In 1967, when Zulfizar Ali Bhutto (ZAB) launched his Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), he had developed a brand name for himself as Ayub Khan’s young and dashing foreign minister. He coined appealing slogans like “Kashmir kay liay hazaar saal larain gai,” (For Kashmir, we will fight a thousands years). He combined his personal popularity with a progressive ideology, thereby increasing his appeal manifold. Politically, he was not taken seriously till he swept the elections in the western wing in 1970. Islamic socialism with promises of “Roti, Kapra Aur Makan” came to be widely understood by the masses and they came in hoards to vote for him.

When Imran Khan stood on the stage on October 30, 2011, he pulled the crowds towards him by his own brand popularity, understood as a clear message of change. The party and its four think tanks (Lahore, Karachi, Islamabad, Overseas) had done their home work to support the ‘Kaptan’ and the comrades of change that stood with him.

The party believes in creating a welfare state with Raisat-e-Madina being the model. The state will be responsible for education, for the health and employability of citizens. Everyone between the ages of 5 and 35 will be provided appropriate coverage. There will be major reforms in the health and education section. A uniform curriculum will be implemented with the regional/national language as the medium of instruction, while English will be taught as a language from the very start. Major policies have been announced. There are policy papers on security, local government, agriculture and rural development, irrigation and water resources, to name a few.

ZAB got the opportunity to introduce an agenda of change. It took the establishment seven years (1970-1977) to alter the DNA of the party. The PPP emerged as a political force when it was able to combine its brand with its ideology. All progressives and socialists realized that ZAB’s brand would carry the day; as such, the Socialist Party of Pakistan came under the PPP’s wings. Under ZAB, the party became a genuine “Awami Movement” against the establishment and its status-quo. The resistance of the party against the brutalities of the state increased its public support. Roshan Ali, the rickshaw diver who saved Bhutto’s life in the assassination attempt at Nasir Bagh Lahore, instantly became a hero. As the elections of 1970 were free and fair, the party was able to win a sizeable majority mainly in the Punjab and Sindh.

In the PTI’s case, the so called “electables” have come in hoards. Within 56 days, (Oct 30, 2011 to December 25, 2011), the party DNA and its ideology was seriously infected by the old political power players. While the Chairman and rank and file of the party are clear about ideology, discrepancies have been created by new converts who joined the party after the October 2011 jalsa in Lahore.

Like ZAB, the PTI too became a brand name. In 1970, it was widely believed that people were willing to vote for a pole provided it represented the PPP. Most of the ticket holders were unknown but untainted. Dr. Mubashir Hasan polled the highest number of votes in Lahore. ZAB defeated Choudhry Zahoor Elahi in his home constituency. Establishment machinations were helpless against the brand popularity and ideology of the party. It was the dawn of  a new political era that crosssed family and baradari (clan) loyalties. Being a party of change, similarly, the PTI has to formulate and then communicate its ideology to the masses. The progressive platform of change has to be understood. It continues to draw crowds mainly because of his brand, and if ideology is systematically included in this crusade, it will add force to the movement. After the induction of the so called electables, the relationship of the party with the establishment has become unclear. In the presence of A-Team players, why is the ‘Kaptan’ surrounded by B-Team mavericks? Has there been a change in party ideology after the entry of tainted politicians, so to speak, within its ranks?

Imran Khan’s honesty and integrity is indisputable; he has the trust of the masses, and of the party rank and file. The so called electables do not enjoy this kind of support either within the party or outside of it. Their ride on the PTI popularity bandwagon continues to be an unsteady one.

It is widely believed by the Bhutto detractors, that intellectually, he (Bhutto) was dishonest. Gradually he allowed the old guard to take over his party, pushing the comrades out. Compared to the 1970 elections, the PPP ticket holders in the 1977 ballot were the same old defeated status-quo politicians. While ZAB’s brand popularity remained, his ideology drifted. By contrast, Imran Khan is intellectually honest; there is clarity in his thinking but it is being confused by the induction of some seasoned (read:tainted) politicians.

In the next free and fair elections, the ‘Kaptan’ one hopes, will get an opportunity to lead the nation. His brand, ideology and team will all come into play, and it promises to be a fascinating dynamic. Change is inevitable; the question is of sustained leadership and honest direction. These are moments of historical importance; for the nation, it will shape the future and that of its coming generations.

 The writer is ex-chairman, Pakistan Science Foundation.

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