POLITICAL heroism originates in both social and academic voids and finds sanctuary in developing nations to mislead public opinion by masking the harsh reality. Pakistan has encountered its biggest crisis in recent months, including societal division and intolerance, made worse by inflation and the larger economic decline. But is the recent current state of affairs to blame for the lack of social tolerance?

To comprehend this, we must look back in time and study a bit of history. Hero worship has long existed in the sub-continent, with Sufis and Sadhus being one reflection of a widespread trend. Even Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah ahead of the 1945 elections for the Central Legislative Assembly and the Council of State had sought the support of the likes of Pir Sahib of Manki Sharif and Pir Jamaat Ali Shah. They turned out to be crucial figures in the campaign and, as a result, all Muslim blocs were won by the Muslim League. This, in turn, gave the League considerable negotiation leverage. In contrast, only 109 of the 482 seats were won by the League in the 1937 provincial elections.

This demonstrates unquestionably that Sufism and hero worship have always been a major element in the history of the subcontinent. Thus, whether intentionally or unintentionally, ‘hero worship’ had a significant impact on the formation of the country, which still exists in society.

In fact, if we look closely, the ruling elite classes of today are not newcomers to politics; rather, they are the successors, with the majority coming from ‘Pir’ families. Their voters and supporters are more of their ritual followers, particularly in the backward areas that make up the majority of the country. For the most part, they have nothing to do with their leader’s vision and manifesto, and are unable to accept any criticism of their leaders. This, in the true spirit of democracy, is detrimental to the cause of national cohesion, and leads to social division.

B.R. Ambedkar, the architect of Indian Constitution, in 1949 summed it up well, saying: “In politics, Bhakti, or hero worship, is a sure road to degradation and eventual dictatorship.”

Our society has never promoted institutions or visions; only individuals and personalities. In the case of Pakistani politics, the catchphrase Quaid Ka Pakistan has consistently led us astray soon after Jinnah passed away. The Quaid himself never referred to Pakistan’s ideology as Quaid Ka Pakistan; rather, he was a staunch supporter of institutiona-lisation, and constantly emphasised the two-nation theory and his vision.

No slogan during the entire Pakistan movement was self-centred, or promoted the stardom of Jinnah. Instead, they were all linked to the movement’s belief and mission. Pakistan Ka Matlab Kia, La Ilaha Illallah, for example, was a well-known slogan of the time.

Quaid Ka Pakistan is a slogan politicians and leaders have frequently used to influence public opinion and use that sentiment to promote heroism rather than institutionalism. If we had followed the principles enshrined in the slogans that marked the Pakistan movement, the true teachings of the Quaid would have dawned on us, and taken us to achieve what he had set out to achieve.

However, we were too busy promoting heroism to be bothered by such niceties, and drifted further and farther were from the vision of the Quaid. This slogan has given today’s politicians a foundation to advertise themselves, deceive the public, and secure a place for their offspring.

We today have an array of slogans in favour of political leaders, projecting them as larger-than-life figures instead of talking about ideology.

True democrats, statesmen, and leaders do not need adoration or stardom. They encourage their followers and the public to follow the vision while remaining objective, honest and institutionally correct. They teach them to focus on the bigger picture so that they may even criticise their leader if they believe that the person is detracting them from the larger goal. They believe in strong systems because of their constitutionalism and teamwork. They reduce polarisation, and follow the true spirit of democracy.

Perhaps this is why, despite having a large human resource base and a favourable geographical location, we are still a long way from achieving true democracy, and are hostage to political dictators. The worst part of the story is that the masses will forever be slaves to the successors of these very ‘leaders’.

Syed Muhammad Farhan Zahid
Islamabad

Published in Dawn, December 8th, 2022

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