran sided with coalition of religious parties (MMA) and voted for Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman during the election of Prime Minister. 

In 2002, a famous magazine from Karachi mentioned that “the former speedster was something of a religious zealot with more than a soft corner for the Afghan Taliban. His self-righteousness and high-flying principles fail to explain the link between his strange fondness for the clerics and his passion for all the good things in life which have come from the west”. Then with the rise of private TV channels in the country, Mr. Khan was a frequent fixture of their guest list due to his brash anti-Americanism mixed with right-wing rhetoric and cricket analogies. He was never a good public speaker, but made up for his intellectual deficiencies by employing passionate, populist rhetoric. A profile of Mr. Khan in Guardian contained this famous line, encapsulating his political career, “Imran’s ideas and affiliations since entering politics have swerved and skidded like a rickshaw in a rainstorm.”   

From 2002 to 2008, Mr. Khan was given more airtime than any other national politician on national media, especially when he resigned from his national assembly seat in 2007 to protest against Musharraf. His party failed to evolve from the cult of Mr. Khan to a proper political party. During the anti-Musharraf protests, he was mishandled by goons from the infamous Islami Jamiat Tuleba (IJT) and was taken in custody by the police. He later formed a political partnership with IJT’s parent organization, Jamaat-e-Islami. His party received a nudge from veritable institutions during 2011, leading to a historic Jalsa in Lahore. Following the Jalsa, seasonal birds and turncoats started joining PTI in hordes. In the national elections held in 2013, his party got 19 percent of total votes in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and 17 percent of total votes in Punjab.

Now Mr. Khan- the beacon of hope for urban Punjab’s middle classes- instead of focusing on governance in KPK, decided to rock the boat of federal government and has marched up on the capital. The demagogue is acting like a proverbial bull in the china shop that is Pakistan’s fragile democracy.

“When one compares his utterances of a year or so ago with those made fifteen years earlier, a thing that strikes one is the rigidity of his mind, the way in which his worldview doesn’t develop. It is a fixed vision of a monomaniac and not likely to be affected by the temporary manoeuvres of power politics.” This comment fits the attitude of Mr. Khan perfectly but it was not written about him. It comes from George Orwell’s review of Hitler’s autobiography, Mein Kampf.

 The writer is a freelance columnist.