Unbecoming conduct

November 21, 2021

Unfortunately, decency and Pakistani politics seem to be the polar opposites

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Even as materialism reigns supreme, moral conduct is still held as the most credible scale to judge how civilised an individual, community or a nation is. Tradition, customary practices and education are the major determinants of moral values that shape one’s overall social/behavioural make up.

A collective of such individuals constitutes a community and many communities gel together to form a nation. It is vital to train the citizen and enable him/her to be the embodiment of a morally appropriate conduct.

Ever since the onset of modern education, the socio-moral aspect of training has been the domain of the family. The role of the parents is critical in inculcating social decency among the children. Over time, the family structure has undergone a huge change and ceased to be the social institution it once was.

Instead, the economic pressures have pushed families into a survival mode, in a purely economic sense. But despite these changes, anybody showing a socially inappropriate conduct is frequently said to be reflective of the triviality of his/her family values. Hence, the family is still considered very important.

The fact, however, remains that not only the quality of education imparted to our youth has fallen to an abysmal low, the family values, too, have shown signs of socio-moral decay. Family as an institution and as a source of cultivating socio-moral uprightness among the youth has suffered a general decline. Unfortunately, neither the Pakistani society nor the state seems inclined to set up an alternative mechanism so that such training is imparted to the citizenry.

There are clear signs that the socio-cultural fabric has been completely torn apart. The starkest example of such conduct was at display at the floor of the National Assembly last Wednesday. The way some members of the parliament showed dissent set new standards of indecency.

If our elected representatives go to such lengths of churlishness, then the question can easily be raised about the maturity of the electorate. Some serious soul-searching is required to devise a method whereby the electorate is sensitised towards electing representatives who are at least cognisant of the civilised ways of disagreeing.

Our political leadership is expected to lead the general public by example, by employing democratic norms in disagreeing with and criticising opponents and rivals. Unfortunately, we have a tendency to condemn rather than criticise. Politicians from both sides of the divide must have a realisation of the preponderant indecency let loose on the floor(s) of the parliament. Informed criticism of your opponent is a political boon but outright condemnation and passing personal remarks is a political and social bane, which is regrettable, to say the least.

I recommend refresher courses for our legislators. It should be compulsory for them to listen to the speeches of the best legislators and learn the conduct observed in established democracies.

Since the advent of awami siyasat (popular politics or politics of the people), rowdyism and insolence have become a principal determinant of the political ethos. A couple of generations back, politicians usually came from different backgrounds. Most of them hailed from landed aristocracy. It is usually argued that this breed of politicians was retrogressive, anti-development and representative of the status quo. All their imperfections and inadequacies notwithstanding, they adhered to socio-moral ethos that ‘the politics of the people’ starkly lacks.

Besides, for the older generation of politicians, politics was a source of power but not a business. Several instances are known of them selling their properties to contest elections. Saying all this does not mean that I am favourably inclined to aristocrat politicians. I am bemoaning the fact that we haven’t evolved, politically or socially.

A major cause of the stasis, evident through rowdy conduct of our representatives on the floor of the assembly, is the ruination of our education system, and the socio-moral decay caused by the changed composition of the institution which has been the primary social unit: family.

Another aspect of awami siyasat is the politics of agitation, which has its roots in the partition of Bengal in 1905. Muslims of the subcontinent took to the politics of agitation during the Khilafat Movement (1919-1924).

The Khilafat Movement tapered off in a few years but left an indelible impression on the Muslims of north India who have been stuck with it ever since. Despite Quaid-i-Azam’s emphasis on the politics of constitutionalism, Muslims in general tended to gravitate to the politics of sit-ins (dharna), firebrand oration, processions and sloganeering. The Majlis-i-Ahrar exemplified this trend.

The politics of negotiation and dialogue has never been in vogue. Even in the parliament, our legislators avidly emulate the Ahrar. Shouting diatribes, insults and political doublespeak have become their wont, instead of saying something concrete and rational.

I recommend some sort of refresher courses for our legislators. They should be made to listen to the speeches of the best legislators and leaders and instructed in the conduct and protocol observed in the established democracies of the world.

Another trend, which has become quite prevalent, is personal attacks on political opponents. When politics is devoid of ideological content and personal gain holds precedence over the collective, then use of personal insult is the standard ploy. Benazir Bhutto was the victim of such insults in the late 1980s and 1990s. Today it is Maryam Nawaz Sharif and Bushra Bibi. It is lamentable that we have been unable to rise above such conduct.

Unfortunately, decency and contemporary Pakistani politics appear to be the polar opposites. For some, politics is merely a tool for personal aggrandisement and the state and the nation no longer matter. Thus the socio-moral ethos is undermined and instead of evolution degeneration in every segment of our society has become a stark reality. Sadly, what I have said is likely to be ignored. That is most worrying of all.

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