Khan’s announcements to give up official residence and convoy of cars is already having a transformative impact on his followers in Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf
As Imran Khan takes oath today and pledges to create a Naya Pakistan, it signals the end of a culture of 3Ps of the old Pakistan – power, privilege and patronage.
Dressed in a sharp black sherwani for the ceremony, the 65-year-old cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan is the 22nd Prime Minister of Pakistan.
There was a time when two parties would dominate the entire political landscape of Pakistan. One was the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), whose leader Asif Zardari is snowed under corruption charges; and the other one was the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) whose leader Nawaz Sharif and his family is still embroiled in the massive Panama leaks scandal. In the old Pakistan, corruption was so rampant that it was not even an issue to be discussed during election campaigns. But all that changed with the entry of Imran Khan. An avid believer in the power of repetition and persuasion, Khan kept repeating the same words through his campaign: that we need to get rid of the corrupt elite of Pakistan.
His simple but powerful message ended up changing the history of Pakistani politics by breaking the chain of the two-party system.
Khan’s motivation in politics is neither money nor fame. He has attained plenty of both in cricket by winning the World Cup.
That is why he began his winning speech after the elections last month by saying that he will not use the lavish Prime Minister House as his residence. Instead, it shall be converted into a university. The same will be true for the Governor Houses as well. The governor of a province in Pakistan is, more or less, nothing more than a ceremonial position but lakhs of rupees are spent on maintaining them. The spending is so huge that the Punjab province alone has eight Governor Houses located in extremely posh regions that are worth crores. They will now be converted into public libraries or hotels and generate revenue for the new government.
An example was set earlier this week by the newly elected chief minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Mahmood Khan of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), when he announced that he will also not reside in the Chief Minister House in Peshawar and would rather prefer to live at a Minister House nearby to avoid the maintenance expenditure.
There has been a culture of VIPs blocking the roads in Pakistan for their convoys to pass but Khan broke that tradition just a week ago by travelling on the roads of Peshawar with ex-CM Pervez Khattak driving his car in the middle of a traffic jam.
After winning the 2018 elections, ambassadors of different countries visited Khan at his house in Bani Gala, but instead of grand dinners and feasts, only a cup of tea was served as a gesture of his simplicity. This sent shock waves across Pakistan. Lakhs of rupees would be earlier spent by government officials to entertain guests. Khan has disrupted the business-as-usual narrative altogether.
Just a week ago, six units of ultra-luxury Mercedes S600 Maybach were delivered to the Prime Minister House and each of them were custom-built, armoured and bomb-proof cars valued at Rs 18 crore. But Khan announced that these cars would be auctioned and the amount would bring revenue for the new government.
Such acts have captured the imagination of Pakistanis to such an extent that now, no matter which party comes to power in the future, it won’t be possible for them to project an extravagant lifestyle or they will risk losing public support.
The power politics of Pakistan would keep rotating between the two families of Bhutto and Sharif. But Khan has sought to end the iron-grip of dynasty politics in the country. He has requested his ex-wife Jemima Khan not to allow his sons to attend the oath-taking ceremony, even though they wished to come. The era of family politics is truly over.
On his first day in parliament, Khan wore no waistcoat, which is considered like a national dress for a Pakistani politician. He wore a simple shalwar qameez and the official photographer gave Khan his own waistcoat as a sign of respect. But Khan just smiled and gave him his waistcoat back after the picture was taken.
These are not merely symbolic acts. They are having a transformative impact on his followers on social media, who are also pledging to work for his anti-VIP campaigns by following the examples set by him.
The author is a volunteer with Imran Khan’s party PTI and works for the party’s social media team. His Twitter handle is @FarhanKVirk .