The repetitive utterance of substantive issues in a rhetorical manner by Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri over the last five weeks has given rise to a new public consciousness. People feel they have had enough of listening to what is wrong with our democracy, our system and politicians. What they need to hear now are concrete solutions to the problems being talked about by these ‘container’ leaders. However, all they get to hear every evening are sweeping statements without the substantiating of any facts, figures and evidence by Khan and Qadri. Issues are constantly raised in the same manner without a mention of structural causes. This fully exposes the politics of dharnas (sit-ins) and the pro status quo nature of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT).
It is obvious that both Khan and Qadri are only interested in raising slogans of change to garner political support. They have neither the vision nor any concrete plans to transform the state and society in the interests of the poor masses. It is amazing to see how these two leaders have wasted the golden opportunity of sharing the trajectories of azaadi (independence) and inqilab (revolution) with the people of Pakistan. No one party or politician in the history of Pakistan has ever gotten such massive amounts of airtime and coverage as Imran and Qadri have. They could have strategically used this precious media time at their disposal to promote their political vision. They could have systematically addressed the key issues of the people’s concerns by offering solutions. They should have shared their future social, economic and foreign policies to convince the nation that they had the capacity to govern. Instead, they wasted this precious resource in sloganeering, shouting, abusing and threatening public servants.
The conceptual disconnect between the issues raised and the root causes in the larger social and political context is quite pronounced in the speeches delivered from the containers. For example, the issue of electoral reforms is being raised over and over but in an isolated manner. The Charter of Demands on Electoral Reforms by the PTI clearly reflects a technical approach towards the election process. The social and political aspects of the electoral processes are completely ignored and missing in the charter of demands. There is no mention of power configuration in our society responsible for throwing up a class of tribal, feudal and capitalists in our elected parliaments.
Electoral reforms without land reforms and economic reforms are meaningless. Dismantling the power structures in society, no reforms can yield pro-people results. We have already experienced the result of the Devolution of Power Plan (DPP). The DPP massively contributed towards strengthened local power hierarchies. The same political families that dominate our national politics and parliament took control of district governments as a result of local government elections. The political control on the executive and administration of district government strengthened the power and political control of the traditional political elite manifold.
It is not rocket science to understand that electoral reforms without land reforms will not work in favour of the people. However, Khan and Qadri dare not mention land reforms in the presence of feudals like Shah Mahmood and Mustafa Khar. Similarly, there is a lot of talk about workers rights from the containers but not once has either leader mentioned or condemned the neo-liberal polices of privatisation, informalisation and casualisation of work that are aggressively pushed by the IMF and World Bank in Pakistan. These two financial institutions received mention with reference to foreign loans but not how the economic prescription of the IMF and World Bank is creating havoc in people’s lives by endangering their livelihoods.
Both the PTI and PAT leaders feel good when saying that in “naya (new) Pakistan” non-Muslim Pakistanis will be treated equally. However, they have maintained silence on the issue of the repeal of the blasphemy laws that are frequently misused against non-Muslims. Also, they would rather not mention the law that does not allow any non-Muslim Pakistani to become the head of state.
The gender politics of this dharna are also quite troubling for all those who have been fighting for political rights of women in the country. The paternalistic attitudes of Khan and Qadri towards female protestors have undermined the political resilience and resistance of some of the women who come of their own free will. It is interesting to observe how patriarchal ideology is being used differently in different situations during the sit-ins.
Both the PAT and PTI have made a fuss over police aggression against women protestors and children while they themselves have happily used them as human shields at this time. Women protestors are addressed as sisters and mothers but not as party workers or party activists. Their political role is not acknowledged and that is why women are not included in negotiation committees formed by the PAT and PTI. Women are not considered stakeholders who should have a say in this negotiation process.
This conceptual disconnect between the ground realities and structural causes lying in the larger socio-cultural, economic and political context is not without reason. Both the PTI and PAT do not want to change the status quo. Therefore, they are reluctant to identify and highlight the real issues. The want restricted political consciousness, spellbound by personalities. The fake claim of the PAT and PTI as revolutionary forces is palpable from the fact that they are quite selective in demanding reforms within the system. They have not demanded any reforms in the political and economic sphere that will fundamentally change the status quo in favour of the poor masses.