Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI) waited 15 years to see the rush of political heavyweights eager to join its ranks. The floodgates were opened after the mammoth rally at Lahore. Since then, there has been no looking back. The influx of prominent political personalities from the status quo parties into PTI is generating mixed perceptions among the people. PTI and status quo-minded politicians have no ideological conformity. While one stands for change in the political system, the others have shown time and again that they are comfortable with the existing practices and never opted or worked for any change. Though Imran Khan has not yet spelled out what change he envisages and how that change will be brought about, the educated masses had arrived at their own assumptions. But the amass entry of old politicians into the PTI ranks is forcing the silent majority to rethink their hopes and aspirations.

Imran Khan sounds confused in his declarations. He says that he cannot close the doors of his party to anyone desirous of joining; he also openly states that PTI needs winnable leaders, who can ensure success in the forthcoming elections. The Qureshis, Legharis and Kasuris are winnable assets, but they are from the old guard whose credentials are firmly established. They represent the status quo forces and belong to the elite group of society, who has fixed social and political values and a definite perception how political matters are to be handled. Khan’s assertions that only those will be awarded tickets for elections who have a clean record, conflicts with his winnable qualification; not all winnable have a clean record if one dispassionately assesses the past record. The names mentioned above may have no blemish of corruption; they had no need to indulge in misappropriations, as they hail from rich landed class. But this cannot be said of those who are waiting in the wings and looking for an opportune moment to grab their surfing boards and get onto the tsunami wave. Most of them are winnable, but fail the clean criterion set by PTI.

There are a large number of politicians that are eager to join the PTI. If media reports are to be believed, then there are many from the three Muslim Leagues, who are ready to change the horses; some reports indicate that some disillusioned PPP members are contemplating to join also. Changing political loyalties is not a new phenomenon in Pakistan. Most politicians see the winds of change and switch loyalties. Loyalty in Pakistani politics is not to an ideology or cause. It is to self-interest and the interests of family, clan or tribe; interest of the country or nation has always been secondary. Imran Khan had gathered the sympathies of the silent majority by projecting nation’s interest foremost. He like the silent majority had realised that only a change in the system can lead the country towards progress and prosperity. But with politicians from the old guard joining his party, success to bring about the change seems remote. What the PTI stands for severely conflicts with the values that the old guard holds most dear. How will PTI balance its ideology with ground realities only time will tell? It will not be an easy going!

PTI Chairman has been spelling out his priorities in his speeches and talk shows. He wants merit to prevail in all the government’s departments and dealings. The winnables joining him belong to political families, who have their own groupings based on family and clan. They also have their supporters, who want to get benefits from the positions and authority that these electables can provide; merit gets relegated to secondary status. Will these old hands allow PTI to enforce merit, if and when it gains power, or will it be forced to compromise? In the Lahore rally, which set the ball rolling, he had declared to change the thana-patwari culture. Majority of the leaders switching loyalties are rural elite; for them to keep their influence in their areas, this culture is an absolute must. Most influence the administrative machinery to get people of their choice in their areas. It is through this clout that they keep the hold in their areas; most of them will seriously contest any change in this system.

The PTI has declared to reform the education system. The family of the latest addition to its ranks - owns the largest elitist schools system in the country. It caters for the affluent segment of the society and is beyond reach of the majority of population. Though the magnitude of PTI’s education reforms is yet unknown, there will be strong opposition to any educational reforms that will affect the revenue of these schools. Imran Khan had hinted at bringing agricultural income in the tax net to increase State income. Our history amply demonstrates that the landed gentry sitting in the Assemblies have never allowed this. Successive civilian and military governments were not able to enforce any tax on agricultural incomes. PTI will face tough resistance in this venture, too, now that its ranks are being filled by the landed political class.

The manner that the PTI is absorbing this winnable political persona is causing the old members some anxiety; those who had stood fast with the party during its wanderings in wilderness during the past 15 years are slowly being replaced in party positions by those who have joined after assessing party popularity. This shows that the party lacks a clear ideology and is looking for political gains only; the image that it built in the past is slowly being eroded. The silent majority had assumed that this party, once in power, will usher in an era of social justice, equal opportunities and merit in government function and job provisions. With old hands joining the rank and file of the party, these ideals stand to face serious opposition from within the party. With a majority of members upholding the old values, party will not be able to bring any solid and lasting change in the system; it may settle for some superfluous measures only. Many rulers had claimed to bring changes, but settled for half measures.

The political opponents are accusing the PTI of being supported by the establishment. They claim that the mass influx into the PTI is occurring on the nod from the hidden forces. In a political culture, where we have seen the emergence of alliances under establishment guidance, this accusation does carry some weight. They even accuse that the Munter mantra is at work; it is after the PTI Chief’s meeting with the US Ambassador that the tsunami gained momentum and politicians embarked on the race to join. The truth may not be known for some time to come.

The PTI rally at Kasur demonstrated a grave shortcoming of the party. The conduct of the crowd at the end of speeches showed that it does not have lower tier party workers, who could control the crowd; and if lower level political workers exist, they deliberately remained aloof to register their resentment on the direction party is taking. The leadership also displayed an indifferent attitude in the rally; they made speeches and left, those who were present remained ineffective. This rally was in a glaring contrast to Minar-i-Pakistan rally; that had the educated silent majority in attendance. This should amply demonstrate to Imran Khan the type of people he is inducting in the party and what can he expect from them and those who support them.

It would have been much better for Imran Khan to remain true and steadfast to his cause and programme. He should have fielded educated, mature and ideologically-motivated people. The silent majority, who saw a hope and promise in his political direction, would have voted not for personalities, but for his programme. In the 1970 elections, the PPP had fielded mostly unknown candidates, yet they won because the programme the party gave appealed to the masses. PTI had that the potential, but it is losing that advantage. Elections are still some time away, it would be better for the PTI to rethink its priorities and be selective in its picking.

The writer is a retired brigadier and political analyst.