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February 18, 2020

Politics and entitlement

Opinion

February 18, 2020

The political dynasties of this country have a strange sense of entitlement which prompts them to believe that they and their relatives are born to rule. For them political workers are like their servants who can be ordered to accomplish this or that task, without question.

The recent announcement by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, asserting that if he gets arrested his sister Aseefa Bhutto will lead the party reflects this strange sense of entitlement that our political dynasties seem to have. Earlier it was Zardari who would tout Bilawal as the future leader, ignoring senior and far more competent workers of the party who have spent years serving it. Ironically, saner voices within the PPP do not summon enough courage to question the rationale of this entitlement.

No student of Pakistani politics would refute the claims of the Bhutto family that it has offered tremendous sacrifices for the party. The family really suffered a lot at the hand of Zia’s dictatorship. The founder of the party sent to the gallows; his wife faced imprisonment, humiliation and character assassination besides going through the trauma of losing two sons. Had she been conscious at the time of Benazir’s assassination, she might have died of the shock. But did these noble personalities lay down their lives to establish a political fiefdom? Were these sacrifices meant to close the doors of PPP leadership for a common man forever?

If sacrifices and sufferings were the only criteria then there are hundreds or possibly thousands of PPP workers and stalwarts who went through traumatic events in their lives because of their political struggle and commitment to the party. The years of Zia’s brutal dictatorship brought nothing for them but miseries and hardships. Defying all odds, they took to the streets raising slogans for the party and going through all types of torture in the name of the party’s ideals.

A number of PPP workers were awarded capital sentences. Some of them were sent to the gallows as well. Many went through lengthy imprisonments. Their children could not make it to high places of learning. But all that does not somehow grant them the entitlement to be in the top tier of party leadership.

There are dozens of political families across the globe who suffered torture. In some cases those who suffered the worst humiliation did not opt to grant indefinite right to their family to lead their party or the country. Nelson Mandela should serve as an example. Mandela spent more than 20 years of his precious life in jail, going through torture and humiliation. But after serving his country for some years, he not only relinquished power but also made way for others to lead his party. He did not repeat the mantra of sacrifices to influence the party.

And it is not only Mandela who is widely respected in the ranks and file of the party but a number of leaders – from Cyril Ramaphosa to David Mabuza – enjoy the support and respect of the workers. Though the party has gone through major changes since the abolition of apartheid, it still has a number of bodies and institutions that work in a democratic way. Unlike Pakistan’s political dynasties, the party is not dominated by Mandela’s family or his relatives.

The Punjab-based PML-N also seems to have this sense of divine right of leading the party. During the 2013-2018 tenure of the party, a number of government ministries and posts were doled out to the Sharif family or their extended family. It is ironic that a party that claims to have thousands of workers cannot find even a single member who can replace the members of the Sharifs family. Why should someone from this family be the chief minister of Punjab? Why should the party of the people be led by one or another Sharif? Does the party not trust any other stalwart? Are there not enough competent people to head government in Punjab or at the centre?

The germs of political dynasty have also made way into smaller political parties. For instance in the JUI-F at least three members of Fazlur Rehman’s family have been a part of parliament. Three prominent names of the PML-Q – Chaudhry Shujaat, Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi and Moonis Elahi – are all from the same family. The party of Bacha Khan who wanted to serve the people is also serving Wali Khan’s family. First it was Wali Khan, then Asfandyar Wali and Begum Nasim Wali Khan and now it is Aimal Asfandyar who is likely to take the mantle. The party also awarded a number of tickets for the national and provincial legislatures to one family or extended family.

The man of principles, Mahmood Khan Achakzai,, too could not defy the temptation of rewarding his own family members. During the last tenure of the PML-N, a number of relatives of the great democrat were holding senior positions either in the party or in government and parliament. Within parties, there are also political families that do not want to leave space for common Pakistanis. In the PTI, a number of other leaders have been accused of not only capturing seats in parliament but helping their relatives secure positions in government.

Even those political parties that do not have a strong presence in parliament love hereditary style of politics. For instance, the JUI-S is led by Samiul Haq’s relatives. Jamiat Ulema Pakistan (Noorani Group) is being headed by Noorani’s son Anas Noorani. The Qaumi Watan Party of Aftab Sherpao is also dominated by his family members.

If political parties really want real democracy, they need to strengthen party institutions. Instead of leaving matters in the hands of a party leader or his family, the central executive body of every political party should be responsible for making party policy and decisions. One of the factors contributing to the strength of political dynasties is the money that one can spend for party and its activities. The same could be said about political families.

If all political parties have a large membership that pays monthly fee for party activities then the influence of these leaders and families could dwindle. An increased share of trade unionists and students wings’ leaders of parties in decision-making bodies could also help reduce this domination of political families. Therefore, it is important that the share of labourers, peasants, students and professionals be increased in all political parties. This might go some way in questioning this strange sense of entitlement.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

Email: [email protected]