BY TALAT FAROOQ
“Eventually the people of India know what’s good for them and they always make the right choice.” Thus spoke Sonia Gandhi on May16, in the wake of the Congress led coalition victory in the Indian general elections. Indian political analysts are of the view that religion and caste-based politics has been rejected by the Indian electorate to emphasize unity in the prevailing political climate.
The common man usually knows what he wants; the simple reason being that he lives too close to the harsh reality of everyday life to indulge in hopeless dreams. It is the common man who suffers the worst in all disasters whether natural or man-made. He is more familiar with death, poverty, illness, illiteracy, displacement and insecurity than the elite would ever be. Therefore when it comes to his future he is more of a visionary than all the loquacious leaders around him.
The Pakistani people are just as pragmatic as their Indian neighbours. They are well aware that violence in the name of religion is counterproductive and that under the prevailing circumstances the nation must rise above petty politics. They can see through the manipulation of the poor and the disadvantaged at the hands of the extremists and realize that it is detrimental to the future of their younger generation. They crave good governance and feel shame when their country is maligned as a result of the deeds of a few or when their leaders acquiesce to the dictates of their foreign masters.
Their vision of Islam, in which the relationship between man and his Maker is strictly personal, does not stop them from wanting a technologically advanced and economically prosperous society. Whenever the Pakistanis vote they are neither ambivalent nor ambiguous in electing representatives who they believe can resolve their worldly issues rather than secure their spiritual health. In fact while the Indians elected a religious, fundamentalist party, the BJP, to rule over them in the 90s the Pakistanis have never done so. They have repeatedly rejected the religious parties in all general elections since 1970. The provincial victory of the MMA coalition in 2002 after an allegedly rigged election is the only exception. However, even though the MMA won 53 seats, it gained only 11.10 per cent of the total votes.
Similarly, Ziaul Haq’s policies of Islamization did not translate into mass support for the conservative or Islamic parties in the 1988 elections that propelled the PPP into the driving seat. The IJI was limited to Punjab and the JUI-F was able to win seven seats only from constituencies that did not field PPP candidates. And since ethnicity has been a stronger symbol of political unity than religion in Pakistan, the MQM ended Jamat-e-Islami’s hold on Karachi and Hyderabad.
The 1990 elections did bring victory for the IJI, but it was the Pakistan Muslim League that was the largest party in the coalition and a large majority vote was cast in their favour because the people expected the industrialists from the PML to work toward economic prosperity rather than saving their souls. The religious parties gained a mere 1.4 per cent of the total vote in the subsequent general elections that brought back the PPP in 1993.The second Benazir stint was marked by the rise of the Taliban whose sponsor in Pakistan, the JUI-F, was the PPP ally in the centre. In the ensuing 1997 elections the Pakistani electorate overwhelmingly rejected the PPP in favour of the PML and the JUI (F) could only win two seats. The people once again trounced the Islamic parties in favour of the secular and the moderate, in 2008. NWFP ensured the return of the secular ANP with clear victory even in Malakand division.
One doesn’t have to be a genius to gauge the expectations of the Pakistani people. They want justice and economic prosperity. They want functional education and health facilities and other basic civic amenities. They want fundamental human rights that will enable them to live with dignity. They want a workable political system, morality in politics and an end to corruption at all levels of their society. And to achieve all this they want their constitution to be implemented in letter and spirit and not some distorted version of Shariah to replace it with.
For the common person down the street religion has more to do with transcendent values rather than political power grabbing. Even when some support the likes of Taliban it is in the misplaced hope of improving their worldly lot and not for the establishment of an otherworldly Islamic state. The vision of the common men and women of Pakistan is not delusional. Their Islam has never been in peril to force them to look for bearded saviours that have their own hidden agenda. Nor do they want secularists with imported ideologies. If given the chance they are ready to peacefully initiate the evolution of an indigenous socio-political system.
The Pakistani voter is just as realistic as the Indian. The difference is that the voice of the Indian people is articulated in the Indian democratic system that has been in place since independence; the voice of the Pakistani people is drowned in the din of political power-games. Self-interests of successive military and civilian regimes have perpetuated feudal and tribal mindset at the expense of progress and genuine democratic institutions in Pakistan.
What the people of Pakistan desperately need is strengthening of democratic institutions and perpetuation of the democratic process. As long as the 17th Amendment is in place the parliament will be nothing but a rubber stamp. Unfortunately, we are faced with a catch-22 situation. For the representatives to be effective we need a strong parliament; for this to happen we need effective representatives. Right now, there is no statesman on the horizon; only politicians. It is therefore imperative that the civil society of Pakistan organize a sustained struggle. Such an effort could alter the course of our history by setting in motion an efficient political process.
The writer is executive editor Criterion. Email: talatfarooq11 @gmail.com