A couple of days ago, a very senior and very successful female colleague of mine loudly proclaimed “If I were Pakistani, I’d vote for Imran Khan… I’m Punjabi after all, shakal dekh ke vote dete hain!” I laughed because she’s normally a pragmatist, not to mention a very sharp political analyst. And none of the Pakistani political pundits are willing to give Imran Khan a chance. Not for a majority, and certainly not for the top post. All they are willing to concede to him is that he may be a ‘game-changer’.
I write this as Pakistan votes today. General elections that are being fought under a dark cloud of death threats, assassinations and terror. Elections that are historic; for they mark the first transfer from one civilian government to another, in the history of Pakistan. But I’m not about to dwell on the political minutiae here… I’d rather leave that to experts. But what I do want to say is that sometimes things happen that defy logic and calculations. And little as I know about Pakistan and its turbulent politics, I do feel that this time, it will be different for the charismatic cricket legend-turned-politician. And I’m not just saying that because I’m basically yet another sports journalist who’s spent their entire lives idolising this man.
There IS something different this time, don’t you think? There is a restlessness in Pakistan, an angry youth that is fed up of the current crop of politicians and wants a better future. In the run up to these elections Imran has said on more than one occasion that the youth voters will make all the difference. It remains to be seen if indeed that will be so, but the fact is – in all the years that Imran Khan and his Tehreek-e-Insaaf have been around, they’ve been laughed off as political lightweights. No one’s laughing this time.
Interestingly, he’s the only major player unscathed by the Taliban threat – while other political parties have had to virtually cancel all election campaigning under the shadow of the gun, Imran’s rallies have been given a free run. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari was scared all the way back to the UK, robbing the PPP of its star campaigner and even the tiger of Punjab, Nawaz Sharif (the man tipped to win these polls) was forced to significantly lower the tenor of his roar in the run up to the elections. Add to that the sympathy waves that flooded in when Imran had that near fatal 15-foot-fall (the kind of sympathy that elicited the above comment from my colleague) and you have a situation where suddenly the wind seems to be blowing in one direction. Towards Imran Khan.
He may not win a majority; yes I accept that, because I really know nothing about Pakistan’s politics. But I’m sure he will be a key player, a king maker perhaps, winning enough votes to decide who gets to sit on the throne. Whether he forms part of the government or takes up a position in the opposition, his days in political wilderness seem to be over.
Some people are born with shining destinies and we already know he is one of the blessed few – World Cup winning captain and all. And you simply can’t deny the charisma (how could Jemima ever leave?!) And I know enough people here in India who’d love to see Imran Khan become the head of state of Pakistan. I think I would too, if I wasn’t so disconcerted with his closeness to the Taliban. The Taliban are no friends of ours, remember? And if indeed Pakistan shakal dekh ke vote dete hain, I wonder what that will mean for India. Interesting times.