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The PTI angry workers from Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have been staging a sit-in at party leader Imran Khan's Bani Gala residence since the party's announcement of tickets for the upcoming general elections. Their complaint is that committed workers who have struggled for the party's success for years have been ignored in favour of so-called 'electables'. There are also demands that tickets should be given to workers who reside in the respective constituencies and not those from outside it, are not turncoats who have, as per their habit, switched sides just before the elections, nor should seat adjustments be sought with the PML-Q and Jamshed Dasti. The workers fed on a rich diet of Imran Khan's own rhetoric over many years that traditional politicians are corrupt opportunists and will be made an example of, ransacked Imran Khan's party offices at Bani Gala on June 18, 2018, preventing in the process Jahangir Tareen from leaving the premises. Following the incident, Imran Khan addressed the protestors and swore he had not awarded a single ticket to his family members or close friends and all party decisions vis-à-vis tickets had been taken on merit. When this failed to satisfy the agitating workers, Imran asked for three days to personally review all appeals against allegedly unfair ticket allotments. In response, the workers said they would vacate the area after three days when Imran announces the reversal of the party's parliamentary board decisions regarding the candidates they object to. Amidst media reports that police manhandled the protestors during the sit-in, the latter did not allow Arif Alvi, the party's Karachi leader and former secretary general, to enter Imran Khan's residence and vowed not to allow any leader in until their demands were met.

Imran Khan's difficulties in quelling the 'revolt' by his angry workers, is a classic case of being hoist by his own petard. Since forming the PTI more than two decades ago, Imran Khan seldom let go of any opportunity to castigate our traditional politicians for being corrupt, opportunists, and open to many things illegal for their own benefit. His 'revolutionary' rhetoric that his party would not only reject such a political culture but change and overthrow it has now come back with a vengeance to haunt him. The months-long sit-in he mounted in 2014 against the PML-N government gave his committed workers a taste of street power. That lesson has now rebounded against him. One can sympathise with his dilemma. The PTI fought the 2013 elections with this 'purist' attitude. Before the polls, they were carried away by their own rhetoric, firmly convinced they would win the elections. When the results fell far below these exaggerated expectations, albeit a better showing than their constituency-level support, electable candidates and the party machine to deliver the votes on polling day seemed to indicate, the narrative switched to alleged rigging. The sit-in followed, the rigging allegations were examined and rejected by none other than the present caretaker Prime Minister Nasirul Mulk who was the Chief Justice of Pakistan then, and the PTI retreated to lick its wounds. The crisis the ruling PML-N suffered in the aftermath of the Panama Papers resurrected the hopes of the PTI. This time the party decided to go the traditional political route of seeking electables, even those defecting from other parties despite unsavoury track records and characters. Naturally, there being only a finite number of seats up for grabs in the elections, committed workers had to be sacrificed in favour of the new entrants. All this was justified in the PTI leadership's mind as necessary given the expedient needs of winning a sufficient number of seats to form a government. However, the PTI leadership seems to have underestimated the depth of the training received over many years from Imran Khan's narrative. This contradiction has produced the present impasse. If Imran Khan is able to satisfy the demands of the angry workers, the party could once again find itself unable to reach the critical number of seats. If he cannot, the prospect of alienated workers sitting out the campaign could also damage the party's prospects. Truly, Imran Khan is caught on the horns of a self-inflicted dilemma.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2018

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