“My fidelity is to my country, not my political party. Country first”— Steve Schmidt
There is a famous adage, “many hands make light work.” People join hands to work for a common object, be it for earning profits from a business, constructing a building, discussing great ideas, fighting for a cause or perhaps getting together just for a fun party, including of course a political party. The importance of political parties cannot be undermined as they are pivotal in playing the most vital role in the history of any country and Article 17(2) of our Constitution acknowledges it as a fundamental right subject to certain conditions. On a lighter note, however, Franz Kafka’s sarcasm cannot be ignored when he said: “One idiot is one idiot. Two idiots are two idiots. Ten thousand idiots are a political party.”
Before the eighteenth century, political factions were either pro-government (usually a monarchy) or anti-government and people’s loyalty was dependent on the group to which they chose to belong unless they remained indifferent to whosoever was in power. The concept of political party came into existence during the Federalist Era in American history around the period 1789-1801 when United States adopted its Constitution envisaging a strong nationalist government as well as creation of the Federalist Party and its rival the Democratic Republican Party. The following excerpt from Lumen’s ‘Boundless Political Science, chapter onHistory of Political Parties, may help to understand better:
“The First Party System is a model of American politics used by political scientists and historians to periodize the political party system existing in the United States between roughly 1792 and 1824. Rising out of the Federalist v. Anti-Federalist debates, it featured two national parties competing for control of the presidency, Congress, and the states: the Federalist Party, created largely by Alexander Hamilton, and the rival Democratic-Republican Party formed by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. The Federalists were dominant until 1800, and the Republicans were dominant after 1800…… Both parties originated in national politics, but later expanded their efforts to gain supporters and voters in every state. The Federalists appealed to the business community, the Republicans to the planters and farmers. By 1796 politics in every state was nearly monopolized by the two parties, with party newspapers and caucuses becoming especially effective tools to mobilize voters.”
This was followed by the Second Party System during the Jacksonian Era (1830-1850) after which the American Civil War saw the emergence of the Third Party System that was instrumental in reshaping American politics with the Fourth Party System at its heels but modern American polity is a two party system dominated by the Democratic Party and the Republican Party that have been sharing power since 1852. A very important factor which should not be overlooked is that these parties could have been spearheaded by one person but ownership belonged to the entire group that participated into moulding its legal form.
On the same pattern, in the Indian Sub-continent too, political parties had begun to take shape after the decline of the Mughal Sultanate and in order to promote nationalism in the face of British domination over India—the first being the Indian National Congress founded in .1885. The essence of such formations is based upon a common ideology or purpose therefore like-minded people get together to work collectively towards that one goal. In case of the Sub-continent in 1883, Allan Octavian Hume, a retired civil officer in an open letter to graduates of the University of Calcutta, suggested the formation of a body of educated Indians who could represent their own interests, demand greater share in the government and own a platform for civic and political dialogue with the British Raj. Affiliation was regardless of any particular religious faith, though we see in later years how this became a reason for the emergence of All-India Muslim League in 1906 that eventually culminated into partition of the Sub-continent in 1947 creating two sovereign states, India and Pakistan.
While the nascent Pakistani state was struggling to survive with the meager resources that it had inherited, its political stage remained erratic due to Quiad-e-Azam’s death in 1948 and subsequent assassination of its Premier Liaquat Ali Khan in 1951. The founding fathers having quickly vanished, the country remained without a strong political party that could effectively organize and manage its internal and external affairs. We know that to fill in this vacuum, the military took over the reins for a good half the period of Pakistan’s existence. Obviously, this meant that there was no scope for two or three parties to exert their sway over politics which has resulted in multiple parties (127 are presently registered with the Election Commission of Pakistan) that sprung up based on a variety of ideologies because of this huge vacuum. The downside is that after every election, there is a coalition rather than a single party rule which gives rise to more compromises rather than any meaningful outcomes in terms of better quality governance.
Unfortunately, they say that too many cooks spoil the broth. Similarly, too many political parties diffuse the process of structural development of any country. Although it is good to have diverse views but sometimes these act as deterrents for growth and prosperity. Also, adherence to party ideology is noble but as long as it does not interfere with the country’s progress, in which case, country should be a priority.
(To be continued)
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).