On September 6 when these pages are in front of you, Asif Ali Zardari will be well on his way to becoming the next President of Pakistan. Meanwhile, it has been a most interesting exercise following the sudden anti-Zardari campaigns played out on e-mails, sms and newspapers.
The class make-up of those angered by Zardari's supposedly atrocious decision to run for presidency is quite the same as it was with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's detractors in 1970 and those of Benazir Bhutto in 1988. A majority of these people come from the same well-to-do urban middle class that has always been at the forefront of various maneuvres designed to defame any party or personality able to successfully engage with the masses.
This class is an intricately linked collective of urbanites belonging to the bourgeois and the petty-bourgeois segments. And even though historically and inherently they are supposed to play a leading economic, social and political role in an evolutionary struggle against hegemonic strains like feudalism, despotism and now Talibanism, like it did in Europe, they have done nothing of the sort here in Pakistan.
Instead, right from the beginning, the overall political character of the Pakistani bourgeois emerged as being conservative. In the first 20 years it allied itself with assorted soft strains of socio-political conservatism, until, in 1972 when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party came to power.
Suddenly, the soft conservatism of this class became drastically reactionary, especially when the Bhutto regime started initiating its various populist policies, consequentially giving an unprecedented momentum to the rapid emergence of a politically active working class and the rural peasant class. As the political representatives of the urban bourgeois battled Bhutto's populist economic and political enforcements, the bourgeois and the petty-bourgeois became ready instruments in carrying out their social propaganda against Bhutto.
It was this class that first started to dramatically decry his liking for whisky, women and his “lack of religion”. Of course, in spite of the fact that many from within this class were equally educated and modern, they are known to have backed General Ziaul-Haq's obscurantist onslaught against Bhutto even long after the popular leader had been toppled in a military coup in July 1977. It was this class that was again seen actively attacking Benazir Bhutto throughout her two stints as PM.
Various industrialists were known to have bankrolled skewed hate campaigns in newspapers through advertisements, questioning not only the political but also the personal character of Benazir Bhutto. History had taught them how reactionary propaganda aimed at the exaggerated “immoralities” of Z A Bhutto had played an important role in galvanising the 1976 anti-Bhutto movement, therefore throughout the '90s as well, this class was largely involved in giving momentum to all kinds of slanderous propaganda against Benazir and her husband, Asif Ali Zardari.
This is not to suggest that the couple were angels, and neither was Z A Bhutto. But the hate campaigns' idea was always to distract members of the bourgeois from undertaking any constructive political debate on the matter and instead make them indulge more in pure political gossip and offensive buffoonery. Just as Z A Bhutto's sweeping electoral victory in West Pakistan in 1970 had gripped the bourgeois with unprecedented dread, the sight of hundreds of thousands coming out to greet Beanzir on her return from exile on October 18, 2007, left the majority of the urban bourgeois reeling under a mix of fear, disdain and confusion.
And just as their elders had done many years ago, their reaction against the Bhuttos and the People's Party was laden with reactionary sarcasm, hate statements and at times scary psychosymatic gibberish. There were many who even went to the extent of accusing Bhutto to have orchestrated the suicide attacks herself that took place in that rally.
Once again such despicable behaviour was repeated the moment Zardari expressed his desire to run for presidency. The truth is, it is not him but the party he belongs to. A party still very much associated with mass-level politics. The kind of populist politics the archetypal Pakistani bourgeois is always tempted to go into denial about and start suffering from a collapsing form of myopia (usually mistaken as “political conscientiousness”).
The reason is simple. Populist, mass-oriented politics can effectively cancel out the two most prominent anti-populist strains in Pakistan i.e. the politico-religious and the elite-bourgeois. Thus, it is only natural that the offspring of these two strains were even more shocked with the way the country spontaneously erupted into sympathy for a slain leader who, according to their political gossip (and thus “political wisdom”), was “highly unpopular”, “corrupt” and, not to forget, had “a terrible sense of dressing”, just like her hubby who is “mentally cookoo”.
Lovely intellectual discourse, this. The bourgeois are not a very pleasant sight when they give their inherent class abhorrence against the filthy, uneducated masses a crusading twist.