Have you ever seen a gladiator entering the arena???
I think you have.
For four months, actually. Day after day, at every hearing of Panama-gate, he’d exit his car and make his way towards the Supreme Court, wearing his boyish grin, one hand lifted to wave at the media while holding his tesbih in the other… Yes, you’ve seen this one gladiator on your television or mobile screens day in and day out.
This man, Imran Khan, chairman of world’s second most popular political party, was the one who’d filed a petition against his country’s current Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif.
It was all quite dramatic, actually.
Panama Papers– overnight exposing faces of hundreds of globally corrupt lot together, blew into our lives from an unheard land Panama, across the seven seas, and nothing was same again..
At least not for the PM, whose third term in the Office was turning out like a bad movie franchise anyway – with the script getting poorer, the acting, unconvincing with each sequel.
But what made the two chairmen different was the dignity with which Khan entered the arena, head held high, and the lack thereof while Sharif was dragged into the arena, splashed with dirt.
The fight itself went on for months until the verdict was reserved. Cynics termed it delayed and denied justice, the optimists holding hopes it was mere lull before a cataclysmic political storm. Meanwhile, Khan made it his personal mission to narrate in his interviews the entire sordid Panama tale to make a lasting impression on the minds of common people (while the respective anchors shifted uncomfortably in their seats).
The day of the verdict was a murky one.
People expected more of a “House of Cards” sort of ending to this drama, but, cutting all the legal math aside, the plain, ugly truth was that Nawaz Sharif was saved. Period. He wasn't given a clean chit either and people were more confused than unhappy.
They wanted explanations. Answers. Because what they saw, was both sides getting their cakes -or sweets in this case- and eating it, too, with no way of separating the truth from the photo-ops. The Sharif partisans in media, Asif Zardari and even some anti-Nawaz enthusiasts, needing a scapegoat to lay the blame at the door of, looked to Khan, mostly for tasting the mithaai.
And the man’s fault, ladies and gentlemen?
His ever hopeful vision of the future.
But, then, he’d always been like that, hadn’t he? Always finding the silver lining in the darkest of times, always hoping for the best!
But let no one say Khan wasn’t prepared for the worst. So when Zardari, who remained withdrawn so far like those in Dante’s Inferno, with a look-busy-do-nothing attitude, jumped in to call Khan as “politically immature”, Khan began showing the plan B and C he had stored up his sleeve from the get-go.
It began with a teaser trailer from a city in rural Sindh, Dadu. And gathering such a massive crowd in a Bhutto stricken contingency is no mean feat, not even Bhutto himself could have pulled that off today. But people respond to truth, and people of Sindh responded to his call. And as Khan stood on the podium before the masses and started to narrate the Panama tale, he picked up on people’s very real frustration with Zardari, their in-house problem.
Now, had Khan been politically beneficially inclined, this would have been the perfect opportunity for him to have compromised and made a consensus with Zardari. But seeing all those people looking up to him, he chose to pour out his heart and soul into his words instead.
Khan told the people he had no wish to be politically mature like Zardari or Fazul-ur-Rehman to begin with. For in Pakistan, political maturity is considered synonymous with cunningness, shamelessness, lying, manipulating and downright blatant strengthening of one’s finances and having the ability to get away with all of this, too.
But, in a true democracy, this isn’t what politics is. It’s a system, a profession where one goes to his people, earns their trust and when comes in power, shapes and forms policies that help in flourishing one’s country.
And they say Khan is not politically mature? How could someone who turned their 21 year old party – a mere infant compared to PML (N), being over a century old, or PPP, half that – into the world’s second most popular one according to a BBC survey.
Even Muhammad Ali Jinnah didn’t toe the line of political maturity standard set in Pakistan. When asked to change his attire from Western to Eastern to reflect more with the Indian culture, he angrily put his hat back on and replied, “I’m a politician, not a hypocrite!” By that, he meant that politics is not the name of doing what you don’t believe in, nor saying what you don’t mean.
And Khan looked happy about the fact that even though Nawaz Sharif had always maintained his false innocence and outraged virtue, Panama papers blew that fake façade to smithereens.
