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October 3, 2017

Our political wonderland


October 3, 2017

As she walks through Wonderland, Alice arrives at a fork in the road and inquires the Rabbit about what path she should take. “Where do you want to go?” asks the Rabbit, to which Alice responds she does not know. “Then it does not matter,” replies the Rabbit.

In our political wonderland, the current strategy for national course correction and the strengthening of democracy – one that will apparently steer the ship of the state away from the looming tempests of economic failure and brittle internal and regional security towards calmer seas – appears equally without direction. Here the PTI aims to replace the leader of the opposition and deal another critical blow to the democratic ensemble, before going to work with a pair of pliers and a blowtorch on the doddering, almost rudderless PML-N as it drifts towards imminent collapse in the hope of emerging as the sole national contender for political office.

Thus far, the PPP’s response has been its traditional deer in the headlights ‘huh?’ followed by a fumbling, bumbling scramble to showcase its parliamentary legitimacy – and, as I write this, the jury is out on how effective that counter-strategy may prove to be. 

Good strategy you say? Not really, if you recognise that it is simply the circumstantial follow-on of the traditional PTI policy of delivering shocks to the political machinery – from inside, outside and any side – discrediting its easy-to-discredit lead actors and kicking up a hullabaloo to somehow elbow its way into the driving seat. Because as most people fail to recognise, the original strategy of discrediting the PML-N– through dharnas, accusations of corruption and electoral fraud – had all but failed, were it not for the godsend in the shape of the Panama leaks.

But now that the Sharifs are clearly in the soup, what is the PTI’s strategy for 2018? Does it assume that it will ride into the elections, victory flags raised and guns blazing, to achieve a national mandate – which requires, in particular, a clean rout in Punjab as the PML-N had managed in 2013?

With a mere 35 seats in parliament and a coalition government in KP, it is assumed that the PTI has already achieved a pivotal change in the national mindset that is sufficient to allow the voters across the largest province in the country to discard their sympathies with the PML-N and take a gamble with an untested party. This remains largely untested because there’s simply too little that’s been done by the PTI in the past few years except agitation that operates outside parliament and appears, at all moments, to be daggers drawn with every one of its political opponents.

This a political attitude that’s a tad bit too anarchist, autocratic and inflexible to win popular vote because you want to elect people who are not just squeaky clean, but also those with whom you have the space to negotiate your interests, to hold a dialogue and not be judged in the process.

And in the chessboard of our national politics, we know all too well that no individual and institution is squeaky clean. So the hubris that seems to masquerade as the basic indicator of decency, righteousness and social justice these days – the sole dominion of the PTI as we are led to believe –has all the sinister ingredients of an autocratic mindset – which, therefore, makes for a dangerous starting point for any newly-elected government. This is particularly dangerous because it assumes in the same breath that there will be no need for a democratic collaboration with the opposition that will emerge in 2018 to square off against the PTI. If the NA-120 by-election is any indicator of the voting trends to emerge, the Sharifs’ hue and cry over the Panama decision may just save them from a complete rout in Punjab in 2018.

Consider also the apparent fissures within the PTI, which have been evident in the party’s nomination for a candidate for the opposition benches and, as an example, are also suggested by the history of NA-4 – where the victorious but recently deceased incumbent on the PTI ticket had developed serious differences with his party, enough to push his surviving son into an embrace with the PPP. So who will the PTI approach as its political partner to marginalise the PML-N in the Punjab? Whatever way its current political moves play out, there is sure to be some lingering bad blood with the PPP, particularly as we consider Imran Khan’s jibes at Asif Zardari following the Panama investigation.

Could we then expect a loose coalition in 2018 with a disgruntled political partner? That will only spell parliamentary weakness, the inability to achieve policy and legislative consensus and thus deliver another blueprint for democratic failure, infighting and political inefficiency. Further, the opposition benches are likely to be manned by a wounded and angry PML-N that will spare no quarter in getting back at the PTI in a similar fashion for what it has endured in the past five years– with the added benefit of years of ring experience.

And that’s assuming, of course, that once a peaceful transfer of democratic power does take place, the PTI will finally return to parliament (the boring option) and work through its agency to realise its ambitious project of national cleansing. Is this likely or will it continue to wage a war against every crook in the political machinery from the streets? The latter is precisely the agenda the anti-democracy camp will continue to promote to serve up more political casualties as cannon fodder for national accountability till even the mere possibility of democratic institution-building is rendered remote.

The jeering and the applause and the bombast over the Panama imbroglio, in the anti-Sharif camp, is self-congratulatory, smug and sad. A saner voice would counsel restraint and a dialogue between all major political players to chalk out a way forward in the wake of the recent political crises that have besieged the government. For the PTI, there was and is a unique opportunity to reach out to members of all opposition parties and agree on a set of ground rules that would ensure that the 2018 elections are a success for all stakeholders.

A saner voice would also advise that there are pressing national problems that need to be tackled now and that require for once – just once – in over a decade of chequered and failing democratic politics, a meeting of the minds, a unity of purpose, a push to collaborate constructively for the benefit of the country. But there is no method to the madness that prevails in our political wonderland, where the Rabbit has run to the hills and our political Alices are condemned to choose their paths without any regard for political consequences.


The writer is a freelance columnist.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @kmushir