It is rare for Imran Khan to be at a loss of words. The cricketer-turned-politician is known for holding fort when standing on the podium, microphone in hand with adulating supporters hanging on to his every word.
For those who consider his word to be gospel truth, there is no questioning what the Great Leader says. But there is an equally vocal army of detractors, including those who had once placed their faith in the man responsible for the country’s most glorious victory in the sporting arena.
These detractors gripe that repetition has become the one refrain that colours his oratory at public gatherings, in televised speeches and in interviews. If you have heard one speech, you have heard them all, they say. Many hope he will enlist the services of a writer so his speeches graduate from a regurgitation of worn tropes, some of which attained such a level of promiscuity that they merited their very own Imran Bingo game. You can play it every time he takes the microphone.
Now, as the PTI chief launches a countrywide movement to pave his way back into power, we made a list of points that we are absolutely confident Imran Khan will mention during his address at Mianwalli.
Lessons from the sports arena
Imran the Politician couldn’t have existed without Imran the Cricketer and so it comes as no surprise that his speeches are peppered with references from his days as an elite sportsman, how he dealt with adversity and rallied troops after defeat. A generous helping of cricketing clichés are now part of mainstream political diction and some such as “neutral umpire” even took on a new life as double entendres.
Political struggle over two decades
Imran Khan’s “political struggle” started in 1996 and he likes to tell people that as a world class sportsman who had everything in the world, there was no need for him to join the world of politics. “I could have become a commentator or taken up work as a cricket coach or administrator,” he often says. “Instead, I decided to join politics for the sake of my countrymen, even though God has given me more than what I need.”
This is also his cue for taking pot shots at political rivals, including scathing attacks on dynastic politics and the two dominant political parties of Pakistan, the PML-N and PPP.
Me, myself and Imran
What are we to make of the persist references to himself: the “main” (me)? His use of the third person register clocked in at 143 times according to one media organisation that counted them during a 45-minute televised speech on April 1. That is a little over 3 times per minute.
Imran’s speeches are religiously tinged with references to the vision of “Riyasat-e-Madina” that he wants to become a reality in Pakistan. He loves to cite from Islamic history and has on more than one occasion claimed to be well-versed in it.
Of late, he has started citing his achievement in context of Islamophobia, including the UN designating a day for combating it.
At the March 27 rally he started to refer to the concept of “Amar bil maroof” which stands for “enjoin the good and forbid the bad”. And thus, he positions himself as a champion of truth, justice and honesty while painting his rivals as evil in the religious light.
Imran’s latest bogeyman is the US which he accuses of being part of a conspiracy to oust him from power. He cited a confidential cable by a Pakistani diplomat that allegedly details the threat.
Imran is likely to point out that the US decided to have him ousted—with the help of the “three stooges” referring to the PDM leadership—as he refused to compromise on Pakistan’s interest and sought an independent foreign policy.
He can also cite his Russia visit, which coincided with its attack on Ukraine, as another reason that he was ousted.
Another favourite of his is the “absolutely not” slogan that US was angry with him for refusing to offer bases in Pakistan so that it could launch attacks into Afghanistan following the withdrawal. He can also cite the phone call that Pervez Musharraf says he received in the wake of 9/11 with America threatening to “bomb Pakistan back to the stone age” if it didn’t comply with the American demand for use of Pakistani airspace for operations against Al Qaeda.
Corruption is a strong theme with Imran Khan, whose supporters strongly believe he has a clean reputation. He accuses his rivals of money laundering, corruption, cheating and has on numerous occasions claimed that the “coterie of thieves” (ergo Zardari, Shehbaz and Fazl) have banded together so they can make their cases vanish.
“I will never agree to an NRO,” Imran often says, while vowing to bring back “looted wealth”. He often cites properties owned by Pakistani politicians abroad while demanding his rivals show proof how they acquired the wealth to acquire them. (Of late questions, however, regarding his own corruption have surfaced including claims that he sold the gifts that he received as head of government. Moreover, there are reports that he is yet to return an official vehicle that provided to him as prime minister.)
He is also expected to bash his former allies, including the Jahangir Tareen and Aleem Khan-led factions, who are now siding with the government.
His favourite punching bag remains Maulana Fazlur Rehamn, the JUI-F and PDM chief and suave political operator who has managed to stay relevant in Pakistan’s political arena.
Fazl is “diesel”, the incumbent PM Shehbaz Sharif is a “boot polisher” or “shobazz” (show off) while Zardari is “Ten Percent” while the three of them together are “The Three Stooges”. Bilawal can be mocked for his language, including a recent spoonerism that went viral. Maryam has been targeted with ageist remarks along with the usual rigmarole about her involvement in corruption.
Call to action
Imran is expected to announce the date of the Islamabad public gathering that he has promised will bring the country to a standstill and force the government to announce early elections.
Beyond that, little is expected in terms of action from the public gathering.