So, by the time he left Dadu, the people of Sindh were left to fact a horrifying question: Are our children also doomed to be slaves of Zardari and the Sharif children???
The waves he set in motion with that were unstoppable.
Following the verdict, Imran Khan announced an awareness campaign across the country, the first stop, Parade Ground, Islamabad. This jalsa stood out with its unprecedented organization and discipline maintained by the PTI workers, especially on stage and in the female sitting area.
PML (N)’s much propagated claim of the insecurity of PTI jalsas lost its edge with that one and people spilled in from every direction, filling the place with their charged presence. Khan looked amazed at their overwhelming response.
He started his speech with a story from his past; a legal battle with Ian Botham in English court, where a jury of 12 deemed that Imran Khan was telling the truth. And while narrating the value of an honest and truthful leader, he spoke of the bribe he’d been offered by PML (N) as the citizens of the federal capital hung on to every word he spoke. Their participation led The Chairman to become quite emotional as he asked them the questions that forced them all to contemplate: Who will make you stand for your rights if I’m gone? When will you learn to stand up for yourselves?!
And those’re the sad, yet powerful words that still echo in the minds of millions of Pakistanis, to whom he’s their only silver lining, the last venue of hope.
The following week, another massive crowd gathered to his call in Nowshera.
Khan looked happier that day, the fatigue of the court battle vanished, his youthful face content with the awareness he could foresee rising among the people. He started his speech that day with the dreams of his life; the impossible dreams for which he was once ridiculed and looked down upon until his perseverance and hard work bore fruit and Allah Almighty fulfilled all of them.
And therein lay the problem. For, as he substantiated before them, his opposition of Nawaz Sharif wasn’t based on some
And before the keen eyes of the citizens, he showed small presentations of solutions KPK government had implemented to combat the province’s problems. He explained to them how the forestation campaign, health reforms, elevating the standard of education in government schools and depoliticizing the police was bringing a slow, but durable change in KPK.
Khan left them with his words echoing around the mountains of Nowshera: Promise me that you will always stand up for your rights. Will you?
The following week saw two major jalsas in Sialkot and Sargodha.
People of Sialkot flocked into stadium as one and all – men, women, youth, children and the elderly alike waving party flags and wearing flag colors, drinking in their Chairman’s address with excitement and receptivity. It was one of those rare times when both the addresser and the addressed were equally happy and satisfied with the other.
After a quick rundown of his oft-repeated Panama story where the Sindbad of Qatar had come as a Savior to the Crown, and a few jabs at the Sharif brothers, he again used one of his most vital tools; a presentation displayed on those gigantic stadium screens, with him explaining how human development in KPK was raising the standards of living.
The short videos, combined with his sudden transformation from a political leader to a professor had necks craning, eyes glued to the screens as people watched Ayub Khan’s historical reception by his American counterpart, secretly wondering if they would ever be respected like that out in the world again?
Next, although against Sheikh Rasheed’s initial advisement to overlook Sargodha as a place of convention since people there are thought to be non-political, the people of Sargodha proved to the veteran politician with their exuberant participation that they weren’t, in fact, neutrals.
So, standing before them, PTI’s chairman illuminated them about the two kinds of politics throughout the world; the kind that goes rogue and corrupt after tasting the ambrosia of power, and the kind that strives to work for the betterment of its people despite temptation.
Though people have this fatalistic belief that nothing’s ever going to change in Pakistan, he encouraged the people of Sargodha, saying that he could see the best of times just a little further away from the present.
Later that night, en route to Islamabad, he stopped his car at a gas station and went to the tuck shop to buy some snacks for his team and himself. It was an awe-struck moment for the people in the shop as they saw among them, a man standing so simply and naturally; the same man who had shaken the pillars of the entire status quo and political mafia of the country. A man, who to them, was larger than the life itself. And as he left the shop, the people of Sargodha had witnessed the difference between a politician and a leader. A monarch and a statesman…
The Abbottabad sky greeted our Khan with thick, grey clouds the following week. People streamed in from all around just to catch a glimpse of their Kaptaan and to hear him speak.
