Recent interviews and public speeches by Imran Khan give a vivid picture of the experience in which people may lose both their energy and sense of the value of their mission. The loss of meaning was especially poignant in Multan where Imran appeared frustrated, tired and unhappy within his supporters who were feverishly dedicated to lofty goals to help and support others at the expense of poor management. The roots of the burnout concept seem to be embedded within the host of regular almost daily political commitments in Imran Khan’s busy schedule. It would be difficult to ignore the impact these developments could have on his burnout by the very nature of their empirical value rather than any speculative grounds. Tellingly, burnout discussions are also now appearing within the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) processions because they have grown tired of giving a ‘voice’ to the issues of political unfairness, electoral rigging and withdrawal of Nawaz Sharif, without getting any roadmap towards a final constitutional destiny. This notwithstanding, the concept of ‘naya’ (new) Pakistan has been widely recognised by the masses but the momentum risks slowing down.
In the early 1960s, US President John F Kennedy ignited a vision of public service, as he challenged people to “ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country”. Similarly, Imran Khan has launched a “war on injustice” that has caused a large number of idealistically motivated young people to come out onto the streets and join a movement for change. However, after struggling to remove Nawaz Sharif from his office they are beginning to find themselves increasingly disillusioned. They are coming to learn that the systemic factors perpetuating injustice nullify their efforts to alleviate corruption and poverty’s downstream impacts on people. They are becoming increasingly frustrated with their efforts for a quick remedy to the current political status quo.
Frustrated idealism is a defining quality of the burnout experience, mirroring the intensity of combustion. It is critical to the concept of a movement’s momentum. PTI supporters and funding providers are appalled at their diminished capacity to produce any visible compassion in the attitude of the government towards their demands. The experience of burnout is not merely an inconvenience or an occupational hazard, but a devastating attack on their political identity. The PTI has chosen a clear path of commitment, forsaking other options. Exhaustion on its own would not be so compelling since Imran may even derive fulfilment from exhausting himself through exerting extraordinary effort for a deeply valued cause. When interviewed, there is apparently no lack of compassion and diminished effectiveness in Imran Khan or his supporters but inherently embedded is the implicit risk of full burnout, which would have a much more devastating impact on their movement and its momentum.
The PTI had a great show of strength in Punjab and it can be argued that such a rapidly growing ideological group provides a collective identity that prevents burnout from occurring because of social commitment, a sense of communion, contact with the collective whole and shared values. Seen from this perspective, burnout represents the price paid of giving momentum to the tehreek (movement) and in turn confidence to Imran Khan providing the impetus and a serious challenge to other political parties in that he has public support to back his convictions. The frustration and disillusionment arising within other political parties from this widespread PTI phenomenon of ‘change’ in Pakistan is gaining strength and setting up a clash of authoritarian political values within the minds of the people in Pakistan. Whether this will lead to a midterm election or not is a different question but the panic among the PPP for its political position in Punjab and now Sindh is certainly sending a wake up call to other political parties, especially to the demoralised and muted PML-N.
As I see it, the mental revolution of PTI supporters has weakened Nawaz Sharif’s political position and authority. The traditional prestige of the prime minister in power is no longer evident after the pressure and favourable response that has been seen in Imran Khan’s public meetings. Essentially, mental revolution becomes an epidemic when people’s consciousness is raised and they become aware of the inability of the current governmental and economic systems to respond to their needs. When this is understood, the revolutionary changes that seemed impossible become possible. Simultaneously, empowered PTI supporters expect much more than ever before. As a consequence, the public’s demands for social justice, alleviation of poverty, healthcare, education, employment, gas, electricity and fighting against corruption, nepotism, electoral rigging and poor governance have intensified.
Together, these two trends have increased the frustration and emotional demands of the general public and academics. Even if they relinquish perfect ideals, embracing the values of fair democracy, anger and resentment among people has grown to such an extent now that they are unlikely to support the role of a political dynasty in the next elections. From the perspective of political change, a discrepancy is now fading away from the minds of voters; they wish to receive results and accountability in recognition of their mental revolution in the next elections. So far, Imran Khan seems to be the only one who is promising reciprocity.
In my view, this is the result of the emerging mental revolution that replaces traditionally rigid, homogeneous and predictable social revolutions by more flexible, heteronymous and continuously changing tones. This development discourages social fragmentation and calls for the building of character of the nation at the behest of positive political activism. Not only has public support for the PML-N decreased but, increasingly, political activism has prospered. People have created personal definitions of their own social and revolutionary roles because society no longer has available shared definitions. In parallel, a narcissistic culture is seen unashamedly in the PML-N and PPP that is characterised by transient, unrewarding and even combative social relationships that produce self-absorbed, manipulative individuals, who demand immediate gratification of their desires but remain perpetually unsatisfied. This combination of trends toward political activism and narcissism produces the perfect recipe for a mental revolution among the masses: the former produces strength while the latter undermines people’s coping resources. The issues verbalised in more than 150 public speeches so far by Imran Khan seem to have fostered mental change among both the young and the old. This is a rapid and profound transformation from the long oppressed, silent and thinking into a fearless voice that has taken shape in the last few months. This social transformation goes along with the added psychological pressures on Nawaz Sharif that, in turn, are making him think twice about his political strategy to deal with the current political crisis and his formidable opponent, Imran Khan.