Wounded Warrior Fights To The Finish

A hurt Imran Khan hopes the outpouring of public sympathy will propel him to victory in Pakistan polls

In an ironic twist of fate, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)-a party that ridicules the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) for capitalising on tragedies-is now cashing in on its chief Imran Khan's fall at a jalsa in Lahore on May 7. Hours after his accident, Khan sent a message to his supporters from his hospital bed. "My dear Pakistanis, I have done whatever I could for Pakistan. Now I want you to take charge. If you want to change your destiny, you will have to take responsibility. 11th May...11th May, vote for PTI candidates so that we can build a naya (new) Pakistan together." The enthusiasm and commitment of PTI supporters after Khan's emotional appeal was quite visible the next day. Young boys and girls were out in full force on the streets of Lahore chanting, "Dekho dekho kaun aayaa€, Sher ka shikaari aaya (The tiger's hunter is here)!"

A new survey conducted by Herald magazine puts the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and PTI neck and neck in Punjab, where the real election battle will take place. According to the Herald poll, "PML-N seems to be the party of choice (in Punjab), with 38.66 per cent of the respondents indicating support for it, followed by PTI at 30.46 per cent. The outgoing ruling party the PPP is way behind at 14.33 per cent."

Divisions between families in voting patterns have also emerged. In many instances, children are pressurising parents not to vote for PML-N as most people under the age of 40 have decided to vote for PTI while relatives above 40 will vote for PML-N. With passions running high so close to the elections, sympathy for Khan could prove to be a real game-changer in Punjab.

Sohail Warraich, an analyst with Jang Group of Newspapers, says: "Khan is lucky that when he met with an accident, all parties across the board sympathised with him. The timing of his accident will give him political mileage. Those of his supporters who might not have voted in these elections will now go to the polling stations for sure on election day."

When pictures of Khan's bloodied face were splashed all across television screens, people went into shock. Khan sustained head injuries and fractured three vertebrae and a rib. Prayers followed. President Asif Ali Zardari, PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz, Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) chief Altaf Hussain and other political leaders asked after his health. Former chief minister of Punjab, Mian Shahbaz Sharif, visited Khan in the hospital.

In a rare gesture of goodwill, even rivals suspended their election campaigns for a day in deference to the fallen gladiator. "It is heartening to see this display of solidarity amongst politicians. It would perhaps be even more useful if the same empathy is extended to martyrs and victims of terrorism of all political parties. We need to rise above party affiliations as has happened in Khan's case," says columnist and lawyer Saroop Ijaz.

When Benazir Bhutto was assassinated, sources close to the PPP complained how Khan did not condole with her widower or her children. Khan had planned to attend Benazir's Qul (third day of mourning) in her hometown Larkana but his father was suddenly taken ill and Khan returned to attend to him. Khan's failure in offering condolences, for whatever reasons, was seen to be in bad taste. He's even said to have blamed Benazir herself for her death.

Khan is not known for his sensitivity. When President Zardari returned to Pakistan after a minor heart ailment back in 2011, Khan reportedly made a snide comment that he was sorry to hear about his ailment but sadder that he recovered. "The PTI and its supporters should learn something from this solidarity for Khan. They must understand that electioneering need not always be cold and calculated. The workers of Awami National Party (ANP), PPP and MQM also deserve respect and empathy. If the PTI leadership fails to extend the same level of decency, it will portray them in poor light," says Ijaz.

But whether his fall will lead to a sympathy vote or not is a question looming large on everyone's mind. Journalist Munizae Jahangir says: "Khan's accident will generate a sympathy wave for him. The same happened with PPP when Benazir Bhutto was assassinated. This fall might just swing voters' sentiments. Imran Khan may just have fallen into the ballot box with a bang."

Others believe that PTI will suffer a loss in not staging the final few rallies but Khan will also get sympathy votes so they will cancel each other out. Khan will address his supporters via video link on the last day of the election campaign (May 9). It remains to be seen whether the fall will have the impact some think it would. It has, however, managed to show that Khan is irrevocably a mainstream player in Pakistan's politics.

Khan's fall also prompted some witty remarks on social media. Faiza S. Khan (@BhopalHouse), an editor/critic, tweeted: "Am v sorry to see a great sportsman injured/bedridden but still doesn't make being nudged off a platform by someone's large bum 'bravery'."

(Originally published in India Today)


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