October 27, 2011

Imran Khan or Nawaz Sharif?

Nawaz Sharif (L) and Imran Khan (R)
The million dollar question everybody has been harping about for the past week or so. Who is the king of Lahore? Is it Nawaz Sharif, who has traditionally held the throne? Or is it Imran Khan, who has dethroned the former king to wear the crown himself?

Now if you're a regular reader of this blog, you would know I am not exactly a fan of Imran Khan. All the reasons for my not being his fan can be found by clicking here. But this right now is an entirely different debate. Who would you choose between Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif?

See the problem is once again in this populist political quagmire (or thriller depending upon your preference) we are stuck in choosing one individual over another individual. But that is another blog, for another time. So is Imran Khan better than Nawaz Sharif? Or is Nawaz Sharif better than Imran Khan? It's hard to say given the scale of confrontation and the statements that emanate from both of them. They both hate Zardari. They both want midterm elections. They both claim they can rid the country of evil and produce good Samaritans. But there's one fundamental difference between the two, which to the cool thinking and rational mind blows up the difference between the two as if one was day and the other was night.

Imran Khan wants a confrontational approach vis-a-vis the US, NATO and Afghanistan. Nawaz Sharif on the other hand wants to play it cool and let things take their natural course. One of the prerequisites of this approach is not pissing off the Americans. Another glaring difference between the two politician's approaches is that while Imran Khan keeps licking the army's shiny armour, Nawaz Sharif is trying to keep them at an arm's length by calling for judicial inquiries against the generals responsible for the May 2nd debacle.

But that is where the differences end. So what do the masses think? Imran Khan has by and large crafted a huge fan following amongst the educated middle class and the youth. But that support has been the most vocal and active in Lahore. What about other parts of Punjab? What do people think about Imran Khan in for example, Vehari? Or Bhalwal? Or Mian Channu? The vast majority of Punjabis resides in rural areas and rural populace is the one and only factor that can make or break any party in an election.

So can Imran Khan pull it off? He might. Or he might not. The problem like I mentioned before is that we're talking about individuals. In the case of Imran Khan, he really is just one individual. It is only today that I found out that there is a person called Rauf Hassan who is in Imran Khan's party as well. But what about the other hidden gems of talent in Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf? Or are we to assume that there are no other? On the other hand there are several people who I can name from Nawaz Sharif's party, albeit they all disgust me.

The worst case scenario for Imran Khan will still be a win for him. He will win 5 - 6 seats in the provincial assembly and will be the head of a vocal opposition. That's more than he's ever had. And the best case scenario will be a complete rout of Nawaz Sharif's PML. Either way he will have to make alliances with people who he keeps denouncing. Nawaz Sharif, if he can still maintain his unbeaten streak will most probably not need the help of allies to keep him standing on his two feet. But of course only time will tell exactly what happens.

In the meanwhile, the two upcoming rallies by the PML-N (which takes place tomorrow, Friday, 28th October, 2011) and Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf (which takes place on Sunday, 30th October, 2011) will be a sort of litmus test of who stands where in this sprawling metropolis.

As for me? Well in my perfect world Imran Khan's idealistic rhetoric and populist politics would work seamlessly without any repercussions of any sort, and I would gladly vote for him in that case. But in the real world, I feel Nawaz Sharif has got the grasp on reality much better than Imran Khan has ever had even though the Sharifs are like fat cobras standing guard around a pile of gold (read Punjab).

I'll wait till after their rallies to decide who's side I fall on. It's going to be interesting.