This article originally appeared in Daily Times as my weekly column BAAGHI on Monday November 7, 2011
It has been a week since the blogerati, TV anchors and the Op-Ed community started nervous ‘wake-up calls’ for two big parties after the ‘successful’ jalsa by Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) on October 30. While one cannot disagree on major changes both the bigger parties need to bring to their structure, approach and ways to connect with the people, one is intrigued by the urgency for ‘change’ being manufactured by key proxies of the ‘establishment’ in the media and political sphere.
The concept of ‘change’ that an average jalsa-participant of the PTI appears to have is not so much in consonance with what the masters of the game might be thinking. At the tactical level, however, a young PTI follower and much of the rest of urban opinion holder has been led to believe that a change in faces would automatically bring ‘change’. For the jalsa-attending crowd, ‘change’ might mean a better life for the citizenry, more opportunities, peace and progress. Too broad, general and wide — that is where the key lies.
Long ago I heard a family elder, who was a comrade of Jinnah and played an important role in Pakistan’s politics in its early years, saying that a politician should always give a slogan that is general, ambiguous and attractive to the common man. The ambiguity and generality of a leader’s slogan would render support from diverse sections that might not agree on specifics. The relevance of the slogan to a common citizen would get a sustainable germaneness to the leader. No corruption, no corrupt leader, no slavery of imperial America and economic opportunities for all are no doubt very noble and much needed causes, but one could not see the specifics in both the PML-N or PTI’s October political congregations in Lahore.
The attractive, general but ambiguous slogans of both the shindigs had this conspicuous similarity. The similitude was not in the parishioner but in the message. The predominantly Punjabi dukaandaar (trader) crowd of Friday was distinctly different from a chic and young throng of music loving kids and Imran-loving middle-aged men and women on Sunday. The parties looked like pitching against each other but were actually complementing each other by bringing two different sets of partakers on the same message: change the faces on Constitution Avenue. Another coherence that one could see in the PML-N and PTI’s ‘we can do without the US’ mantra. It sounded familiar. Oh yes, we heard it in a statement issued by the ISPR after a Corps Commanders meeting a couple of months ago. So, it is no more rocket science who stands with whom while keeping up a defiant face.
The similar thread of ‘Get Zardari’ goes through the entire range of politicians, retired bureaucrats and military officers and analysts (amusingly referred to as ‘annalists’ in one social networking site) available 24/7 to the hypertensive media. Why has it become such a pressing need when the fifth (and last of the current tenure) parliamentary year is starting in the National Assembly and third (the last one) parliamentary year in the Senate is ending in March 2012? Why it is a must to get rid of a government (or parliament) that is already in its last leg of constitutionally granted tenure? Why change of face in the Presidency is pressed upon in the general opinion-leading environment?
The Senate elections expected in March 2012 must be one reason where the PML-N cannot afford a PPP majority for obvious reasons of political rivalry. It would be a disaster for a government-in-waiting to see the incumbents fully in charge of the legislature by having a simple majority in both Houses. But then why are establishment-touted voices also syncing with the PML-N? Imran Khan’s stance against parliament and politicians is understandable for it is this outright rejection of the ‘status quo’ that has won Khan such a wide acceptability not only among the urban young, but also among the general middle class of big urban centres. His definition of ‘status quo’, however, only includes change of incumbents without proposing any solid systemic reform agenda. But his urgency to shake the system is looking like a manufactured one, as one last year of the National Assembly should not be a big deal for the PTI, which is not yet ready with candidates in hand for most of the constituencies in case new elections are announced to give an opening to the ambitious Khan.
Manufacturing this urgency to ‘change’ seems to be the result of an anxiety shared by not only a predominantly Punjabi establishment but also the lions of Punjab and Generation X Khan. Much of this anxiety comes from the fact that the Senate elections under President Zardari are going to be a game changer in which the major loser will be Punjab. After the 18th Amendment, some changes in the existing power balance between the federation and provinces have been affected that are not only going to prove disastrous to Punjab but also might be a death blow to the monopoly of the security establishment over social policy.
By amending Articles 161, 167, 168, 172 and removing the Concurrent List, the 18th Amendment has made the provinces equal shareholders in excise duty and royalty on natural resources (oil and natural gas) if the wellhead is situated in that province. It has also empowered the provinces to make their own educational curricula, the power devolved under the devolution of the Ministry of Education. Smell something? What if ‘smaller’ provinces make their own curricula and leave out the jingoism and glorification of militarised policies? What if the educational curricula project the ‘provincial’ heroes (like for example G M Syed and the Frontier Gandhi, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan) or the personalities that put establishment-created religious differences in danger (e.g. Dr Abdus Salam) instead of more acceptable national heroes? What if a secular Balochistan, a sufi Sindh and an inherently tolerant Khyber Pakhtunkhwa starts propagating art, culture and literature instead of hatred of the ‘other’? What if all these provinces do away with an overwhelmingly anti-Hindu and anti-India curriculum?
The list of ‘what-ifs’ does not end here. What if the taxes on services are charged in Karachi of Sindh that mainly emanate from the goods and products produced by the largest and most populated Punjab? What if the resource-rich Balochistan and equal beneficiary of its energy resources charges the industrial hub Punjab for them? What if the jobs in civil and military institutions are equally shared with the provinces? There is a problem, a grave one! And the only way out from this probable mess is a 20th constitutional amendment that nullifies a silent revolution that the ‘thoughtless’ and ‘impractical’ 18th Amendment seems to bring in another few years. While the PPP and the ANP are in office, any nullification of this sort seems implausible. It is therefore a must to run a ‘Get Zardari’ campaign by every possible means.
While the PTI’s Khan is understandably impatient to play his innings, the PML-N joining the bandwagon is the most foolish thing the time-hardened Mians of Lahore should opt for. The establishment would not like them in power, but would love to use them to get the incumbents out of power. One hopes for both the bigger parties, who have fought hard for democracy, to play their shots sensibly.