Prepping up Usman Buzdar

Prepping up Usman Buzdar
Left with scant few choices, PTI marketing is sharing the booklet on social media. Bereft of actual performance and policies, it remains to be seen how far this campaign can support Usman Buzdar.

Imran Yaqub Khan

Politics and marketing can never be separated from each other. Marketing done well can create the right image, which can get you through the pre-elections and post-elections stages. While pre-elections campaigns can help get you to victory, once the dust has settled, then the marketing of any individual is based on his or her performance.

In the past, politicians were marketed as ‘ordinary people’, just one of the guys. This man had a relatable family, a relatable struggle, and a persistent passion for his country and its problems. This was a potent form of personal branding, one in which the pros and cons of the candidate or governing figure were laid bare.

Former American president Barrack Obama’s election campaign was one of the most successful ones that managed to capitalize on the voter’s hopes. Appropriately titled ‘Hope’, the campaign was built expressively on the desires of the voters. Created exclusively for the digital age, the campaign had extensive strategizing, research and planning incorporated into the design. 

Social media takes the marketing campaign to those parts of the country that the candidate cannot visit himself. The digital content must be of the sort that begs to be shared.

When he took on favorite Hilary Clinton in the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump devised a far more interesting marketing plan for his own campaign. ‘Make America Great Again’, thundered the reality TV star, touching the heart of the Republican supporter, while Hilary struggled to unite Democrat voters under a single umbrella. Trump’s slogan was open for interpretation. His supporter could interpret is as loosely, or as narrowly as he wanted. It resonated so strongly among the Republican base that despite never being an active member of the party, Trump walked away as the candidate.

Hilary Clinton, on the other hand, kept her marketing conventional, concentrating on Hispanics, African Americans and women. Her campaign was endorsed by many entertainers, actors, intellectuals, musicians and authors. Hilary’s campaign believed that it was a huge disadvantage that Trump did not have these celebrity endorsements. In the end, though, the simplicity of Trump’s message won him the presidency.

Much like Obama, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf promised change and waltzed its way into the treasury benches. However, since then, its performance has been so below par as to not impress even its most hardline supporters. At the center, the government was confronted with huge problems related to diplomatic and economic challenges. But the real problem has been the party’s performance in Punjab. During his recent trip to Lahore, Prime Minister Imran Khan again said that he was satisfied with the Punjab Government, many others do not share his view.

Once the campaign is over, slogans do not work, policies and performance do. Punjab, arguably the center of Pakistani politics, was used to Shahbaz Speed, the nickname for the former Chief Minister, who would tackle all large scale projects, hospitals, universities, natural disasters and epidemics with the same characteristic pace, is unsatisfied with Imran Khan’s discovery, aka Wasim Akram Plus aka Usman Buzdar. Repeated criticism and questions about Punjab’s performance forced the Prime Minister to himself visit Lahore.

The bureaucracy that was tainted with corruption allegations by the PTI in such projects as Nandipur, Metro Bus, Orange Train and was accused of being involved in the Model Town incident, have now been given the responsibility of turning Usman Buzdar into Waseem Akram Plus and presenting him as such.

Imran khan brushed aside all criticism leveled at the erstwhile Buzdar, refusing to pay much attention to flaws in governance. He fell back on the same trope he had earlier accused others of, i.e. using government funds for personal promotions. Admitting that the law and order situation in the province had deteriorated along with the governance, the Prime Minister yet again praised his hand-picked Chief Minister and said that Buzdar was working quietly on reforms, he needs to promote his work more.

Governance matters might still be on the back burner but promotion has certainly been given the driving seat. A booklet describing Buzdar’s feats has been printed on card paper in four bright colors. Punjab’s Information Minister, Fayyaz ul Hasan Chohan re-appeared on TV screens and declared that Buzdar was in fact like Sher Shah Suri. We all know what Suri was famous for, but Chohan left us in the dark as to the equivalent revolutionary step Buzdar has taken. Instead, the Minister distributed the booklet among the journalists and read out a few choice pointers.

For all practical purposes, Punjab Government’s performance can be gauged by the fact that four Inspector Generals and three Chief Secretaries have had to be changed under Buzdar. If law and order was being maintained, if thaana culture was being curtailed, why did four IGs need to walk away? If administrative matters were all sorted out, why were three Chief Secretaries changed in less than eighteen months?

Left with scant few choices, PTI marketing is sharing the booklet on social media. Bereft of actual performance and policies, it remains to be seen how far this campaign can support Usman Buzdar.

This article first appeared in Urdu in Daily Dunya,