ON Sunday night, during the marathon prime-time television talk shows, a host had a panel of three journalists discussing the siyasi dangal (political arena) in general and the allies’ politics in particular. The PML-Q, one of the government’s allies, had just held yet another session to decide which suitor it was going to choose in the ongoing swayamvar. And their public statement, once the powwow was over, provided no clarity on which way the party was headed, garland in hand.
In this unclear situation, the discussion soon turned to discussing how lengthy a tenure as chief minister could the two sides offer Pervaiz Elahi. Would he and his party accept a short-term chief ministership for a few months, which the opposition is ostensibly planning for, or a year-long one that a desperate PTI may offer? It was not the only such discussion repeated across channels with a few variations here and there.
Indeed, all discussions about the allies were focused on who could get what from the PTI in comparison to what the opposition could offer. A chief ministership, a provincial government or a share in it, ministries, adjustments in the next election, tickets — the list which comes up for discussion is long whether it involves the PML-Q, BAP or the MQM, but it never includes the people or their woes, or the inflation that the allies — along with the opposition — have been so concerned about these past three years. This is about squeezing political benefits while waiting for the ‘decision’ to be communicated to them. And no one is even bothered about hiding this anymore. Those who are watching know this.
Indeed, on the nth day of the crisis as the suspense continues — or did while this op-ed was being written — there may be little clarity on what the end will be; but it can safely be said that whoever wins, the loss will be of the political class as a whole, regardless of what the opposition, the allied parties and the PTI think. And this is not just because of the ‘Lord of the Flies’ contest they are locked in, hurling invectives at each other.
This crisis will achieve little beyond discrediting the politicians — if it hasn’t already done so.
On the one side, we have a prime minister who can’t control his rage and is lashing out left, right and centre. Adopting the same old political tactics as those who came before him, he now has little new to offer. Just consider his government’s legal acrobatics: their interpretation of the floor-crossing clause as one in which the National Assembly speaker has the power to prevent a crime, rather than punish one which has taken place, is about as convincing as those who came up with the doctrine of necessity. And in the process, they are now referring to the intent of those who put in Article 63 to prevent horse-trading — the very parties they seek to destroy.
The opposition, on the other hand, is sitting just as ugly. The PPP has taken its umpteenth decision on whether its role is to be a part of the opposition or the rulers; to cooperate with the PML-N or take it on to make some space in Punjab. There are U-turns within U-turns, and if everyone is agreed on something, it is that the party can pull the carpet from under anyone’s feet, at any time — except one player’s.
And the PML-N, in a trajectory rather similar to PTI’s, has now forgotten all about vote ki izzat and its earlier views on turncoats. It is now happy to boast that it may come to power because Imran Khan has angered his supporters and is also now promising tickets to those it was calling lotas just a few years ago.
Indeed, it is a frank admission by all — the opposition and the government — that the game is being managed elsewhere. Ask any politician in private — sometimes publicly as well — about what will happen and it turns out that everyone is waiting for the final decision by those who shall not be named (though they are now named at every step). The government admits honestly that if they can sort out their problems, whatever they may be, with the powers that be, then the government will survive and the opposition too is clear that their move will succeed if the winds don’t change. At times, these are not just admissions made in private. Allied parties, while going on and on about how they are trying to take a decision on whether or not to support the government, concede that these days they are not getting any phone calls. It is hard not to make the connection between indecision and the absence of a call.
There is no belief in having any agency. How can anyone watching this unfold not see this? Or realise the complete lack of any higher principle at work? And the talk shows in which this unfolds beam this sorry saga into every home, where every citizen and every voter can follow it — the very people from whom the parties should draw their legitimacy. But instead of winning the people over, they are busy telling them the political class is driven by power, ministries and hints.
No wonder then, this crisis will achieve little beyond discrediting the politicians — if it hasn’t already done so. If the government survives, it will be a weak one regardless of current predictions about Khan emerging stronger. Crises such as these always leave in their wake weaker governments. Think 2009 or 2014. And if the opposition wins, it will form an equally weak government — not just because of the numbers but also because it would be winning a government just the way Khan won it in 2018. And if the decision to let Khan go and be replaced is made elsewhere, what does it say about the fairness of the next election? Only one side will come out stronger. Suffice it to say, Khan, Sharif, Zardari, Bhutto-Zardari or the Chaudhries don’t figure in its ranks.
The writer is a journalist.
Published in Dawn, March 15th, 2022