The shifty cleric from Canada has called off his Islamabad dharna. He says he will now go around the country spreading awareness, holding two day dharnas in every city. In other words, while keeping the option of a revolution ala Tahrir Square open, his PAT has decided to join mainstream parties in the undeclared election campaign that’s brewing on the horizon. Does that mean he is not going back to Canada any time soon?

When he came last time to derail the 2013 elections, he couldn’t do much and didn’t stay for long. But that was obviously a water-testing introduction to the politics of disruption. This time, he’s come prepared and hopes to accomplish more. He’s here for the long haul. Not content with shadowing and damaging PTI’s popular movement, he is gearing up to distort the evolving political ethos of the country and hijack the change knocking at Pakistan’s door.

Before leaving for his Inqilab march which was so blatantly designed to cast its shadow on PTI’s Azadi march, he told his supporters that they should basically kill anyone who dared leave the dharna before their demands were met. Shaheed kar do, he said. In a strange twist to the concept of martyrdom, he was asking his followers to ‘martyr’ those fleeing the battle. Later, though he clarified that the order was meant for him and Imran Khan, he didn’t bother to explain how he could ask his followers to kill the leader of another political party for not following his plans, and how that would elevate the one fleeing to the status of a shaheed.

Throughout his high-pitched campaign, he’s introduced the idiom of violence with an unwavering zest. Much as one would support justice for those killed by the police in Model Town and demand that those responsible for ordering the brutal action are punished, let us be clear about one thing. Qadri was talking about a bloody revolution even before the unfortunate, and still mysterious, incident happened. The dead bodies might have provided more meat to Qadri’s idiom of violence but they did not generate it. His tone was not very different before they fell.

His role in precipitating the events on the night of August 30 in Islamabad needs closer examination as well. Would the violent confrontation between the police and the protesters been any different if his PAT workers had not broken down the gate of the parliament house and herded women and children onto its lawns? Would the PTI have peacefully marched to the Prime Minister’s house minus Qadri and the jalao gherao tactics of his trained activists adorning gas masks and carrying dandas with nails? But how could Qadri be left behind?

From the very beginning of the PTI campaign, Qadri and his PAT had essentially tailed it. Qadri announced his Inqilab march to coincide with PTI’s Azadi march. He ended up at the same spot. He shoddily mimicked the party’s idiom of change and sham democracy, his container camped not far from Imran Khan. He cleverly borrowed from the PTI’s constitutional demands and mutated them into utopian calls with no roadmap. To upstage the political demands of the second largest party in the country, he employed high-pitched rhetoric, shrieking of violence and chaos. And when PTI decided to take its protest to other cities, he decided to do the same.

In the extensive media coverage that the dharnas got in the initial days, PTI had to constantly compete with PAT, though they were projected as partners. To every speech by Imran Khan, there was one by Qadri. To every interview, there was an interview. To every PTI talk-show participant, there was a PAT participant. Whether it was negotiations with the government or the political jirga, the media reported on the two parallel shows, and they were given equal weight. If there were any possibilities of a political settlement between the government and the PTI, the shrieking distortions introduced by PAT ensured that they would not mature.

It is hard to understand the eagerness of our media to treat a rabble-rouser from Canada with loyal but limited supporters at par with a robust political party with national support and a sizeable representation in the parliament. Our media didn’t bother to notice how different the politically aware PTI supporters were from the supporters of Qadri hankering after pieces of tissue papers laden with his sweat.

Though the PTI leadership is quite self-sufficient in damaging the party’s cause, Qadri has done more damage to it than they realize. Those who thought that his parallel show would benefit the party’s protest by adding to the numbers and advised the PTI leadership not to distance itself from Qadri’s protest categorically, don’t think very differently from our well-entrenched political parties that the PTI says it is fighting. But then PTI has collected its share of electables and that is how they are expected to think.

Now that Qadri has decided to end his parallel dharna at Islamabad, what does it mean for the PTI? Can it hope to take its agenda further without Qadri distorting the discourse and stealing quite a bit of its share of limelight? Qadri is clearly determined to continue his politics of destabilization and anarchy through other means. And if the PTI wishes to push things towards a more democratic polity, it will have to stay clear of his shenanigans and rely on the strength of its charged supporters to bring in the change that it has got so many Pakistanis excited about. It will have to discard the mentality of electables.

In the season of jalsas already upon us, one request to friends in the media; please notice the individuals before you count the crowds they form. Surely, there’s a vast difference between a collection of people held hostage or bussed with benefits and a crowd of politically aware activists and supporters. As compared to the bored listless gatherings seen at the jalsas of PAT, or MQM, PML-N and lately PPP as well, the PTI crowd is enthusiastic and involved. Unfortunately, even the PTI leadership does not seem to value this distinction very much.

 The writer is a freelance columnist.

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