Just because Imran Khan is not leading it right, doesn’t mean that his campaign against our rigged democracy is not valid. Despite the gaping loopholes in his Azadi march, he’s managed to bring some of the most pertinent issues ailing our democratic process to the fore. The youngsters at his sit-in are happy to hear someone push issues close to their heart on to the discussion table, issues that the ruling party and its parliamentary friends would rather brush under the carpet. That’s why they are dancing.
Imran might not be a revolutionary in the true sense of the word, but his criticism of our so-called democracy resonates with many. His desperation to get to the bottom of rigging in 2013 elections and for electoral reforms cannot be faulted. The issues are central to our democracy project which is riddled with rigging. Obviously a fair electoral exercise is the compulsory first step towards creating a democratic order. His lack of trust in the PML-N government to conduct the audit of 2013 elections is a logical outcome of how the government has chosen to manage the issue so far. His demand for the PM’s resignation is, therefore, not entirely out of place.
He is not wrong when he criticizes the House of Sharif for running Pakistan like a family fief. It is not only the large number of relatives that dominate the Nawaz dispensation but also the way it has chosen to control independent state institutions through partisan henchmen. Imran is spot on when he takes on the authoritarian and ham-handed approach of the ruling party, complete with its army of Gullu Butts infesting our neighborhoods, a police force that is treated like family servants and a supine bureaucracy handpicked for furthering illegal partisan interests.
A large majority of people bear the brunt of the nepotism, lawlessness, rampant corruption and anti-poor policies of a government formed in their name. They are disgusted to see the parliament reduced to an elitist club bickering over scraps of power and privilege and divorced from public interest. They are fed up with the pettiness of those in charge of our destiny. Due to the ideological, organizational and tactical loopholes in his Azadi campaign, Imran Khan might not have succeeded in rallying this large majority behind him, but he surely touches a chord when he articulates these concerns. His emancipating interpretation of Islam has also found resonance among many who have had enough of the menacing mullahs.
Like other self-righteous big and small maulanas in our midst, Fazlur Rehman thinks it his God-given right to declare someone outside the pale of Islam for this or that reason. This appropriation of Islam by a self-serving religious leadership harboring ignorant clerics of all hues under its wings is the root-cause of many problems in Pakistan. This unholy monopoly over God has poisoned our socio-political environment. It is used as a threatening tool to push opponents on the defensive and to restrict freedom of thought and expression.
It provides the common foundation for all kinds of extremist and militant ideologies that support terrorism. It is the responsibility of political leaders to launch an ideological Zarb-e-azab against those pursuing worldly gains in the name of Islam but none of them has dared to do that. By telling Fazlur Rehman off and dismissing his fatwas, Imran Khan has taken another step towards reclaiming our religion from the clutches of these self-proclaimed guardians of faith.
Imran Khan is right when he says that tabdeeli, the much-needed change, is already here. On the streets of our cities, in towns and villages, dissatisfaction with the elitist lawless order of things is palpable. A brave new consciousness has decidedly emerged and more and more Pakistanis view themselves as citizens with rights, not loyal subjects of unaccountable power players. They see the hypocrisy, greed and fitna of those claiming exclusive monopoly on God. The question is: With so many chinks in his Azadi armor, can Imran Khan lead this change effectively?
His tone and tenor has offended many but, to my mind, there are bigger problems with Imran’s leadership. He has failed to build a democratic decision-making structure for his PTI and leans upon an elitist coterie for taking decisions. The elected office-bearers, the young guns, the professionals, those from working class backgrounds are nowhere to be found in the chairman’s inner circle. Were they good only for tokenism? Are they supposed to cheer and follow the leader while decisions are made above their heads behind closed doors of pricey mansions?
The PTI’s ideology seems to hover around the cult of its chairman. All would be well if he becomes the Prime Minister. Rebuking the US for interfering in our internal affairs, or for droning us, is all very well but it is meaningless unless it refers to events around the globe and becomes a part of the vigorous world-wide anti-imperialist narrative.
The PTI talks about rigging with no reference to the shady ‘cooperation’ of the Election Commission of Pakistan with the National Endowment for Democracy, a certified tool of the US for tampering with democracies in developing countries. Other tools of manipulation like opinion polls and international poll observers are given the respect they don’t deserve. The party rejects foreign loans without any reference to the neo-liberal empire that they serve.
Given such deficiencies, the Azadi march is unlikely to become a mass movement that Imran Khan would like to lead. Besides, the tabdeeli might be coming of age today but it has been in the making for decades. And though he has played a positive role in bringing it about, Imran cannot claim the entire credit for it. Instead of imagining himself as the lone savior in shining armour to have descended on Pakistan, it would do him well to connect to our long tradition of resistance.
To begin with, instead of vilifying the former Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry on baseless accusations, the PTI chief must recognize the momentous role played by him in igniting the Rule-of-Law movement and awakening the tabdeeli he leads today. Now that was truly a mass movement. And it was successful for that reason.

 The writer is a freelance columnist.

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