Jan 29, 2010


Harris Khalique

Politics is a dirty business. Electoral politics particularly, in a society like ours which is sharply divided on provincial, tribal, religious and clannish lines. Crudely put, this is for two reasons. One, areas of the Indian subcontinent that became Pakistan share the same legacy with other parts of South Asia which is derived from caste-based Hinduism. Primitive social norms hammered into all of us by tradition and the instinct of association with the same caste, clan or tribe prevail. Two, more than six decades of martial and civilian plutocratic rules in Pakistan have contributed immensely to keep this legacy alive.

Electoral politics largely reflects this system which is a combination of patronage and oppression. However, after struggling with different forms of governance and grappling with the issue of balancing power between different classes and interest groups in a state, humanity per se has reached a consensus of sorts. The consensus is not on any perfect system but a system that is most civil, participatory and workable at this particular stage in our collective history. This system is democracy. It provides us with the agency to begin, expedite and sustain a social change process.

Even for people like us who would want to see a redefinition of the state of Pakistan, legally and constitutionally, and believe that nothing can be improved in the long run unless fundamental structural changes in the economy are introduced, the only viable path left is a democratic struggle. People have to be won over even if we think we have the panacea for all their ills. Self-righteousness of revolutionaries won't provide enough reason for capturing power if the revolutionaries are not popular. How easy it is to spend an evening with like-minded friends, comrades and colleagues who all want to bring change in Pakistan. Or bring educated, enlightened and interesting people from all over the country to a meeting hall and analyse different issues faced by the country and society. Or have a jamboree of left-wing intellectuals and political workers and ponder upon what is happening in Latin America, the crisis of financial markets, slump in world economy and chant slogans from the past and create a common illusion that working and lower-middle classes, smaller nations and nationalities, and disgruntled youth are waiting for us desperately to lead the change process.

But what is difficult is to reach out to people in villages, towns and cities, convince them, involve them, make them in-charge of their own fates, create a popular political force and participate in the electoral process without any substantial financial resources. Last week I remembered the iconic Professor Khwaja Masud. He once said that if a socialist leader is not popular among people, it is not the people's fault but his. This makes our work terribly difficult. In a caste-riddled society where millions are spent on putting up banners, buntings, hoardings and cut-outs by one candidate running for a provincial or national assembly seat, our task becomes monumental. But do we have a choice?

We have to find ways, different strategies and new tactics to reach out to people, have clarity in our thoughts and immense homework on issues that need to be resolved in the spheres of economy, polity and society. Politics of resistance is the first step. The crunch comes when we have to produce an alternative. No one else but a new left is capable of doing that – a left which is both rooted and modern.

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