Bharo Tehreek Prison
It already seems certain that Imran Khan grossly exaggerated agreeing to PTI’s “Bharo Tehreek Prison”. Apart from some of the party’s most staunch activists, most of its supporters seem content to sit on the sidelines.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s reports on Thursday indicate that the party was in utter chaos on the day of the “court arrest” in Peshawar Bharo Tehreek Prison. Venues were changed at 11 am, key leaders failed to show up and a comic confrontation between citizen and state ensued, with neither the police seeming interested in arresting PTI supporters nor Mr. Khan’s Tigers himself very enthusiastic about the idea was spending time behind bars. Mr. Khan reportedly issued another arrest warrant.
In Punjab, too, the PTI seems to have lost vigilance. He launched a habeas corpus petition to regain the nine top executives arrested the day before, arguing that their lives would be in danger if they remained in police custody.
That’s not how mass arrests work. It’s about overpowering the system and not breaking out once the state flexes its muscles.
It cannot be said that this adventure happened unexpectedly. Mr. Khan appears to have a fairly poor understanding of his support base and its relationship with his party.
He repeatedly fails to account for the fact that there is a complete lack of organization in the PTI at the grassroots level of Bharo Tehreek Prison. He cannot expect ordinary people to place blind faith in him and proceed to jail, especially when there is no support network to watch out for them and protect them during the period of their incarceration.
It is folly for Mr. Khan to believe that he can mobilize ordinary supporters the same way that the Jamaat-i-Islami can, or earlier iterations of the MQM could.
The PTI and Mr. Khan have risen to the top of Pakistani politics not on the back of an organized populist movement, but due to ordinary voters’ disillusionment with the politics of some of our more ‘experienced’ leaders and their parties.
Although Mr. Khan’s personal charisma can attract a significant number of votes in the elections, it will never be enough to persuade ordinary citizens to devote their time and resources to a movement like Jail Bharo Tehreek.
Unless the party undergoes significant restructuring, its lack of mobilizing power will remain its Achilles’ heel for launching movements that turn ordinary people against state power.