Pol­i­tics as vo­ca­tion

The Pak Banker - - Front Page - Aasim Sa­j­jad Akhtar

LAMENT­ING the shenani­gans of politi­cians is a favourite pas­time of our chat­ter­ing classes. The main­stream me­dia and in­tel­li­gentsia chime in reg­u­larly too, while the ‘re­spectable’ in­sti­tu­tions of the state — the mil­i­tary and ju­di­ciary — never tire of re­mind­ing us of their ‘non-po­lit­i­cal’ cre­den­tials.

Those of us who be­lieve that the ma­lign­ing of politi­cians and pol­i­tics at large is part of the prob­lem rather than a pre­cur­sor to the so­lu­tion have al­ways been in the mi­nor­ity, given the way ‘pub­lic opin­ion’ is forged in this coun­try.

It is hard to swim against the tide at the best of times, but ar­guably the big­gest im­ped­i­ment to chal­leng­ing the anti-pol­i­tics at­ti­tudes that are com­mon­place within the ur­ban pub­lic sphere is pre­sented by main­stream politi­cians them­selves.

The on­go­ing fi­asco in­volv­ing the rul­ing party and the chief min­is­ter in Balochis­tan is a case in point. It is hard to con­vince oth­ers, let alone one­self, of the in­her­ent wis­dom of al­low­ing the po­lit­i­cal process to play out with­out in­ter­rup­tion in the face of quite ridicu­lous tugs-of-war such as that cur­rently un­fold­ing be­tween the Raisa­nis and the Um­ra­nis of the world. The chat­ter­ing classes feel vin­di­cated, and diehard democrats sick to the stomach.

Even the As­ghar Khan case has proven to be a noose around the neck of politi­cians in­so­far as they have been sub­ject to at least as much cen­sure as the gen­er­als for be­ing so ready and will­ing to make a mock­ery of the elec­toral process.

It can­not be de­nied that many of Pak­istan’s main­stream politi­cians have, at one time or the other, been will­ing ac­com­plices of the mil­i­tary es­tab­lish­ment.

But to em­pha­sise these fail­ings ad nau­seam, I think, ac­tu­ally de­flects from the crux of the mat­ter which is that po­lit­i­cal par­ties do not ex­er­cise any au­ton­omy vis-à-vis the king­mak­ers oper­at­ing the per­ma­nent state ap­pa­ra­tuses.

In other words, ours is a coun­try in which po­lit­i­cal par­ties func­tion not as co­her­ent or­gan­i­sa­tional en­ti­ties that have any kind of mean­ing­ful in­sti­tu­tional his­tory, but sim­ply as ag­glom­er­a­tions of in­di­vid­u­als or parochial group­ings that seek to se­cure ac­cess to the state. In­deed one is hard-pressed to come up with a long list of ca­reer politi­cians who have been at­tached to only one po­lit­i­cal party throughout the course of their po­lit­i­cal lives.

Ide­o­logues of re­li­gio-po­lit­i­cal par­ties are, to an ex­tent, ex­cep­tions to this rule, but they have en­joyed a deep con­sen­sual re­la­tion­ship with the state for so long that they are even more com­plicit in the de­mean­ing of pol­i­tics than the av­er­age politi­cian at­tached to main­stream par­ties.

Ethno-na­tion­al­ist par­ties also fall into a dif­fer­ent cat­e­gory, be­cause of their rel­a­tively con­fronta­tional pos­ture to­wards the state since the lat­ter’s in­cep­tion. How­ever, these par­ties have suf­fered sig­nif­i­cant frag­men­ta­tion over the past few decades, and, for some ethno-na­tion­al­ists if not all, prin­ci­pled ide­o­log­i­cal po­si­tions have in­creas­ingly been sac­ri­ficed at the altar of ex­pe­di­ency.

The sad state of our po­lit­i­cal par­ties has deep his­tor­i­cal roots in the sense that the British Raj in­sti­tu­tion­alised a mode of pol­i­tics that left no space for po­lit­i­cal or­gan­i­sa­tions with a mind or life of their own, and in fact crim­i­nalised such or­ga­ni­za­tions.

In post-par­ti­tion Pak­istan the state has main­tained the same pos­ture, and, from 1977 on­wards, but­tressed this ‘colo­nial’ mode of pol­i­tics by co-opt­ing the modernising so­cial forces that may have, un­der dif­fer­ent cir­cum­stances, played a much more pro­gres­sive his­tor­i­cal role.

The ques­tion, as ever, is what can now be done to re­dress the ex­ist­ing sit­u­a­tion. In the first in­stance, the pres­sures ex­erted by ob­jec­tive pro­cesses of change will them­selves force some re­think­ing on the part of main­stream politi­cians about their con­duct.

It is, for in­stance, in­creas­ingly un­ten­able for any claimant to power to con­done or wel­come in­volve­ment of the mil­i­tary in the po­lit­i­cal realm. Rhetor­i­cal flour­ishes of course should not nec­es­sar­ily be taken at face value but shifts in po­lit­i­cal dis­course do trans­late, even if af­ter some time, to changes in po­lit­i­cal prac­tice.

Sec­ond, and very im­por­tantly, main­stream politi­cians who rely on their fa­mil­iar­ity with a very cyn­i­cal pa­tron­age-dom­i­nated cul­ture of pol­i­tics must be chal­lenged by those who wish to prop­a­gate a pol­i­tics of change.

We must, in short, bring ide­ol­ogy back in. Since the end of the Cold War, even on the left of the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum, ide­ol­ogy has been viewed in sus­pi­cious terms. And while it is im­per­a­tive to move on from the dog­mas of the 20th-cen­tury left pol­i­tics, we can­not aban­don our com­mit­ment to abid­ing ideas or prin­ci­ples that should in­form pol­i­tics.

Im­por­tantly a pol­i­tics of change, built on the back of a co­her­ent po­lit­i­cal party, can only emerge if the po­lit­i­cal process is al­lowed to continue un­in­ter­rupted, not­with­stand­ing the an­tics of main­stream politi­cians.

Too many po­lit­i­cal work­ers have spent too much of their life­time sim­ply strug­gling for the restora­tion of the demo­cratic process, and too lit­tle time ac­tu­ally deep­en­ing democ­racy and mak­ing it re­spon­sive to the needs of work­ing peo­ple.

There are, of course, main­stream po­lit­i­cal par­ties such as the PPP and ANP which pride them­selves on be­ing ‘ide­o­log­i­cal’ en­ti­ties with a hard core of com­mit­ted po­lit­i­cal work­ers. It is true that these par­ties have re­tained some of their ‘ide­o­log­i­cal’ colour over a rea­son­ably long pe­riod of time, and also that their jiyalas continue to proudly wear their party hats and boast about its sac­ri­fices.But the re­al­ity is that these or­ganic seg­ments of the party have been largely marginalised by the po­lit­i­cal con­trac­tors in the up­per ech­e­lons. This is why there are more than a few jiyalas out­side the pale of the party in its cur­rent man­i­fes­ta­tion; many of these oth­er­wise diehard work­ers do not op­pose the party in pub­lic but do more than com­plain about the na­ture and di­rec­tion of pol­i­tics amongst them­selves. What all of these po­lit­i­cal work­ers are clear about is that pol­i­tics, whether prin­ci­pled or not, is im­pos­si­ble with­out a po­lit­i­cal party.

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