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Four reasons why PTI could not change our political culture

Published Jul 23, 2013 04:40pm

Many enthusiasts of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf are disappointed that the tsunami could not happen. The more considerate analysts, however, think that tsunami or not, the party has done well. It has risen from the status of minnows to become the second most voted party of the country in almost no time. Its gain is substantial and its future bright. I tend to agree but what is disappointing for me is that the PTI is not only the change it had promised to be, it isn't any change, not even the change of faces in many instances. It has joined the fray and become one of the lot. I am afraid that by the next elections, it will be hard to distinguish it from others. Here are the four reasons why I think so.

Number 1: PTI walas are blind followers too

Just like their PPP and PMLN counterparts, the PTI walas take their party as a cult, if not as a religious sect. They are the believers, the followers and the mureeds and I find it antithetical to being a political worker.

They are not critical of their party policies, stands and statements. Being critical of 'their own' party policy is considered a sin in our political culture and PTI has not changed that. The behavior is graded as a kind of disloyalty which in essence is a feudal trait. So instead of engaging with their party fellows and opponents in productive political dialogues on issues of importance, they take it upon themselves to defend, justify and cover up all of their party leaders' deeds and words.

Their main locus standi in politics is that while all the rest are corrupt, they stand tall, untainted and clean. Their main vow is to rid the country of corruption which they present as the panacea. But when the party allows some of the known corrupt politicians into its ranks belying its biggest motto, its workers not only do not object to it but keep supporting their party with the same enthusiasm. That's so typical of Pakistani parties.

Political leaders love hordes of unthinking followers. They do not promote critical thinking among their cadre nor do they institute mechanisms within their parties to facilitate critical appraisal of party policies. The same holds for the PTI.

Number 2: They hate and demean their opponents

I think a certain level of inebriation with self righteousness is allowed to all political workers but it becomes a problem when it gets so much to ones head that they start identifying themselves as a different species and superior ones, of course. This arrogance effectively blocks the way of political dialogue and debate and even public interaction with others.

PTI walas have three responses for their opponents. They consider the good majority of all those out of their party flanks as senseless goofs destined to suffer. They are the unfortunate lot; the wretched of the earth who have failed to see the light and missed the opportunity of their lifetime just because they could not recognise it. They mostly live in villages. The PTI walas pity them.

On the second level are those who are not the simpletons, stuck in traditional rots as they are semi-educated, live in cities, small or big and have articulated political pursuits. But what perplexes the PTI walas is that if someone has even an iota of political sense, how can he or she support any party other than theirs? So they are the ones who have been tricked into submission and blindfolded by their leaders. They frustrate the PTI walas, who think that these political puppets only deserve contempt.

Then, the last is the gang of gazetted criminals – the upper crust of their opponent parties, their leaders and representatives. They are all branded as looters and plunderers and the main cause of all the ills of this country, unless and until they are reborn as PTI stalwarts.

Number 3: They too suffer from the conspiracy theory syndrome

When it comes to theorising political phenomena, the favorite ploy of all Pakistani parties is to define them as a conspiracy, mostly hatched by foreign forces. That reflects upon the intellectual poverty of the party ideologues. They have no vision, no plausible answers to the complex questions that the current political discourse poses.

Conspiracy theories are easy to sell. They put the blame on forces that exist outside ones purview and their acts are beyond one's ability to deliver. So there is little that could be done except scolding the evil forces. The modus operandi of these forces is invisible and complex so any event could be twisted to fit the theory. So you have suicide attacks by forces that target innocent Muslims and then attacks that are carried out by forces so that Muslims could be blamed for these.

From the Taliban to Malala, from Balochistan to the Mumbai attacks and from Ayla Malik's fake degree to Aleem Khan's multi-billion rupees land scam all are not what they appear to the naked eye. They are all conspiracies.

Conspiracy theories defy that politics is a comprehensible science, and that interests of groups and classes can be articulated and pursued as political causes through carefully designed strategies. They instead, convert people into hapless victims who have no other recourse than to bow before their charismatic leaders.

In Pakistan's political culture, conspiracy theories substitute a sound political ideology; they proxy for long term vision. PTI's reliance on conspiracy theories is no less, if not more, than others.

Number 4: Their party is not structurally different from any other

A party with a democratic structure has never happened to this country. There are cults driven by 'charismatic' personalities. There are mafias run by gangs of criminals. There are congregations lead by clerics. There are dynasties and fiefdoms but no party. PTI boasted to gift the country one, but it hasn't.

None of its acts show it is any different from the others. The PTI party elections were a sham. Organising intra-party elections is a legal requirement for all. There are 250 political parties registered with the Election Commission of Pakistan and they have all fulfilled the requirement. Doing the same ritual with the exalted media fan fare does not make them any different. More importantly, this democratic superiority does not reflect in any of the party's behaviors and decisions. The Chief Minister of KPK has three of his close relatives elected on the seats reserved for women. The same is the case with the parties that did not have 'democratic party structures' and are branded as dynastic by the PTI. So whether or not the PTI had genuine intra-party elections, the political culture, the end result remains the same.

The same is the situation in all other aspects. PTI too awarded tickets to the same old clique of politicians that included fraudsters, tax evaders and fake degree holders.

But what's more irksome is that every now and then we come to know about some silent, selfless warriors waging a heroic struggle within the party and sacrificing their career, life and what not, and then suddenly they find reasons to revolt. These valiant revolutionaries who had, we are told, forgone opportunities worth millions of dollars and instead opted to serve the party generally fall out for very petty gains. Even more irritating are their antics that follow the bold revolts. Shireen Mazari resigns and rejoins. Fauzia Kasuri resigns and rejoins. This makes it evident that the party has not institutionalised internal decision making and like any other, it too, survives on a system of patronage flowing from the top.