THIS is a moment to celebrate for those who must value idea and ideology. We have not one or two ideological politicians rising to the occasion. We have a whole variety of them making their appearance in the run-up to a general election that must be fought to the bitter end, ideally in the company of less ideological souls.
This is not at all a rare happening, even for a country as confused about the whole idea as ours. Every now and then, there comes a point in Pakistan where the ideological worker raises his or her head above the muck created by power politics. The ideological worker chants slogans, earns some applause from the audience — mostly useless unemployed people like you and me who cannot find their ‘due’ place in political parties with any following — and then the ideological worker disappears just as unceremoniously as he had emerged.
However there are also distressing and demanding times when an ideological worker may be pulled out of obscurity and put in charge of the deceptively grand task of educating the people, crafting the likeminded from amongst them. Like N.D. Khan, an old and almost forgotten PPP name who has just been rediscovered and appointed as the head of some kind of a study regime within the party.
The people know that only those who are not really vying for power have the time to indulge the ideologically inclined.
This is reflective of the old technique a party practising power politics uses when it wants to make a statement about its commitment to ideology, for want of a better cause or slogan to build its case for power on. Mr Khan now has the unenviable job of reviving the PPP’s image as a party that worked by certain ideals and rules based on popular aspirations.
The PPP is struggling, as a national party. The parties which believe they have a better chance at capturing power in the near future may not be too bothered about wasting their time on niceties such as study circles. They would be best advised to take any talk about ideology or departures from it in their stride. Especially when ignoring the complaints of old ideological workers is likely to strengthen the party’s image as a real contender for power in the eyes of the people. The people here know that only those who are not really vying for power have the time to indulge the ideologically inclined.
Thus Imran Khan is absolutely on target when he tries to explain to PTI followers the difference between a party and a club. A club can maintain its exclusivity by following a strict admission policy whereas a party must move forward by including a variety of people. Even this rather long explanation is made redundant by the more recent reality-inspired stance that the PTI chief has taken. He says there is an election to be won and this objective will require entry of all kinds to the PTI. In other words, he is saying that power cannot be won by the ideological creatures. From Mr Khan’s pragmatic approach, it will ensue that an ideological politician is someone not quite relevant to what’s happening around him. But does the formula apply to Mian Nawaz Sharif, who says he has now, finally, turned into a nazriyati or ideological politician?
Indeed, the PML-N is considered, with reason, to be still the biggest claimant to power in the country. The masses are thronging to the meetings that Mian Sahib has been addressing. The party remains by and large intact so far in the face of extreme pressures. Project after project is being completed in anticipation of the 2018 general election. Why would the party’s leader then want to cross over and be identified as an ideological politician even when it is known that the slipping into this nazriyati avatar is a standard sign of surrender to the more powerful?
Now if you also happen to be a member of the endangered tribe and live with all kinds of ideological types you are duty bound to hail this latest arrival in our midst. Since it is not every day that big names cross over to our side we might take extra time to celebrate Mian Sahib’s rechristening. Not just that, as per tradition, in this moment of our victory, let’s not be light with our criticism of those who are not ideological.
Bootlickers, old and new, and those in the making, must all be condemned with as much noise as we can generate. But once we are through with the grand exercise in targeting today’s stooges of the establishment as opposed to the latest converts to ideology, it will be to our advantage that we look a little closely at what the new declarations to live by ideology mean in the overall context of power politics in the country.
The rules have not changed. Those wishing to take power must follow the same old routine. Those in the know say that even the large jalsas that Mian Sahib’s branch of the PML-N has been so proudly organising in Punjab and beyond will be of little significance unless the selection board clears him for the race. His own statements have repeatedly been showing that he didn’t give himself too much of a chance to pass the test.
The ultimate nazriyati tag that he has assigned to his politics now would indicate that he rules himself out of the contest. This may be taken as a formal undertaking by Mian Nawaz Sharif that, right now, he is not the leader that those seeking power in the immediate future would want to place their bets on.
It is a reconfirmation that for the time being at least, the applications for any role in the power setup from the PML-N platform may be addressed to those who still owe allegiance to the principles of power politics outside Mian Sahib’s little ideological kingdom.
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.
Published in Dawn, March 30th, 2018