Why is our political spectrum controlled by personalities not ideology?
I have been driving around Karachi for the last few weeks and many of its walls are adorned with graffiti saying hamain manzil nahi rehnuma chahiye (we want a leader, not destiny). In November 30th PTI jalsa in Islamabad I was sitting on the stage, listening to speeches. Almost all speeches focused on the personality of Imran Khan and no speaker even mentioned the party. In Sindh, despite protestations from the people, the leader of the party refuse to change the chief minister because it serves the purpose of those that control the party. In the last elections, PPP focussed its media campaign on the martyrdom of Benazir Bhutto to seek votes, rather than elaborate what they delivered to the people. The party has built a shrine of its founder Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in Garhi Khuda Bakhsh to ensure continued dominance of politics. In PML-N, almost 30 percent of cabinet positions are controlled by PM Nawaz Sharif’s family and the party uses the Sharif brothers as leaders without any need for an ideology. JUI-F talks about the services and personality of Mufti Mahmud (father of Maulana Fazlur Rehman) and his sons now control most of the party. Similar situations exist in ANP, PML-F and other political parties. The question that comes to mind is why is our political spectrum controlled by personalities not ideology?
There is no easy answer to this question. Before participation in 2013 general elections, I believed it had something got to do with level of education and predominance of illiteracy in the country. But I changed this view after closely observing how our elections and politics are organised. I saw highly educated people vehemently arguing why it was so important to follow personalities rather than ideologies. It was obvious to me that educated people are the root cause rather than a solution to this problem. If level of education is not the cause then what is it? One possible cause could be the quality of our education and how it is imparted. All levels of our education have strong emotional components and rationality takes a back seat.
In terms of delivery of education we seek compliance rather than allow critical thinking. Our class room sessions are monologues rather than being interactive sessions where students are allowed to speak their minds and seek guidance from the instructor
In terms of delivery of education we seek compliance rather than allow critical thinking. Our class room sessions are monologues rather than being interactive sessions where students are allowed to speak their minds and seek guidance from the instructor. In USA students are allowed to work in a workshop type environment in which they express talent by building clay models of anything that comes to mind. This promotes their ability to visualise an idea, develop its physical manifestation and then present it to the whole class. In other cases students are asked to bring pieces of artefacts that represent cultures of other people. This kind of creative thinking is nonexistent in our education system. It is absence of this individual expression that ultimately produces conformist citizens who are hesitant to disturb the status quo by challenging the authority of the dominant personality.
Education is not the only factor. Our political structure is akin to 18th European aristocratic society in which the baron of an estate was responsible for provision of employment through serfdom; running the police force and imparting justice as judge of the area. Pakistan is experiencing a similar social and political structure in our rural areas which comprise 65 percent of the electorate. The dera of the feudal is the first stop for people to seek redress for most of their issues that should be solved by the state apparatus without interference of any third party. The state has completely failed to break this stronghold of the feudal, rather the situation has aggravated because of an inept and incapable bureaucratic structure. For people it is better to maintain this status quo as they don’t see any ray of hope on the horizon that could improve their lot. They support every new entrant with the hope that finally a saviour has arrived, but that optimism is usually short lived whether it was a martial law or arrival of ZAB and most recently PTI.
Another factor is the promotion of a distorted version of Sufi Islam, where a figure head of a past Sufi family becomes a spiritual guide of the people. This factor has overwhelming influence in South Punjab and most of Sindh. There is no doubt that there have been prominent religious figures in the past that dedicated their lives to guiding people about the values and tradition of Islam. But their inheritors are far from being spiritual and in fact use that position for their own political and economic benefit. I recently met a prominent friend from Sindh who said that this situation is beginning to change as mureeds realise that their pir only takes and never gives back anything, so they will not vote for them in the future. If this is true then there is hope for a better future.
I don’t know any superman in Pakistan that can take us to our destiny but I do know many individuals that can form a good team. All we need to do is to bring them all on one platform
Islam proposes that it is the acts of an individual that are important rather than to whom he was born. To explain this further let’s look at some of the personalities presented by Quran. The father of Prophet Ibrahim (AS) refused to accept the message and remained one of the ignorant ones. On the other hand both sons of Prophet Ibrahim (AS) Ismail (AS) and Isaac (AS) become prophets in their own rights. The son of Hazrat Nooh (AS) refused to accept the message and drowned in the storm. Hazrat Yaqoob (AS) had sons of which many conspired against Hazrat Yousuf (AS) while Yousuf (AS) became a prominent prophet. Many uncles and relatives of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) accepted Islam but Abu Jahl refused. There are many similar stories which makes it clear that it is not the inheritance but individual piety and righteousness that is important.
It was probably because of this Quranic message that Allama Iqbal promoted the idea of Khudi (self-ego) which required an individual to adopt a life of self-enlightenment and then work towards the collective enlightenment of the whole community. It is unfortunate that this ideal of Iqbal is still far from being a reality, just like the dream of his partner and friend Mohammad Ali Jinnah who wanted Pakistan to be a progressive Islamic welfare and democratic state. We cannot achieve these dreams until we break the shackles of blindly following an individual saviour. We have to instead make a collective decision and support a team that can deliver on the promise.
I don’t know any superman in Pakistan that can take us to our destiny but I do know many individuals that can form a good team. All we need to do is to bring them all on one platform and make them work as a team.