Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, today, is celebrating its 21st foundation day at a time when ruling Sharif family is facing JIT probe and PPP has been dismantled by the unbridled corruption allegations. The foundation day gains more importance in the wider global context when populist movements are on the cusp of sweeping elections in Europe. Imran Khan is also thriving on populism to claim Islamabad’s throne.
Khan remained in the wilderness for most of his political career until 2011 when he challenged everyone including corrupt politicians, bureaucracy, and mainstream media.
Meanwhile, Khan also ensured radical change, thus, consequently posing a serious challenge to Sharifs in their power hub.
What is populism? It is a political doctrine that proposes that the common people are exploited by a privileged elite, and which seeks to resolve this. The underlying ideology of populists can be left, right, or center. Its goal is uniting the uncorrupt and the unsophisticated “little man” against the corrupt dominant elites (usually established politicians) and their camp of followers (usually the rich and influential).
While the decoding of populism seems alluring to the exploited class, often unrealistic slogans are chanted by the populist politicians like bringing an overnight change in country’s corruption-stricken crippled institutions, ensuring fast-track accountability and smooth economic growth. In reality, behind these fascinating slogans lies sole wish to claim throne somehow.
Has Imran Khan achieved in K-P what he thrives for in other parts of the country? The answer is a bitter no.
So far, PTI-led Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has failed in yielding the desired outcomes. The much-awaited reforms in accountability sector are still lingering in the air. K-P chief minister’s ambitious announcement of establishing a university in every district and a college in every tehsil has not moved forward from paperwork. Similarly, tall claims of producing and exporting electricity to other provinces remained dreams. It is pertinent here to mention that provinces have been awarded powers to generate electricity after the 18th amendment. The list goes on.
But this failure remains the core dilemma of the populist movements and leaders be it Modi or Trump. Populists neither have guts nor have authority to challenge the strong establishment.
However, there exists a unique distinction between Khan and all other populist leaders. Khan does not divert public attention from failures of his government via racial profiling of minorities or any other ethnic group nor he uses anti-Indian rhetoric to retain the vote bank.
Only time will tell that whether Khan’s actions have made democratic institutions stronger or anti-democratic elements weaker.