Opinion Maker

Revolution cannot happen by coopting the targets of revolution. A cancer cannot cure itself, nor can tablets and drips when surgery is needed. If Imran seeks medication from those that have infected the country, the infection will multiply.

By Humayun Gauhar

When Imran Khan lost the 1997 elections, I wrote: ‘The Tiger Will Roar’. When he was arrested I wrote, ‘Tiger Caged’. Now, after 15 years roaming the political wilderness, the caged tiger is unleashed, roaring before a sea of disaffected city dwellers excited by the emerging ‘I-Factor’ – ‘I’ for Imran, not ‘me’. Better than the Lucky Irani Circus we have suffered forever, for he claims not to be part of it. The tiger’s prey better watch it. Or should they? This tiger has his own act. Or does he? The tiger should watch it too.

Unlike the lion, which lives in a pride, the tiger is a loner. So it is with Imran. When a loner tries to form a pack he is being unnatural. A tiger cannot change his stripes. This is where Imran should be careful. No lion would ever accept a weak or compromised animal in his pride leave alone a gaggle of chameleons. Any undesirable offspring or member is either expelled or killed. Those that Imran is out to fight are very savvy, very sly. A leopard may not be able to change his spots nor a tiger his stripes, but chameleons can change colour at will to blend in with new environments. The day before yesterday they were religiosity personified, yesterday morning centrist ‘nationalists’, last night pseudo socialists and today the tiger’s ‘revolutionaries’. They swivel like weathercocks with each passing gust and revolve like mad in a tsunami. Bereft of ideology, they prevent tsunamis because their purpose is to protect the iniquitous status that benefits them – unless they become beneficiaries of the tsunami too. Coldblooded animals, chameleons seek not cold tsunamis but the rising sun to warm themselves.

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It’s not going to be easy. Young Imran talks revolution when actually he’s talking absolutism – “My way or the highway”. Revolution cannot happen by coopting the targets of revolution. A cancer cannot cure itself, nor can tablets and drips when surgery is needed. If Imran seeks medication from those that have infected the country, the infection will multiply.

Similarly, you don’t overthrow a system by becoming part of the system. Before you know it, the system will pollute you. Try growing a rose in a gutter and soil your clothes. Revolution comes with relativism, proportionality, else its anarchy. Anarchy may topple an iniquitous status quo but not necessarily replace it with an equitable one. By sleeping with the enemy you don’t necessarily produce a normal offspring.

Imran entered politics to fight the corruption of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif. So disgusted was he that when Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto came to his hospital after a blast he refused to receive her. Came the day when he was photographed with both ‘great’ leaders in self-exile: he was slowly becoming part of the system without realizing it. The idealist was becoming a realist, and I use the word ‘realist’ pejoratively. Revolutions are made by actions, not words. Rhetoric is no substitute for action. The gap between profession and action must be very narrow. One has to be a pragmatic, no-nonsense idealist, practical without losing purpose.

While realism and pragmatism are tactically necessary, they can silently become copout. Our Prophet (pbuh) was an idealist to beat all idealists and a realist to beat all realists. So was Mohammad Ali Jinnah. Without idealists history would be static and truly end. Its course wouldn’t change nor new faiths and ideologies be launched, liberation won, states created. But idealism alone is not enough; there must be fire in the belly too. Those with both are makers of history. Without the fire they become dreamers.

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Imran has enough fire in his belly to run a nuclear power plant. He demonstrated that with stunning success in cricket and by establishing his hospital, both against tremendous odds. Sheer tenacity got him there. How many people don’t I know who had great natural talent but achieved proportionately little because of lack of fire in the belly, like black roses with huge buds that hold great promise but never blossom?

People were glad to see those diehards who had stood by Imran through thick and thin next to him on the stage in Lahore. In Karachi they were sad to see chameleons alongside Imran while the diehards played second fiddle. Worse, they had to suffer their same insufferable harangues that they have suffered for years. “I’ve seen a new beam of light in Imran” – is the typical chameleon ‘justification’ when colour changes. How many ‘beams of light’ are they going to see in their lives? What happened to those previous beams? Did they mistake them for the light from oncoming runaway trains hurtling towards us in that tunnel that has no light at its end? Champions at skipping out of the way and clambering aboard the next beam, chameleons leave the people to be run over by the runaway trains of runaway corruption, nepotism and ineptness. Imran needs to clear away the mist of euphoria lest his new pet chameleons eat him.

A man is judged not by his actions alone. He is also judged the company he keeps – you know, “birds of a feather” and all that jazz. Imran’s stock would have risen a thousand-fold if he had politely but publicly told the chameleons, “Thanks, but no thanks” for you are the products and protectors of the status quo that I have come to change. If stay in the system he must and bring revolution from within – which will be a first in history – then he must raise his stature so high that neither sticks nor stones can reach him and he doesn’t need chameleons to win elections. His message should be so clear and compelling that that it fires the imagination of the people and it matters little who he puts up for election. In 1946 Mr. Jinnah put up ‘lampposts’ and won. In 1970 Bhutto’s lampposts defeated many a chameleon in Punjab and Sindh and Mujib’s in East Pakistan. To reach that level Imran’s grasp must be beyond his reach, else what were the stars made for? Wish lists are neither vision nor plan. They are just dreams. We do not need to know what. We need to know how.

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There is no doubting Imran’s tunnel vision and resolve. He has always been a slow starter but with sheer grit and determination has reached the top. But in politics the way to the top is a long and slippery slope with many paths. Take the wrong path and lose the sheen from your shine.

Acquiring or sharing power is not difficult. It is delivery that matters and democracy is delivery. The best strategy for Imran would be to stay with principles. If he breaks them for the sake of tactics, then before he realizes it tactics will become strategy. Jihad means struggle and no jihad remains a jihad by breaking or compromising with principles. Therein lies Imran’s greatest enemy – the enemy within. Crowds can easily be disappointed and evaporate faster than they form – like pigeons that fly away together when frightened but return one by one.

Some chameleons may seem very nice and decent; it is the status quo that they are products of and represent which is the problem. By taking into the party chameleons that symbolize the iniquitous status quo is to frighten the pigeons away by letting wolves into their coop. The excuse that chameleons may not be awarded election tickets is so much balderdash. Who buys that?