Comedy of politics


How parties can make the system work


Words are one of the most important tools a political leader has to convey his message to the people on various policy issues. Similarly a leader uses words to inspire a nation to embark on a new journey and in many cases become an inspiration for other nations as well. Words of Jinnah, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr, Mandela and Lincoln are still inspiring people. Another tool used by a leader is to travel across the country and form a bond of trust with people. It is because of these two capabilities that a leader is able to move large mass of people towards a shared destiny. Since no one knows what’s in a person’s heart, it is words and actions that are interpreted by people to form their judgement about a leader.

It seems Pakistani politicians are disrespectful towards the words and use it without due consideration of their effects on people. Asif Ali Zardari, Nawaz Sharif, Imran Khan, Altaf Hussain, Maulana Fazlur Rahman, Asfand Yar Wali Khan and Shahbaz Sharif have used words that have put their followers to shame and made it difficult for their party members to defend. Whether it is refusing to accept corruption in government as stated by PMs of PPP, call for civil disobedience by PTI, kill and burn by PAT, appeal to NATO to enter the country by MQM, appeal to military to take over by PML-Q or dragging other politicians by PML-N, these statements are enough to break this country apart into many pieces. It is the resilience of the people that we still stand as a nation rather than the pragmatism of our politicians.

In talk shows when hard questions are asked about these mindless statements, representative of these political parties point fingers at each other’s leaders rather than confess that it has been wrong and distasteful. Another argument given is that in highly charged jalsa environment these extravagant statements are made to match the energy of the crowd. I have never understood what they mean by that. Does it mean that jalsa speeches should not be taken seriously and they are just an act without any thought or seriousness of intentions behind it? In that case all TV channels are doing a great disservice to the nation by showing these speeches live. Or does it mean that these leaders are just showmen to entertain people and nothing more than that? In both cases it means that Pakistani politicians lack intellectual depth and do not take politics as a serious activity. It is probably because of this reason that their performance, once in power, is also lackluster as there was no deep thought involved in their development of their manifestos and political platforms.

The question then is why do Pakistani politicians make these extravagant statements that are a direct threat to national unity? It is the result of a condescending attitude politicians have towards people. They think that Pakistani electorate is ignorant, gullible, frivolous and has short memory to remember election promises. But reality is far from that. Pakistani voters have made intelligent decisions whenever reasonably fair elections are held. It is not the people that are ignorant and unintelligent rather politicians themselves. The worst lot of the society engages in politics while capable people refrain from it and choose other fields to express their talent. Politics of Pakistan will not change unless and until educated and capable people decide to start participating in it.

The next question that then comes to mind is: Why don’t capable people participate in politics? There are many reasons for it but the most significant hurdle is structure and organisation of political parties. A capable man/woman would most probably have high level of self-esteem and dignity and would not be welcome to the idea to buttress top leaders of political parties to get tickets or a position of power. It works the other way around actually, as a capable person has to be approached and convinced to take a public position because it comes with a lot of sacrifice for the family and personal life and not many people are willing to assume a position in spotlight. The other hurdle is to deal with public scrutiny that an elected representative has to be exposed to, especially in a country where fictitious allegations are perceived as real. The third hurdle is that modern day politics has become highly capital incentive. In the West, where modern democracy was developed, a very elaborate method is developed so that funds and resources are available to capable people through donations and contributions.

When PTI was launched it attracted a large number of professionals in its ranks. Since most of these people were first time politicians, they made a lot of mistakes. Just when they got some political experience and the nation sought an alternative to PML-N and PPP, the party decided to change the direction by inviting traditional politicians and hand over reins of the party to them. It was a very unfortunate turn that damaged evolution of a political institution that was capable of producing new leaders. Similar thing happened to PPP and Tehrik-e-Istiqlal earlier in our history. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto after initial success dropped his founding members A J Rahim and Dr Mubashir Hassan to make way for status quo politicians. Tehrik-e-Istiqlal turned out to be a platform that produced many good politicians that are still serving the nation, but the party itself could not benefit from these people because of wrong political decisions and it seems PTI might have similar destiny if its founding members do not resist takeover of the party by the status quo.

I have said repeatedly in my op-ed pieces that the most important milestone we need to cross for stable, delivering and leading system is the evolution of political parties as institutions. That is the focus of all my politics and PTI is the platform on which I am personally working on. I encourage all of you to work inside your parties to transform them into institutions. It will not be easy but not impossible either.