Tense in political culture

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

THE PTI government which has now been in office for more than two years still approaches the discharge of good governance primarily in the past and future tenses. It focuses unblinkingly on the black legacy of the tenures of the PML(N) and PPP that remains the prime mover (Pray, why not disenabled?) in Pakistan’s current dire civic and fiscal straits; and the rhetoric then moves into the future that the PTI will assuredly make golden. The trouble is the electorate tends to dwell more in the present.

The government is not unaware of this and, seeking to alleviate present distress, the PM reassures citizens by reiterating there will be no NRO: Once accountability puts paid to the PPP’s and PML(N)’s rotten dynastic party platforms and wickedly selfish unpatriotic leaders, national progress will be unimpeded. The political opposition is unmindful of public weal, and limited to saving its leaders’ skins. It is even heedless of national security. If this were indeed so the PTI would not need to point it out – the vote-banks would. No matter how they may be cheated, voters are not fools. For ordinary people the bald fact is the PTI commands present political space and is strongly affecting political culture.

The question arises: for the better or the worse? There is a wide feeling that the PTI hasn’t done much. Actually this is untrue. The PTI entrenched officially has made sadly effective inroads into respect for constitutionality and parliamentary process at both federal and provincial levels. There is indeed a dynamic to seek a higher moral good than any of the constitutions devised for any country could ever embody. But it cannot be determined or even solely interpreted and then imposed as a governmental mode by demagogues, self-sustaining oligarchs, juntas, reformists, in a free multi-layered polity.

Apart from inexcusable arrogance in as good as claiming a patent on concretizing the sublime concepts of the riasat-i-Medina; the PTI’s political strategy continues to rely on playing upon a psychological mindset of mass deprivation and rage. The ‘other’ is the cause of all ‘your’ problems. The corruption narrative was a route to power and political change. That purpose achieved, the outcome is not one of a freshly-minted government redressing grievance, but that of a party, now federally as well as provincially empowered, continuing to rashly use any and every grievance to obtain its own exclusive political dominance, and seizing on unwished critique as a pretext for curbs on the freedoms vital to democratic government and a healthy polity. In fact, Pakistan presents a strong historical case that totalitarianism and intolerance of other points of view have proved by far greater threats to national wellness.

The mainstream parties the PTI has yet to undermine completely, were relegated to oppositional status in the 2018 electoral result except in Sindh. It is an interesting phenomenon that popular sentiment and representation in the provincial capitals of Sindh and the precariously coalitional Punjab provide substantial vocal and functional local challenges for the provincial governments: Another reason for the PTI and the establishment, ever on the same page, to propagate systemic change?

That too is an oft-tried panacea.

Whatever the form of government, oppositional organs gain or regain importance when matters begin verging on the critical and citizens are restless and dissatisfied. The mainstream parties are mercilessly mocked and belittled. They appeared dormant or quelled. Whether it is because they have been pushed to the wall, or because they no longer feel the greater democratic wisdom and national good lies in forbearance; they have thrown down the gauntlet: And the PTI seems to have picked it up with a loud Hurrah. Will the antagonists honour any umpire’s verdict or will recourse to fire-fighting be necessitated?

When a charge of sedition against a thrice-elected PM is lingering un-quashed, we may be morphed into a tinderbox: A significant segment of the popular vote has not relinquished the mainstream parties. Traitors by association could number thousands. Tactics of political polarization can go too far. Ethnic, nationalist and sectarian wedges exist. If we allow them play we could become our own victims.

(text 682 words)