Between Burger and Chargha, Whither Daal Roti? | Daanish Mustafa’s Blog | Elections 2013

May 2013

Elections 2013 have made many ask how Pakistanis really voted and why? Was the election really stolen by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) as the votaries of Imran insist? Is the Left of center really dead? Is there really no politically viable Left, left in Pakistan? To me, the question is not so much about how Pakistan really voted in this election, but more about what the election says about what Pakistan—or more precisely its various regions—really are or have become.

To me, of the radical leftist leanings with a quixotic allegiance to progressive parties such as the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) nationally, and left leaning ethno-nationalist parties across the four provinces, the recent election results provided considerable food for thought. Of course, I am not pollyannaish enough to believe that the PPP, the Awami National Party (ANP), National Party (NP), or Jeay Sindh (JS) are actually repositories of leftist, progressive politics in Pakistan–far from it. I am mindful that most of these parties are no more than parking lots for feudal/industrial/commercial plutocrats who use these party platforms to engage in their egotistical races with their local family and clan rivals. There is also no denying the bad governance of the PPP and ANP in their respective spheres or the strong perception and perhaps even reality of financial corruption in their administrations. Furthermore, I have never found any of the leaders of these leftist parties, past or present, of any particular merit as human beings. Despite all of the above, I like the fact that the leftist parties despite all their shortcomings have recently not been sources of regressive, anti-women, anti-minority or anti-working people legislation, even if they have been as guilty as anybody else of pandering to the religious lobby in their day-to-day governance—remember YouTube and the Tauheen-e-Risalat riots?

If it is not clear already, let me make it clear. It seems to me that in an ideal world one ought to vote for ideas of electoral contestants and not their personalities. Humans are imperfect and human knowledge of other humans doubly so. To my mind nothing good can ever come of fixation upon personalities, because personalities are either bound to disappoint the thoughtful voter, and trap their intellectually less endowed followers into self-delusional denial and perverse behavior at their leaderships’ behest. Hence my utter distaste for the almost (homo)erotic idealization of Mr. Imran Khan by his young followers. But human beings such as they are, are not designed to abstract thought from its human embodiment. A human form inevitably has to stand in as the embodiment of ideas, and therefore our need for leaders and our search for the ideal in them.

PML-N and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaad (PTI) are virtually indistinguishable ideologically in their free market, conservative outlook. They both seem to attract middle class and upper middle class voters. PTI attracts the more socially liberal but intellectually conservative, and PML-N attracts both socially and intellectually conservative voters. They both put a premium upon jealous, anti-West nationalism. They both publicly argue that the Taliban are really our (murderously) confused brothers in need of a bear hug from Nawaz Sharif and Imran’s shoulder for a good cry to see the error of their ways. They both argue that fighting against people who murder our children and blow up their schools are really to be understood and not resisted. If only the Americans had not intervened, we could have merrily coexisted with these murderers as long as they practiced their art against the Indians, Afghans, Americans or an odd Shia or anybody who disagreed with them in Pakistan. They both promise that they will do everything to revert to that blessed state, such as it existed, before the Americans made us pick a fight with our real friends, the Taliban.

With so many similarities one wonders why the PML-N and PTI get so passionate in opposition to each other beyond the personal bad blood between the two pretty boys at the helm of the two parties’ affairs respectively, or the stereotypical food choices of their supporters. One gora Kashmiri boy pretty in the traditional pehelwani (warrior) Lahori sense, and the other gora Pathan sportsman, pretty in the more cosmopolitan London, Paris, Milan sense. Then there is also the question of how come middle class agendas and obsessions about efficient government, national pride, and a more conducive environment for capitalist accumulation come to so completely dominate the political discourse and now the political power in Pakistan.

I must admit that I was surprised at how completely the PPP and ANP were wiped out of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. But upon reflection, I guess with the disappearance of PML-Q it was inevitable that the PML-N and PTI would take over its voters as well. But more to the point I suspect that the Pakistani polity has become more bourgeoisie culturally and politically if not materially. I talked about this trend in my previous blog. I thought that the process would take a couple more election cycles to show, but it has shown itself in this one. Seemingly, it is goodbye to the social contract between the state and the people of providing social justice, political space for dissent and minorities and addressing the needs of the most vulnerable. Instead it is seemingly hello to free market, motorways, tall buildings, yellow cabs, dams and the state as a facilitator of wealth generation.

The poor, and the dispossessed have sadly not disappeared from our midst even if their voices have. The left is out of ideas that resonate in the local milieu. Why should the poor not buy into the consumerist ideal peddled through the mass media? Why should they resist the local power brokers and patronage networks if there is nothing different on the ideological menu to inspire them? The victory of the PML-N and PTI in the elections of 2013 is not as much a victory of the political Right as it is a failure of the Left. The elections further underline the urgency for the Left to devise new idioms and articulate new ideas, instead of leaving the field to the purveyors of neo-liberal orthodoxy. Chargha and Burger might be hip for different classes of the bourgeoisie, but there is nothing better for the soul of the polity than a political menu promising at least daal roti for all.

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