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MQM: Losing the plot?

Published Jan 03, 2011 09:28am

The list of reasons that MQM gave for quitting the coalition reads like a summarised series of slogans and concerns that one gets to hear over and over again on talk shows: NFP. - File Photo

So, the MQM has finally decided to quit the PPP-led coalition government at the centre. I am not sure what the fallout of this event would be like by the time this article is published, so I would not dare slip into an analysis mode here. Instead, I want to ask a few very simple questions.

My first question is actually based on an observation that was first made many months ago by the firebrand activist lawyer, Ali Ahmed Kurd. Just before the current Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) was finally restored by the Zardari/Gilani government, Kurd accused many pro-CJP lawyers and judges of taking decisions based on what they read in newspapers and saw on news channels.

Well, this statement was quite an obvious put down of the lawyers’ movement Kurd was once such a passionate part of. The media had turned the lawyers into the kind of stars they had not even dreamed of becoming, but Kurd felt that they were now dancing to the tune of the usual media sound bytes instead of the ideals first chalked out by the said movement.

I agreed with him. As a matter of fact, I believe the lawyers are not the only ones letting the media write their atavistic scripts. Parties like the MQM, Jamaaqt-i-Islami (JI) and Imran Khan’s PTI are in the same league.

One can understand why small parties like PTI, JI, or for that matter, the oh-so-incorruptible beacon of virtuous politics (and business), Fazlur Rheman’s JUI, would be spouting newspaper and TV headlines as party slogans; but one wonders, why would a strong electoral party like MQM ever need to do the same?

Recently, even a leading member of the PML-N accused a well-known TV news channel – that is otherwise seen to be sympathetic to the Sharif brothers – of never being critical of the MQM the way it usually is against other parties (more specifically, the PPP).

One thinks about it and concludes yes, this might very well be true. And linked to this is the amount of importance MQM seems to give to whatever political and populist narrative any leading TV news channel is busy developing.

In other words, when MQM says that it is quitting the ruling coalition due to ‘public pressure,’ are they talking about the pressure exerted by the usual ghariat brigade types on all those MQM lads who love appearing on talk shows?

I mean, the list of reasons that MQM gave for quitting the coalition reads like a summarised series of slogans and concerns that one gets to hear over and over again on talk shows.

Akin to a black comedy is the fact that most TV anchors and hosts that go on spouting all these concerns – unemployment, inflation, drone attacks, ‘good governance’, Aafia ki wapsi, etc. – are sitting pretty with hefty salaries and perks, and, what some would suggest, an agenda to safeguard the interests of some of the most anti-democracy classes in this country i.e., the military, the mullah and large sections of the upper and middle-classes.

Nevertheless, this ironic (if not downright hypocritical) façade is then mimicked by parties like PTI and JI, and one can understand how the adoption of such hollow media-generated sloganeering is the only way these tiny (but animated) tots can remain in the picture (nay, on the TV screen). But, again, why does a party like MQM need to do that?

Let’s be honest. Our politicians, generals, intelligence agencies, mullah parties and the media should consider themselves lucky that even in this day and age, a majority of Pakistanis are still (willingly) susceptible and gullible to all the populist rubbish that is dished out to them in the name of religion, patriotism and sympathy.

In other words, each and every one of these players are simply working to safeguard the interests of certain classes and sections of the society, and these sections have simply no room for the proverbial poverty-stricken common man.

And as idealistic as this may sound, I am convinced about the notion that a constant and long-term spat of democracy is the only remedy. But since this is a remedy that may, in the long run, begin to erode the unending honeymoon of these classes and sections of society, what else can one expect but constant whining and mudslinging that democracy continues to face in this country.

So, I would suggest the MQM to kindly cut the populist talk and tell us instead exactly how does it now plan to serve a fragile democracy?

Altaf Bhai’s pleas for the masses and the middle-classes’ well-being sound great on TV –just as Imran Khan’s, Munawar Hussain’s  Hamid Gul’s and those of our gallant TV studio warriors – but pray tell us, how did a party that only a few years ago was calling itself liberal, secular and democratic, all of a sudden finds itself holding JI-like rallies for convicted Islamist felons, or having long telephonic chats with the pro-Taliban Fazlur Rehman, whose party stalwart was recently chucked out by the government over a tussle with another cabinet minister on corruption allegations?

We are not being spearheaded by a perfect government, far from it. But how can an opposition party like the PML-N – whom the MQM accused of being brought up on the milk of dictatorship (Zia) – still refuse to play ball with the figurative ‘establishment’ to topple a democratic government?

So far it’s a no-go area as far as PML-N is concerned, in spite the fact that it has the most to gain from Gilani’s fall. So is it true then that whereas both the PPP and PML-N (and, of course, the ANP) – no matter how many reservations they might hold against each another – are perhaps the only parties to learn lessons of caution from the chequered and intrigue-filled part of Pakistani politics?

And where does this ‘principled’ quitting leave the MQM? I mean, it is painful to see a party with such a powerful electoral pull (in urban Sindh) and all the right ideas about governance, now stumbling into the arms of one-man-shows like Pir Pagara and Fazlur Rehman. Whose next? The tiny-tot brigade led by the Imran Khans and JIs of the country? Or worse, into the laps of the very forces that once showed fake maps of ‘Jinnahpur’ to blacken Altaf Bhai and co.? What a shame that would be.

It took a decade for MQM to come out from the shadows of its awkward past and become a party that actually did some solid work that went beyond mere sloganeering and cheap shouts of a revolution; but I am afraid, we might be seeing the MQM losing the plot once again.

These last ten years may have been good for MQM to successfully move on and away from all the madness that it went through in the 1990s, but let’s hope these same 10 years haven’t made them forget what life was like in Karachi in that dreadful decade.

Nadeem F. Paracha is a cultural critic and senior columnist for Dawn Newspaper and Dawn.com.