OVER A COFFEE: Energising youth, but for what? — I —Dr Haider Shah
It is extremely important that we develop the habit of seeing the incumbent party removed from power through elections by the opposition party if the former had failed to deliver. If a government is able to survive despite poor governance, it is a sign of a diseased political system
Whenever a vacuum is created, storms gush in to fill the void. This is one of the well known laws of nature. One needs a very high level of Leibnizian optimism to believe that the present coalition government is governing at all. When the perception of bad governance is strong, the criminal justice system is creaking and sections of the population feel marginalised, political vacuums arise, which are being filled by extremist groups using religious creeds for both motivational and organisational purpose. I have written many pieces about poor governance and the appalling perceptions of management of the coalition government in Pakistan. Many small religious and sectarian outfits like the Sunni Tehreek and the Sunni Ittehad Council have been surreptitiously capitalising on public unrest against the government and gaining bigger political space. But their appeal has largely remained restricted to seminaries and a small radicalised section of the population. Sensing that the exhausted prey is weak and shivering on its legs, the old kid on the block, Imran Khan, has also suddenly staged his arrival amidst songs of famous pop singers to claim his part of the kill.
In India when a regional leader, Lalu Prasad Yadav, a comic relief character in Indian politics, became the railways minister, he turned the loss-making institution into a profitable enterprise and started lecturing students of premier business schools on the art of change management. Here our Red Shirt leader has only tears to offer in public over the fate of the railways under his stewardship. The fate of other institutions is also not much different. The British criminal justice system has shown that no dodger is safe from the long hands of the law even if it involves throwing a few no-balls in a cricket match. Here, as I had predicted in an earlier piece, there are so many moonis-o-ghamkhwar (supporters) of all dodgers that they get honourably acquitted even though impropriety can clearly be seen floating on the surface. Despite all this, I am under no illusion that if any other political party was in power today, the lives of the ordinary people would have been any better. What is actually condemnable is, however, the complete disregard to governance and transparency on the part of the incumbent government and lack of responsiveness to public perceptions. The coalition government seems to have focused all its energies on constituency-based politics of survival through political intrigues.
When bad governance generates a vacuum, some other forces are bound to fill the void. It is in this backdrop that I weigh my options. My two previous pieces on Imran Khan were generally well received though many Imran followers were not very happy over my ‘blasphemy’. Some friends, knowing my left-leaning past, questioned my open bias in favour of Nawaz Sharif. Yes, I am guilty as charged. Making sweeping generalisations in a thinly veiled neutral stance is the prerogative of bright journalists. I am a student of public policy, which is concerned with making things happen by pursuing high ideals but without becoming an idealist. I have no association with any party but as Edmund Burke once remarked: “The hottest fires in hell are reserved for those who remain neutral in times of moral crisis.” I also believe that instead of waiting for Imam Mehdis and other redeemers, we should take the harder and stamina demanding route of institutions building. I have drawn a principle and weigh the available options in the light of that principle. It is extremely important that we develop the habit of seeing the incumbent party removed from power through elections by the opposition party if the former had failed to deliver. If a government is able to survive despite poor governance, it is a sign of a diseased political system. As the present government has failed to register positive performance, the main opposition party, the PML-N, should therefore reap the benefit. I feel sympathetic to the claim of the PML-N on the measure of fairness as well. Whether it was the case of sasti roti (subsidised bread), which was financially not feasible in the long run though, or in cases of fake degrees or the plague of the dengue virus, the PML-N government in Punjab has been very sensitive to public perceptions, and generally is considered to be making serious efforts in addressing public level grievances. I also find the PML-N the only party that made genuine political sacrifices on at least two occasions for the sake of institutions building. First, it sacrificed its federal ministries on a principled stand over restoration of the judiciary and second, when the media criticised the PML-N’s refusal to agree to the change of name of NWFP, it responded positively even though the decision entailed a serious negative fallout in its strongholds in Hazara. So that is why I feel a democratic system will strengthen if a better performing political party is allowed to trounce a poorly performing government through the political process. One feels that our electronic media is at times grossly irresponsible when it uses a very wide brush approach by using negative adjectives round the clock for all politicians. As opposed to the ruling party, if the opposition party has shown some sensitivity to public perceptions, I feel it is a bit unfair that now when the time of retribution has come, the main opposition party should be denied the benefit of the popular discontent against the prevailing government. To me it looks ominous that a leader who was mostly either hibernating or making money from interviews in cricket tournaments during the last three years should suddenly storm the stage and with the help of a few pop stars declare that the kill was all his.
(To be continued)
The writer teaches public policy in the UK and is the founding member of Rationalist Society of Pakistan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org