“The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary”—HL Mencken (1880-1956)
As children we are taught to be patriotic towards our country and its people. This is the reason that serving the nation is one of the objectives that is given when we are asked why we want to pursue a specific field of education. Young hearts are full of optimism and passion together with unlimited energy loaded with aspirations for a better future. They are attracted towards whatever excitement life has in store for them, yearning to step into the shoes of adults whom they perceive to have complete control over themselves. Ambitions run high with their raw sensitive minds failing to fathom the abysses that lie in the path to their hopes. From the small prism of their outlook, the world appears like a majestic rainbow with colours galore—beautiful, mesmerizing, promising and oh so livable except that as the atmosphere clears, the mirage also disappears. In a certain sense, this illusion is quite a blessing as it provides an impetus to forward thinking no matter how dark the end may be.
One is definitely attached to one’s roots, one’s birthplace, one’s home no matter how adverse an environment it may offer. Thus, one who is born in the mountains misses them if forced to live on the plains; those belonging to green pastures get depressed when surrounded by concrete structures; those who are brought up close to the sea are uneasy where there are no waterways around, so much so that desert denizens actually crave for the sandy landscape no matter how lush their atmosphere maybe. Divorcing oneself completely from one’s foundational premise is near to impossibility although many claim to have made a home far away and in absolutely different circumstances. Somehow, one’s origins continue to prick the heart and mind.
Love for one’s homeland is natural. No one can deny it. Those heart wrenching poems and stories penned by homesick bards and authors speak volumes about the pain of separation from one’s country. Pakistan too has its own devotees who are loyal and are passionately inclined to seeing their country peaceful and prosperous. The majority population mainly prefers to put its head down, continue with life as usual and as long as survival is manageable, it is content. Whether a civil or military ruler is at the helm of affairs, it is hardly of any concern to it.
Now, in order to show one’s nationalistic inclinations, one has to act according to the best of capability in one’s field of choice whatever that may be. Suppose there are two friends belonging to the middle class, one opts for the medical profession and the other enters the political arena in the hope of governing the country. The one intending to become a doctor would have to put in many academic years studying medicine and later good medical practice before he can establish himself as a renowned professional. During his travails he would definitely have to face hurdles in the form of departmental politics, rivalries and jealousies but eventually success and wealth may find their way to him. His friend in politics may be confronted with a lot more grueling challenges that can be both frustrating and perilous.
For starters, how can one describe the game of politics in our country? Rather than have representation of the common people, we can observe that in our parliamentary houses, we find mostly those who represent either landlords or the elite classes or who have a close nexus with them. This means that in the absence of local governments, problems of people living in lower middle class localities, shanty towns and villages are never bound to reach the ears of rulers. These issues have commonly cropped up and widely discussed on all forums. We are perfectly aware of the vulnerability of our electorate that is unable to find level playing field, does not have confidence in law enforcement agencies nor faith in its judiciary, therefore gets carried away by promises of the powerful to redress its difficulties. The real problem is the game itself and the way it is played.
Politics in the world in general but particularly in Pakistan is akin to creating cults with the followers committing themselves to the creators whom they start idolizing to the most irrational extent. It would not be wrong to say that political parties begin to resemble religious ideologies. These parties are usually formed on the grounds of certain slogans based on sensitivity they may have for voters. For example, roti, kapra aur makaan (bread, clothes and home), search for insaaf (justice), rights of mohajir (refugees) etc. are means to attract people into their fold, who are made to think that their wishes would be granted if they vote them into power. However, we have seen how true they have remained to their words. How, on coming into power these politicians have trampled on their pledges but have managed to increase their strength and wealth manifold to a degree that they have become invincible and have attained the status of ‘prophets’ against whom a word uttered can be taken as blasphemy. Such is the attitude of their supporters.
Over time, politics in our country has torn the nation apart. Hatred for one group or another sometimes becomes so outrageous for the fanatic voters that it turns friends into foes, estranges family members after emotionally charged political arguments. Sometimes, a politically-driven emotion runs so high or deep and results in so much hatred that it often leads to an assault, verbal or physical, on a political opponent, or the spouse or a family member of the political opponent. Whatever is happening in Pakistan today manifests these ideas in reality. Even on the international front Paul Pelosi, the husband of Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat and the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, was attacked with a hammer by an intruder who had broken into Paul’s house in San Francisco. The intruder was allegedly a supporter of Donald Trump, former U.S President, who lost 2020 elections and has since then been unwilling to accept defeat, spreading lies and conspiracy theories about the election to his supporters, causing an insurrection on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.
Once entrapped in this labyrinth, there is no way out. Our friend seeking to pursue politics as a career would soon learn that politics is much more complex than one would like to imagine and that he would forever remain ensnared in its tangles as a pawn and can never dream of ever leading the party he chooses because that is meant only for ‘legal heirs’ just like monarchy.
The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), member Advisory Board and Senior Visiting Fellow of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE)