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August 19, 2014
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The boiled-egg revolution

Opinion

August 19, 2014

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Surely, the conscience of this nation lies with our moral angels, the TV anchors and hosts of talk-show orgies that provide viewers with a daily dose of political pornography. Only in this nation could one expect these impatient anchors to now jump out from the restraints of TV journalism and physically flank the revolutionaries of Aabpara like Kiram and Katibin.
Only in Pakistan can we expect the privatised politics of the religious pietist movements and their madressah followers, to be more powerful political players than the democratically elected, public representatives of political parties. Only here can we expect, in the aftermath of a decade-long conflict, displaced peoples, several devastating natural disasters, a province isolated and its disappeared unaccounted for, kidnapped children of a PM and governor unrecovered and children still contracting polio and dying of measles, that political revolution is neither about people nor freedoms. It’s about settling scores.
There are only two important features about the Azadi and Long Marches. These are the spectacle and the lessons of a politics that is without an identifiable human cause.
The performance factor is obvious. Tahirul Qadri has the lead role in the plot of the play where religion is calculatedly mixed with politics. He may not be legitimate in the eyes of electoral democracy or serious religious scholars, but this is the occupational hazard of using religion for political purposes – you become a spoiler for both disciplines. Ask the real politicians, the Jamaat-e-Islami – the only thing worth marching for is Gaza.
The UN called Qadri – they want their list of Millennium Development Goals back – shelter for all, education for all, employment for all…with some sprinkling of gender equality and minority rights. Qadri is also a proponent of peace (with some underlying threats of occasional Islamic punishment).When NGOs ask for all this, they invite vicious suspicion but the

advantage of faith-based development is that it has an inbuilt moral shield of divinity.
But Qadri is not invested in representative national politics – no constituency and no ethno-provincial identity-based politics. His political relevance depends only on a performance of promissory and not on delivery and accountability.
The PTI’s performance, on the other hand, has simply been one of a cringe-worthy lack of political intuition. Worse, the PTI leadership is not just prone to being counter-intuitive but, since several of them and their advisers have been from the corporate sector, they tend to revert to a corporate-style politics. Their thinking, vocabulary, attitude and methodology seem to be taken straight out of some managerial manual complete with Gandhian inspirational quotes. Outside of their exclusive board rooms, they often seem enamoured by their own power and destiny but are having a hard time convincing others of their wisdom and deliverability. It doesn’t help to have Imran Khan explaining the nutritional importance of the boiled eggs he consumed during an interview at his hill-top residence on the third day of the revolution. Right there – the death of the power breakfast.
The economic disobedience call (it’s not civil) after deep introspection by Imran Khan, meanwhile, has just made every tax-evading member of the upper and trading classes a rebel – now with a cause. Such a complex PTI economic plan must be inspiring to all progressive economists who have for years advocated for restructuring the economy by doing exactly the opposite.
Most would agree that there are flaws in our electoral system. Our voting citizens hang admirable hope on representative politics. However, fighting for its reform doesn’t make it to the top of the list of their poverty-stricken, disease-ridden, insecure and brutalised lives. The majority’s is a politics of localised deals and negotiations with The System – whether of the state or local community/tribal structures. What will they get from upgrading Big Politics if it doesn’t change the small politics of their daily lives? Nothing trickles down except floodwater, and we all know it.
Historically, there have been no local revolts to institute the most important feature of an egalitarian political system (ie local government). So, why would any party imagine that the nation will rise and topple governments for the cause of big, centralised political reforms? It also makes for the most unlikely revolutionary slogan ever. Compare the promise of ‘roti, kapra, makaan’ to ‘electoral reform so our party may just win and deliver a clean government’. The people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are right to be insulted since they successfully elected the PTI through this defective system. Now they must suffer that choice and join the revolution that asks for more sacrifice, not expect delivery.
Mobilising people for causes is not easy. This is not to suggest ‘peopl’ are not discontent or, that they are ‘lazy’, ‘uneducated’ or ‘ungrateful’ but that their gripes are not with any vague ‘system’. Instead, depending on who these ‘people’ are, they have very specific, localised, identifiable issues with equally distinguishable systems, codes and power centres. The People, unlike The System are not a faceless, identical bloc. So, unless a party can tap into different people’s differently immediate needs and prove its commitment to delivering these in a targeted manner, it may as well be a well-intentioned NGO that lobbies and organises for reform and changing The System for The People.
Khan and Qadri are performing a protest politics that has no direct human interest or impact. In the absence of a people’s cause, one cannot take seriously this call for disobedience. Preachers, TV anchors and the PTI need to climb out of the intellectual fog from which they insist that we need a Naya Pakistan. Newsflash – this is it! A country that sees its first completed civilian transition of parliamentary process (even if you refuse to call it democracy) in the 21st century should be embarrassed by any attempts for the reversal of this achievement. Only those with political and historical ADD can be recalling the unstable, cyclical, army-empowering electoral drama of the ‘90s.
The PTI leadership brokers no revolutionary hate for the religious militants in Fata who have murdered thousands of soldiers and citizens of Pakistan. They advocate peaceful negotiations with these internal enemies of the state. Their street power that we see in action today has managed to stop Nato supplies in the past but not once have we seen it directed towards a policing of funding or arms supplies to these militants. Instead, the revolutionary vanguards of the PTI and the PAT wish to subvert a system of which they are beneficiaries themselves.
Abusing the ruling party, the opposition, the judiciary, the Election Commission and one media house but not the militants, the interventionist army, the religious bigots, the laws that enable persecution of minorities, the capitalist elite that crush labour, the men who rape women and children – all makes for a boiled-egg revolution that is anti-state, but not pro-people. Khan has even, perhaps, squandered away the opportunity for a genuine pressure for electoral reforms.
But…at least we have learned that if we eat our boiled eggs, we will always have our health.
The writer is a sociologist based in Karachi. Email: [email protected]

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