Hassan Ijaz argues that PTI’s ideological base gets increasingly disillusioned with its policies which are based predominantly on the mechanical considerations of its experts and much less on the actual, organic engagement with the masses. The weak hegemony that the PTI commanded to claim its place as the ruling group is declining gradually.
The antagonisms between the tendencies of centralisation/authoritarianism and progressive forces have come to a head in the last few days. A number of events have unveiled the burgeoning contradictions in our structure of power which periodically lead to some or the other kind of authoritarianism in Pakistan. The most recent of these developments is the judgement of the Supreme Court related to COVID-19.
It goes without saying that the tradition of undemocratic institutions’ encroachment upon the domain of legislature is far from novel. But while much has been and is being written about the so-called clash of institutions, the social origin of these authoritarian and interventionist tendencies goes almost unheeded.
These issues and periodic clashes of institutions are not so much institutional as they are social, and while mainstream media portrays them as battles being fought between certain institutions struggling to dominate the political field, the realisation that the rise of such caesarean tendencies among the judges of superior courts (and at times the generals) is always beholden to the different antagonisms and motifs of various social classes in society. Because although the terrain of these clashes between institutions has ostensibly been civil-military relations and those between the judiciary and executive, they represent an inherent flaw in liberal democratic order which is its minimal hegemony and its scarce representativeness.
That is to say, the ruling and mainstream parties in such liberal-democratic polities are not obliged by strong ideological commitments to weave an organic bond with the masses, one that does not only rely on rhetorical phrases and catchwords but by transformative programs and manifestos that aim at tangibly changing the imagination as well as the material conditions of the masses. These parties and ruling classes mostly employ the tactics of what Antonio Gramsci calls ‘common sense’ politics whose imagination never goes beyond immediate and emotional solutions to complex problems (one such example is the PTI’s campaign to end all suffering of the masses just by eradicating corruption).
But slogans can hardly substitute for material and economic well-being when even slogans of a bright future are but a dreary re-run of the past, given the limited imaginations of common sense politics used by most of the populist leaders (and even liberal democrats) and parties today. And this is precisely the reason why liberal democracy, with its minimal hegemony and connection to the masses, always inexorably leads to some or the other kind of authoritarianism and dictatorship, and periodic clashes of institutions in Pakistan should also be understood in the context of the influence of these social forces. The unwillingness of the PTI-led government in the coronavirus-related crises and it’s a superficial concern for those dying of hunger brings to fore these fundamental limitations of liberal democracy.
The present government commands the least hegemony of those it initially claimed to represent. The urban middle classes that had formed the ideological core of the PTI now see a near conviction on part of the government that the powers it initially challenged are the ones it can not afford to challenge because of the limitations of the system of patronage and military establishment’s intervention in politics that guided it’s way to power.
Also, during the pandemic, it had to make a choice between the slogans it had popularised itself (freedom of business and construction industry providing jobs on its own), so it made the obvious choice of standing by its own slogans of the past and opened businesses rather than even trying to act in a global crisis. The present situation undoubtedly epitomises ideological crisis whereby the waning hegemony of the ruling party presents the progressive forces a chance to educate the masses with new world-views that challenge the prevalent politics of electables and common sense and gives the masses a new philosophy of praxis that can link their immediate economic concerns with a radical transformation of the static reality that we live in today.
The absence of an alternative common sense is what gives way to judicial activism, military intervention in politics and the rise of religious, right-wing authoritarianism. And the other developments that have recently come to take the progressive forces by surprise are also somewhat linked to the absence of this alternative common sense.
The recent spike in extrajudicial abductions of rights activists-mostly those who belong (or belonged) to the peripheries – and the unilateral and unrepresentative appointments to the NFC have once again seen the usual silence of the Punjabi populace towards the state’s unjust attitude towards its units signifies that the state has so far been successful in making the masses believe that ethnic nationalism-and it’s the demands therein-is an exploitative form of politics which is used by ethnic elites to manipulate those living on the fringe.
What gives credence and currency to this almost universal hostility towards demands of provincial autonomy (mostly among those closest to the centre) is perfunctory support of progressive forces to national.
It’s about time that those who stand against individual injustices towards ethnic minorities began to realise and believe that political rights and economic rights can never be separately struggled for and achieved. Our commitments and demands for a more just future must also mean an economically just system for those-the people of peripheries-whose access to their own natural resources has been restricted by the barbarity of a system built upon the forced assimilation of smaller nations into the economic behaviours of the dominant ones.
While PTI’s ideological base gets increasingly disillusioned with its policies which are based predominantly on the mechanical considerations of its experts and much less on the actual, organic engagement with the masses, the weak hegemony that the PTI commanded to claim its place as the ruling group gradually.
Now,more than ever, the state of affairs calls for a counter-hegemonic agenda that can not just highlight the daily injustices inflicted upon the economically and ethnically marginalised, but also helps the masses imagine beyond the limitations of the static world-views which form the pivot of mainstream politics in Pakistan.