Latest in the string of by-election defeats for PTI was in the NA 19, Haripur constituency, and an ordinary defeat it was not. Whilst in the general election 2013 PTI’s loss margin was very narrow, of circa 500 votes, in the by election it exploded in PTI’s face at over 38,000 votes. What followed was a fiasco of almost fatal proportions, with the farce element prominent.

Clearly, PTI’s defeat in Haripur was multifactorial, the major factors being its choice of candidate, its policies and governance so far, and infighting within the party.  Most ironically, the PTI’s candidate was the antithesis of what its leader had always promised: not a new face or a commoner, but a well to do, jaded politician from a generational political family who is known to be unconcerned about his constituents. The PML-N’s candidate, for a change, represented the very change that Imran Khan had been constructing mirages out of: of ordinary background, in touch, and popular. As for PTI’s policies or governance, no one ever came to know of its policies in practice as it was too busy in sit-ins and protests, nor did it find time to govern the province it had won according to the party’s chairman himself. The infighting in the party is now an established fact.

However, the appalling reaction of party supporters heaped all blame on Imran Khan’s wife, who, it is said, was leading the campaign and had addressed a rally in support of the PTI’s candidate. PTI supporters, fondly referred to as Youthias, flung misogyny, scorn, naked abuse and much else at their leader’s wife.  Not withstanding the fact that the defeat in Haripur can in no way be laid at his wife’s door, one particular criticism, that of allowing ‘family politics’ was both, intriguingly, justified and unjustified. A family member of a political leader, in principle, should be free to participate in politics. Every, and any, family member should be free to indulge in political activity, establish their credentials, and exhibit their experience before being awarded an important role in party affairs. However, nepotism, which was clearly visible in Reham Khan’s case, is, needless to say, wrong, with Imran Khan having excoriated and railed against it repeatedly in the past. Yet, his wife was seen making swift gains within the party, trampling upon other party leaders who had worked for years, if not decades, and meddling in KP government affairs without even basic party membership. Not only ambitious elements like Shah Mehmood Qureshi etc. were incensed, but so were party supporters who are wont to buy into every utterance of their leader without question. For the supporters, this rang too much of ‘purana Pakistan’ their leader had sworn repeatedly to wipe out, with choice epithets for traditional Pakistani political families.

A mere couple of days after the torrent of abuse commenced by the Youthias against the wife, came a barrage of tweets like early morning cannon fire from the leader himself expressing disgust at the attacks on the wife and barring her from any party politics. It was interesting to note his first ever condemnation of social media abuse and harassment of a woman. Never before had it caught his attention that his fans and voters partake regularly in misogyny and naked abuse of women opposed to his politics. As to banning her from political activity, it betrayed not only that the erstwhile heir apparents had won the day, but that the Haripur defeat had once again presented itself to him as the golden opportunity to blame anyone but himself for things having gone wrong. True to form, Imran Khan positioned the ban on his wife as politics of integrity. But this begs the question as to where that integrity was when she was making political statements, attacking party opponents, addressing rallies and leading campaigns - till all came to naught.

Characteristically mendacious, Imran Khan claimed in that volley of tweets that Reham Khan had only participated in party events at the behest of party workers; that she had campaigned in Karachi at his request ‘to fight the fear factor’ in Karachi and get ‘the women out to vote’. It is quite a different matter that the constituency where husband and wife had set out to bring women voters to the polling booths has no history of under-representation of women voters. Clearly, she was launching herself/ was being launched in politics, but had an unfortunate crash landing. Now to implicitly blame her for the Haripur defeat by banning her from political activity, Imran Khan is once again exhibiting his characteristic hubris.

The only sobering aspect of this fracas is that his criticism of other political families came back to bite him – and bite his wife harder. Regrettable even more is the fact that it took the most vile abuse of his wife at the hands of his disciples is what took him see what he has been encouraging all along in the youth of this country.