IN a vibrant democratic dispensation, it is a rather encouraging notion to have diversity of opinions. Diversity opens up new avenues to rid society of status-quo. Democracy itself has always been an explicit proponent of the freedom of speech and encourages the right to association. With diversity emerges a vigorous democratic society. Ironically, diversity turns into ignominy when it causes fragmentation and polarisation in society along ethnic, religious, political, economic and all other possible lines. And who knows it better than we do in Pakistan? None.

Pakistani society has gone through deep political changes in recent times that caused systematic polarisation, leading to sharp differences not only within the country, but within families and social circles … even within WhatsApp groups. The deeper we slide down, the more frightening outcomes we are bound to meet.

Initially, it all started with the political rhetoric of maligning the rivals. Coming from the leadership, the tone and tenor of discourse turned into farcical frenzy on the back of the so-called fifth generation warfare. In turn, social media madness encouraged people to go nuts on the streets.

Polarisation and blind belief lead to disproportionate and irrational animosity towards the rivals.

In contrast, societies rooted in sound politics do not stoop this low. In fact, societies having deep-rooted political wisdom and mature institutions do not succumb to the curse of polarisation. Thus, political awareness allows society at large to function smoothly and peacefully with all the different shades of opinion flourishing under a democratic dispensation.

Pakistani society has always been divided on political grounds, but in recent times this trend has seen an unprecedented rise, where politics has become a tool to exploit religious, ethnic and political opinions of people. Some have become so efficient in this game that they successfully exploit conflicting opinions simultaneously. The leaders alone are not at fault. At best, they can try to do all this because it suits them and their designs. But it is an indication of the low, almost non-existent, level of political and social awareness in society that the majority fails to pick up such exploitative tendencies, and even when they know what is going on, they prefer to believe that it is happening for the larger good. After all, everything is fair in love and war. And what we have in society today is not love. It is all war, and tactics are fair. Blatant ridicule with the intent to hurt is the new normal in society.

Ironically, the media has always served as the platform where the indoctrination of certain narratives is carried out through selective promotion on TV channels. Such biased rhetoric amplified in the media further brings democratic evolution to a complete halt. Thus, the media is eroding the concept of mutual respect and is questioning the very existence of diversity of opinions in the country.

The gloomy state of affairs in the country has squeezed the space for the multiple narratives to exist, causing public alienation. Politics in a country where just about 50 per cent people turn out to vote cannot survive such intense polarisation.

Conclusively, the only way to come out of this crisis is to stop mud-slinging and to keep the differences aside in the larger national interest. The agenda should be to develop and to let others develop Pakistan into a formidable democracy and a respectable nation. The politicians need to standardise the system from which no one would be able to deviate.

Instead of dirty politics, they ought to focus on more genuine economic and social issues. If this polarisation is not checked, it may unfold undesirable consequences for us in the long term.

Subhan Ali Lashari
Matiari

Published in Dawn, November 13th, 2022

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