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Cults, the elite and national politics

We are seeing a phase in our history where people continue to seek a messiah who can rescue them from their present set of woes. These woes include the hyperinflation which has doubled the prices of even the most basic commodities, putting even lentils and vegetables out of the reach of many people.

Of course, through our history the search for a messiah has always been central to Pakistani politics. This perhaps is the reason why so many insist our best leaders were ‘strong men’ such as General Ayub Khan or later General Musharraf because they, as autocrats, held total power and seemed to the people to be stronger than the democratic leaders we have been able to find through the ages.

But the leaders of our parties act not too differently to the autocrats. Each would like a place in power and most seem to care for little else. Ideology too has mingled to form one central chain of thought which does not vary in terms of what the economy should look like or indeed what the future of Pakistan should look like. The chief of the cult-like leaders is possibly charismatic Imran Khan who as a politician is backed by party members who tweet and daily ridicule journalists, talkshow hosts, other politicians and anyone who dares criticize their leader or their party. In addition to this, we have viral videos which are terrifying. In one, a man of middle age holds his small son before him and says he would willingly sacrifice his child for Imran Khan. We can only wonder at the mentality of people who think in this fashion.

The leaders of other parties are, however, not all that different. Whether we speak about the Sharifs or the Bhuttos, each relies on a kind of hero worship or cult-like worship from the people whose votes they pull in. It is true that in nuance each of these parties and their leaders may vary slightly, but it is only nuance and not much more than that. We still have no response really from the political parties on what Pakistan’s future economic strategy should look like, even at a time when there is a desperate need to clarify such issues and place agendas before people who will hopefully sometime in the future cast their votes.

The lack of regard for these people is also shocking. The combined ineptness and lack of ability of these parties and perhaps more crucially the autocratic interventions that have disrupted democracy for regular periods through our history have prevented any real change and any real development towards either a real democracy or a stable country where people can live safely and securely, confident of their future and willing to bring up children who will stay in the country and become worthwhile citizens.

We produce in our universities a host of engineers, doctors, infotech managers and others who can simply not find worthwhile employment because we do not have industries and establishments which can employ them in worthwhile positions.

In this situation, we must ask what people are to do. It is unfortunate that there is no group or leadership that can bring people out on the streets as should be happening in the present scenario. No party talks about the suicides that take place on a daily basis, simply because families are starving and children are being born into households which can simply not feed them and to mothers who are too malnourished to sustain the new life they produce.

This is the real tragedy that everyone should be talking about. Instead, we hear only about ciphers, about parties facing internal dissent, about vague promises to uplift the economy and promises that people will be looked after even though parties like the PPP for example have done nothing for men like Nazim Jokhio who was killed blatantly by prominent party leaders and his family left to bear the loss without even a word of regret from the party that consistently paints itself as for the people as does its leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.

The result is that people rely on the idea of cults and following parties as if these entities were indeed cults rather than political groupings of people who think in a similar way. This is perhaps the reason why we have lost the ability to hold meaningful discourse. Instead, we have only abuse and vitriol thrown out at us over Twitter and other social media sites. In each case, leaders are defended and words we have become so familiar with are used for rival parties as if there was only one truth in the complex world of nations and national politics. This is simply not the case. We can arrive at real meaning only if there is open discussion, discourse and a willingness to accept difference.

It is unfortunate that even on university campuses and colleges, discourse has been banned. The ban on student unions is of course a huge factor in this. If student unions could be restored, we would have at least the ground from where new leaders could arise and perhaps offer some kind of direction to people or talk about different agendas and different ideas. Very few people truly understand what accepting a loan from the IMF really means and how countries have been destroyed as a result of policies ordained by the IMF after they fall into the abyss that brings them to the doors of this lender of last resort.

We are in desperate need of solutions. It is obvious that the kind of polarization we have today is not going to help us find these. Instead, we need to find an agenda which involves people and offers them some hope of a future in the country and a betterment in their lives as far as this is possible in the present economic scenario. We are nowhere close to this and stand at the brink of an abyss; there is every danger that we will fall into it in the near future if things do not change.

Email: kamilahyat@hotmail.com

Kamila Hyat, "Cults, the elite and national politics," The News. 2023-02-23.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political groupings , Political parties , Democracy , Politicians , Bilawal Bhutto Zardari , Gen Ayub , Pakistan , IMF , PPP