What if Imran Khan were Prime Minister of India

ALOK PRASANNA writes from Bangalore: Deve Gowda’s flip flops, the CPM’s hypocrisy, the squabbling and snivelling of the Sangh Parivar, the likes of Arjun Singh and the rest of his gerontocratic ilk, all combine to make the figure of a politician in India a much hated and reviled one. And this is just at the national level.

Criminalization, corruption, communalism and casteism—the four Cs (and I hereby assert copyright over that) seem to dominate Indian politics and political leaders at all levels. There are some honest, upright, decent and hardworking individuals among them, sure, but they either fade away into obscurity or get upstaged by the not-so-honest-decent lot (cue Ramakrishna Hegde and a very harassed Manmohan Singh).

As always, we Indians feel a bit better about such things when we look at Pakistan and find things are worse. At least we are not under martial law, at least we have a Constitution, and our options apart from martial rule are not Benazir Bhutto or Nawaz Sharif who, between them, can’t run a village panchayat to save their lives.

At least we don’t find our most capable and charismatic leader, marginalized and alone, in jail.

Arise, Imran Ahmad Khan Niazi.

Cricketer, fund raiser, playboy, politician, human rights campaigner, democracy activist, he has done them all with panache (though not entirely with the same degree of success all the time). As a cricketer, he is one of the greatest all-rounders the game has produced, definitely the best cricketer Pakistan has ever produced, and also one of only seven men to have laid their hands on the cricket World Cup trophy as captain.

Being captain of Pakistan and leading a Pakistani team to World Cup victory also usually guarantees one for a Nobel Peace Prize for conflict resolution. While many of his contemporaries turned their cricketing success into lucrative television careers, hastily written books, very bad movies and cricket punditry, Imran Khan used his cricketing fame to build Pakistan its first (and only) speciality cancer hospital.

Then he took to politics. He didn’t take to politics in the Kirti Azad or Manoj Prabhakar way (using contacts and influence to ingratiate themselves with major political parties). If he so wanted, he could have walked into any one of the major political parties in Pakistan (Nawaz Sharif is a close friend and fellow first-class cricketer), enjoyed a cabinet post for a while, and taken a dip at the trough like the rest of the lot.

Instead, he decided to take on the system and start his own party. Tehrik e Insaaf, struggled to find its feet and only won its first seat in the national assembly seven years after its formation in 2004 (Lok Paritran, take heart!).

Unlike other parties, he didn’t appeal to religion, region or race (the three Rs that form the crux of most political campaigns in South Asia—I hereby copyright that too) but, of all things, for a reform of the judiciary and the army! In most places that would send people at a political rally to sleep before you finish saying it, more so in South Asia, but he stuck to it.

Unlike Sharif and Bhutto, whom Pervez Musharraf caught in compromising positions (not with each other, you sick perverts), Imran Khan was squeaky clean and his campaign against Musharraf’s rule was the sole constant in the shifting dunes of South Asian politics (even India has never been so consistent in opposing Mushy).

Now he stands alone. Benazir is running around still trying to cut a deal, unable to make up her mind if she is a mortal enemy or mon ami of Musharraf. Sharif wants to know how he can come back and avoid prosecution for corruption, and the mullahs want to blow up anything that remotely resembles another human being carved in rock (not to mention, anyone who opposes them).

Imran Khan, on the other hand, was arrested, escaped, hid, yet came out to lead a march, was betrayed, and arrested again… under terrorism charges. It is a measure of how much Musharraf & Co fear the man that he has been detained under terrorism charges, possibly facing the death penalty.

Of course Musharraf can’t and won’t make a martyr of him. He won’t be able to find pilots to take him out of the country fast enough if he did so. What we have seen of Imran Khan’s life story so far could be the stuff of at least three or four best-selling autobiographies (Monty Panesar has two already and Ian Botham turns out one every five years) and double that many Bollywood movies (not to mention a fast-paced Hollywood flick starring George Clooney called the “Lion of Lahore”).

He is someone who comes closest to being a “hero” in the fullest sense of that word. Yet, he can hope to be, at best, a marginal, yet vocal player in the treacherous and dangerous world of Pakistani politics.

Imagine, for a moment, Partition never happened.

Imagine, for a moment, an Indian cricket team with Imran, Javed Miandad, Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev, in the same XI.

Imagine a born-leader like Imran taking to politics in India.

Imagine an Imran Khan using his charisma, his mass appeal, his vision and his leadership abilities and climbing up, to the post of Prime Minister of India.

A truly secular politician, mature enough to lead, young enough to work hard, with undeniable leadership skills, total commitment to the values of democracy, and unafraid of taking on the system. He could be a male version of Indira Gandhi without a Sanjay Gandhi to cause trouble.

Think about it.

Imran has consistently opposed US support of Musharraf, so the Communists would love him. He is a non-fundamentalist Muslim with great name-recall in the minds of middle class Indians, so the BJP would welcome him with open arms. And since Sonia Gandhi deflected attention from her “foreign origins” by appointing a Pakistani-born PM, she would also have no problem making Imran Khan PM.

He could well lead a National Unity Government and end up being the most popular and successful of all Indian PMs. Leaving aside small constitutional matters, I say he would be the best candidate to be PM of India. Being in charge of a vast, chaotic, yet undeniably energetic and developing country like India would be the perfect outlet for his talents.

What say you?

Photo courtesy: Brisbane Times