It was unreal. As far as I could see, the only thing that would greet my gaze was red and green. An endless sea of flags and banners that would undulate like waves at every chant and every cry filled the park. To my front was Minar-e-Pakistan, tall proud and glowing, behind me was the Badshaahi Mosque, regal and quietly observing. It the middle of these two historic monuments were hundreds of thousands of people gathering to see the shera himself, to hear him speak what was in everyone’s hearts. Imran Khan was the man of the day.
I have never been much into politics, both Pakistani and foreign. Maybe living abroad had that effect on me but I’ve been grateful for it, I never understood the frenzy that came with being passionate about politics. After living in Pakistan the past few years, I realised it didn’t have much of a point. The same few people ruled, interchanging parties and forming coalitions, making futile promises, usurping resources for their own good, lining personal pockets with public money, ignoring pleas of the many to satisfy greed of the few. It’s like a never-ending cycle, and no matter who’s at the top, the masses at the bottom are always unhappy and disenfranchised.
Then I went to a political rally. I am not sure why I wanted to go, it was just such a novel thing for me, and who doesn’t like to think that they may be a part of something? I went hesitantly, just to see what it was all about, not really caring about how inspiring it could be. I went with friends, bobbing our heads to The Beatles in the car, hearts fluttering as we reached closer and closer to the venue. Imran Khan wouldn’t speak before 6ish, but even at 2 or 3 pm the place was jam-packed, and we all thought that would be it, that it couldn’t possibly fill up any more, that there was no way even more people would show up. But they did. The crowd stretched till way beyond the periphery of the park, and all those who thought only a few thousand would show up were in for a sleepless night.
I finally know what it means when someone says he has an “electrifying presence.” Even without Imran Khan at the podium, the crowd went berserk just seeing him seated at the table on stage, and every time the host would announce that we are getting closer and closer to his speech, it was as if everyone in the crowd had found out they won a lottery. There were, of course, a couple of unnecessary stunts, like Shehzad Roy’s and Strings’ performances. In retrospect, though, I can see that they were important because it’s not just the educated elite he was targeting now, it was everyone, it was ‘the masses.’ And they like to be entertained. Nothing builds up patriotic fervour like songs and cricket, and Imran Khan has both going for him.
When he started to speak, all was forgotten. The hours of delay, the traffic, the unruly crowd, and the ache in our legs; none of it mattered when his voice boomed across us all. He made jokes, insulted Zardari and the Sharifs, used cricket metaphors, and made sweeping promises. It made him even more endearing, and that was the point. As happy as I was to be a witness to such an event, my cynical self couldn’t stop wondering how this was any different from when the now-old parties held the exact same rallies and had the same amount of zealous supporters. At the end of the day, they couldn’t deliver so what guarantee is there that Imran Khan will?
There is no guarantee, of course. His appeal lies in his novelty. He’s different from the usual despots. Nawaz Sharif never misses an opportunity of how the nuclear bomb in Pakistan was developed during his tenure; how many times has Imran Khan boasted about his cancer hospital or university in his own speeches? He didn’t do it yesterday, and he doesn’t even have to. He’s an alternative to the current desperados, and most people think he can’t be much worse because what we have now has got to be the absolute worst it would possibly be. He made promises like the rest of them had done in the past: he said Pakistan will never be inferior to another superpower or beg for anyone’s help. But then later, he said we will become closer to China, ask them for help so that we can grow. This seemed problematic for me. In the start, even the US was friendly and helpful to Pakistan, just as China could be now. China is a force unto its own now, its an economic superpower and it is a lot closer to Pakistan in geographical terms than the US – all this unsettled me a little. But he continued on, speaking of eradicating terrorism, and transforming our situation so that we can actually be PROUD of our passport. That struck a nerve, I always hide my Pakistani passport at airports because, truthfully, I am ashamed and would much rather thrust out my Canadian one. If I can hold out my green passport in pride, Imran Khan has my vote.
But then there’s the question of his reach. Sure all us Luminites love him, as do all the kitty-party aunties, but what about the chai-wallahs, rickshaw wallas, sweepers, janitors, maids, drivers? What about the rural population? I think what amazed me most about the rally was the diversity in the people present, it wasn’t just the educated elite or just the patriotic youth. There were really old people there, wrinkled and white-haired, who made peace signs as if remembering protests of the past, happy and relieved to know it hasn’t all gone away from Pakistan. There were really poor people there, groups of young workers in uniforms and women and children in rags whom rather than looking disgruntled, were smiling and cheering, equal to the rest of us. There were Punjabis, Balochis, Pathans. So maybe Imran Khan’s reach isn’t as limited as it used to be. Yes, there are many miles to go before you can see the shore, and many more hurdles to cross, but perhaps…perhaps there is hope. And perhaps this hope is not strong enough to passionately cry out “Meri jaan, teri jaan, Imran Khan, Imran Khan!” but at least it’s united us in angrily, loudly, desperately shouting “Go, Zardari, Go!”
Note: this, by no means, is a commentary on the political situation of Pakistan. It is merely a memoir of my experience at the rally and all the things I thought about it.