Vapid slogans

January 28, 2024

Many politicians see slogans as rhetoric, not promises that bind them

Vapid slogans

Just as elections are an integral part of democracy, so are slogans. Slogans and campaigns go hand in hand. Popular slogans echo the aspirations of the voters who see them as promises. They may cover several issues ranging from party symbols to ideology, from ethnicity to religion and from regional issues to global problems. They are a reflection of the times they are created in. They hold meaning in a democratic system where citizens have to be persuaded to rally around certain political parties and leaders and come out and cast their votes on the polling day. They abound during the election season though they may appear at any time. In flawed democracies, the promises implicit in them often remain unfulfilled.

Pakistan has been a flawed democracy. No wonder, therefore, that vapid slogans abound here. They have been an integral part of the country’s electoral politics since its inception. The politicians have been coming up with and voicing vapid slogans such as Pakistan Ka Matlab Kya, Qarz Utaro Mulk Sanwaro, Roshan Khayal Pakistan and Naya Pakistan. Their sole aim has been to attract, fascinate, inspire, motivate and mobilise voters and supporters. Through these catchy phrases, the politicians have been able to attract, rally and persuade large numbers of voters. In some cases, they have succeeded in creating a cult of personality. Regrettably, a majority of these slogans have remained unfulfilled.

A majority of the scholars hold that the general elections of 1970 introduced and popularised the trend of popular election slogans in Pakistan. I respectfully disagree with them. I hold that the history of the slogans is as old as the country, if not older. To me, Pakistan Ka Matlab Kya? La Ilaha Illalah is the oldest of the most memorable and popular slogans in the history of Pakistan. This was used as a political tool by none other than Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of the nation. Through this slogan, he was successful in rallying a large number of Muslims (particularly urban middle class) to vote and support the All India Muslim League. The majority of the Muslims in north India voted for an Islamic country since they were promised an Islamic state.

The second most popular election slogan, Maangta Hai Har Insaan, Roti Kapra Aur Makaan, was raised and propagated by the Peoples Party of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. (Chaudhary Fateh Muhammad claimed in an interview in 2018 that this slogan was coined by Punjab Kisan Tehreek and not the PPP. The latter borrowed it from the former and capitalised on it). Coupled with this was Islamic Socialism – a political and intellectual trend in the Muslim world in the 1960s and 1970s. Through these slogans, Bhutto offered a shift in power and resources from an elite minority to the vast majority of the poor. They helped him win the 1970 elections in West Pakistan.

The third most popular slogan, Naya Pakistan, was coined by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf led by the former prime minister Imran Khan in 2013. Although the party did not win a majority in the National Assembly in 2013, its well-marketed slogan spoke about change. It influenced the voters to rally and vote for Khan’s PTI in 2018, when 31.82 percent of the electorate voted for it. However, the PTI government failed to do anything concrete to lay the foundations of a Naya Pakistan.

The general elections are once again around the corner and the political parties are crafting and propagating new slogans. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, for instance, is running his campaign under a new slogan, Awami Muashi Muhahida. He is promising to build 3 million houses across the country and give those to women; and provide free electricity up to 300 units to the poor. The PTI’s slogan for the elections is Nizam Badlo, Pakistan Badlo. This is akin to its previous slogan Naya Pakistan. Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz has already shifted from Vote Ko Izzat Doe to Wazir-i-Azam Nawaz Sharif.

To the leaders of major political parties coining new slogans these are mere rhetoric, not promises they have to fulfil. They are aimed at attracting, persuading, motivating, mobilising and rallying voters. Vapid slogans are great weapons or political tools to amass their votes. This is an unfortunate reality in a country where people have short memories.

The writer has a PhD in history from Shanghai University. He is a lecturer at GCU, Faisalabad, and a research fellow at PIDE, Islamabad. He can be contacted at His X handle: @MazharGondal87

Vapid slogans