Of lions and sheep: The problem with PML-N’s narrative
Originally appeared here:
The protesters have been labelled enemies of the state. The protestors have been labelled as foreign conspirators.The protestors have been labelled terrorists. At least the government is consistent in its policy of negotiating with terrorists.
The lack of a clear narrative only complexes the possibility of a diplomatic process. Is Imran Khan wanted for inciting violence by the police or is he wanted back in Parliament by the government?
Sheikh Rasheed is criticised for hate speech and Imran Khan is criticised for using language unbecoming of a popular leader, yet the ministers from the government engage in similar behaviour.
I believe the problem is twofold; an ever changing party policy that is not clarified to all its representatives and the personal egos of party representatives appearing on television.
Also read: Will it ever end?
On one channel, a government representative paints the government as the sitting duck, helpless in the face of violent mobs; being stalked and preyed by the wild wolf of D-chowk.
On another channel, a government representative stays true to their party's election symbol and roars threats of violence and arrests to all representatives of the PTI.
For the love of God, decide what the protestors are. Terrorists or mummy-daddy weaklings?
With all the recent acts of violence, the cat is firmly out of the bag. The Hyde to the government's Jekyll tends to shows its ugly self far too often for anyone's liking.
You cannot continue to play the victim after throwing the full resources of the state in your favour. Chaudhry Nisar releases a statement promising the protestors will be met with the full force of the writ of the state.
An hour later, Pervaiz Rasheed holds a press conference claiming helplessness in the face of the violet mobs of protestors.
An hour later, Saad Rafique vows to respond to Imran Khan by 'stooping down to his level'.
An hour later, news breaks of Ishaq Dar welcoming PTI for negotiations.
Where is the consistency?
Read through: Bad faith negotiations?
You cannot play both the lion and the sheep. If the government's policy is to be against street protests, they should prevent Rana Sanaullah from appearing on television and challenging opponents to a street fight.
Every time the government is able to win over supporters by painting PTI as the antagonist of this story, they get their buttons pushed by a PTI leader and completely lose the plot.
Nothing strengthens the PTI's movement more than the constant illusion of chaos, which the government's dodgy narrative only adds to further. When you, being the government, say that nobody knows what is going on, maybe you shouldn't be in the government. Right?
However, is the PML-N think tank really so thick-skulled that they cannot even fake a sense of calm?
Instead of restricting the supporters of the PTI to a limited procession or movement, the PML-N support in Faisalabad played right into their hands by engaging in a fist fight; and so, the tiger vs the lion catfight continues.
The PTI, meanwhile, has realised that there is more than one way to skin a cat; they have dragged the government out of their burrows and into the battlefield.
See: Activist’s death helps PTI enforce shutdown
This is no longer the case of an opposition party causing the government agitation; this is now a clash of egos between the PTI and the PML-N — in fact, it has been like that for quite some time now.
The PTI has accepted that they are only doing this to bring the government to the negotiation table. What more can they do short of admitting defeat?
In their attempts in trying to shame the PTI leaders, the PML-N might end up losing everything. Instead of offering them an olive branch, the government is basking in the possibilities of further insulting Imran Khan and his party members. Had they stuck to their guns — the metaphoric ones — this impasse would have long been behind them
I do not know what the PTI's plan D is, but if the government's plan is to keep feigning chaos and disillusionment, things could still spiral out of control for them.
Nawaz Sharif had publicly asked for a judicial commission and the government had shown a willingness to negotiate and relative flexibility. Their PR narrative so far painted them as the sheep, the victims.
Why the aloof attitudes now?
Look through: Poll reform process
The moment they felt safe, the lions emerged out of the sheep’s clothing. It may have been heralded as a moment of victory for their loyalists but for the neutrals, it exposed the shallowness of the government’s narrative and strengthened Imran’s position.
The only reason Imran has been able to keep the momentum is because the government keeps adding fuel to the fire.
And the problem with the PML-N is, they do not want a revolt but they do not want to stop being the lions either. If only they could stop falling prey to their own egos and not resort to violence to ‘teach them a lesson’, they may be able to still win some sympathy.
By now, everyone knows the hand Imran has and continues to overplay.
By now, everyone has seen the claws PML-N has, too.
But if they keep resorting to violence, we will be moving into uncharted territory. And, the lion isn't king there.