A lot had happened between this jalsa and the last. The Dawn Leaks report had been “handled” and disappointment had rushed through the people.
But there he was, Imran Khan, reassuring his people about how great times will make their way through all the darkness. And as he spoke, sun rays pushed the clouds apart and made their way to the Earth, as if solidifying his whole philosophy of life. He didn’t leave before revising his promise to the people of not going to let it go until he has Nawaz Sharif behind the bars, even if it meant that Imran Khan be the last man standing against him.
He made the same promise to the people of Quetta as he stood on the stage of Ayub Stadium a few days later, addressing the huge Balochi crowd who had come spilling out at his single call despite the security threats in the area. He told them about the KP reforms, and why honest leaders inspire honest societies. After seeing what happened in the ICJ with the Kalbhoshan Yadev case, he declared that from this day onwards, he didn't think that the Sharif brothers cared the least about this country, or its people.
And these people were no longer Sharif's men.
Khan was equally amazed to see how the people didn’t complain to him about not coming to them for four years, only telling him how much they supported him. The police Chief even went on to say that he wanted a KPK type police system or else he could not bring peace in his region.
Even if Khan could not go to every corner of the country in past four years, he kept them politically awake 24/7 through TV and mobile screens. Politics was never this interesting before, what with people from all the provinces considering him as a symbol of federation. They trusted and related to him more than they could with any other politician.
It was in Kandhkot that he was taken by surpise. He’d arrived there all ready with the key points of his speech prepared in his mind, but it seemed that the people of Sindh, or the entire nation, so to speak, had jumped one step ahead of him this time.
No sooner than he’d landed in Sukkar that young and elderly from all corners reached out to him. Only this time, they didn’t just come with the problems, but armed with their solutions too. They lectured him about how their law and order situation could be fixed with a depoliticized police, how their health and education sector can be reformed by prioritizing the human development; how their children’s future can be secured by afforesting this globally warm region; how they can again be respected throughout the world if their leaders start collecting taxes from the rich and bring back their laundered quantum of money instead of begging for loans…
As he listened in astonishment, those poor common men schooled him on the legally complicated matters like the findings of Joint Investigation team, the aftermath of Panama fiasco, and how a ruler has to resign if his lies are exposed because under him, the investigation would be biased…
When he finally got the chance to speak on stage, he openly confessed that he’d never been happier about being proven wrong. He’d thought he’d have to explain everything to the people of Khandkot from the scratch, but it seemed that they were just as aware as him, if not more.
Of all the things, the people of Kandhkot were sure of this that he wasn’t fighting just for himself, no longer one against all. They were together in this fight now. And come hell or high water, they were sure that he would see it through to the end.
After each jalsa, growing anxiety gnawed at the heart of the ruling party. Their inimitable media loud speakers tried their best to come on TV and loud-talk rebuttals for IK’s speeches, but our nation isn’t that politically illiterate. The ruling clan, having enjoyed the long stint of power seems to have finally run out of its proverbial luck. Whether Nawaz Sharif is thrown out of the Office by the Court or not seems meaningless now, after seeing the huge response of the nation in country’s politics.
Panama case was, perhaps, never about winning or losing. It was about exposing where every political party stands. And where the institutions stand…
It was also about where the nation stands, and if it could simply stand or not?
Every day these “common people” saw this one gladiator going in and out of the Supreme Court, asking for justice, it taught those common folks a lesson: that no matter what, regardless of the outcome, they have to stand up, simply for what is just and fair.
Even if Nawaz Sharif is not chucked off his throne, the people have learned how to hold their ground.
The girl being harassed at her workplace has learnt how to raise her voice. The boy being bullied in the university has understood how to stop the oppressor’s hand. The old man standing in the queue of pension receivers knows when to stand up for himself if he is being intimidated.
It was never about winning or losing, anyways.
He who fights for justice never loses. He had won the day the fight started. The struggle was about teaching a nation that our characters are measured not by the wars we have won or lost, but the wars we dare to fight.
So, yes, you have seen some modern arenas where some people are dragged into, while some other enter it with their back straight, head held up high, sights in the sky… and that makes all the difference in the world!