We live in the embrace of a deprecated political culture. We live in a society where ethics kneel at the perverted altar of partisan rhetoric and personal bias. We live in a time when stalwarts of our political establishment repeatedly demonstrate their belief in vulgarity as an acceptable political culture. Time and again, our politicians – the esteemed representatives of our democracy and, by extension, representatives of our society – have abandoned even the remotest semblance of decency and a moral code.
And somewhere along this insolent lineage, our democracy has bled into a bowl of political despotism.
This week has been witness to two startling episodes of this deplorable political culture.
First, on the floor of the Parliament, the Federal Minister for Defence, Mr. Khawaja Asif, made unprovoked vulgar comments against the PTI female parliamentarian, Ms. Shireen Mazari. In the midst of a comment by Ms. Mazari (who, per reports, was impolite herself), Khawaja Asif proceeded to ask the Speaker to “make this tractor trolley keep quiet”. Making matters worse, the Speaker, who per the mandate of the Constitution is required to be a non-partisan officer holder, jumped onto the PML-N bandwagon, in support of his fellow PML-N member. Reportedly, while refraining from calling Ms. Mazari any names, the Speaker sided with Khawaja Asif and ordered Ms. Mazari to keep quiet, so as to observe the “decorum” of the National Assembly.
Yes. It was Shireen Mazari who should have observed the decorum. Well played, Mr. Speaker.
A few days later, another illustrious parliamentarian, JUI-F’s Senator Hafiz Hamdullah, felt no qualms in using profane language against a female journalist, Marvi Sirmed, during a nationally televised talk-show. Apparently on account of an ideological disagreement, while Ms. Sirmed was in the process of replying a to a question, this Hafiz-e-Quran and parliamentarian hurled abuses against Ms. Sirmed (which are too vulgar to be repeated in this op-ed), threatened her, and attempted to physically assault her… all in full view of the camera.
And till date, there have been no real consequences, personally or politically, against either Khawaja Asif or Hafiz Hamdullah.
Before commenting on these deplorable events, let us get one clear fact out of the way first: the requirement of being a college graduate, or any of the provisions of Article 62 and 63 of the Constitution, have done nothing to evolve or improve our political culture. Uneducated parliamentarians, chosen without recourse to the moral standards enshrined in the Constitution, would probably have done no worse.
Coming more to the point – it has become painfully clear that, in Pakistan, the idea of showing solidarity and support to one’s cadre, party, leadership, or ideology, trumps all constraints of law and civility. Not only is boorish political hackery welcomed, it is cherished. It is prized. And it is rewarded.
It is in fidelity to this principle that state functionaries, who draw their salaries from the National Exchequer, came out all-guns-blazing, in support of Prime Minister’s children (read: private citizens), during the Panama Leaks. And those who are the crudest in mounting such a defence, soon find themselves rewarded with positions of political power.
The best and most consistent example of this phenomenon, perhaps, is the Punjab Law Minister, Rana Sanaullah; a person who has no real loyalty, affinity or even expertise to the portfolio that he holds. His claim to fame, and thus his utility to the political masters, emanates from the fact that he has no qualms getting down and dirty with his political opponents, even if the same reflects worse on him than anyone else.
Rana Sb.’s model of political notoriety has recently been adopted (and mastered) by one Mr. Danyal Aziz, during his chronicles of defending the Panama Leaks. Getting red in the face, speaking as loudly as possible, calling names to political opponents, and topping it all with concocted dreams of the beloved Prime Minister blowing flying-kisses towards him (and others), has become the brand of his politics. And no one would be surprised if he is rewarded with a significant political ministry in return.
This ‘culture’ of defending political positions (above and beyond all measure of morality), and of subservience to the political elite, has now been institutionalized through Article 63A of the Constitution. Unanimously voted in through the 18th Constitutional Amendment, Article 63A expressly declares that any member of the Parliament who “votes or abstains from voting in the House contrary to any direction issued by the Parliamentary Party to which he belongs” (in relation to the election of Prime/Chief Minister, vote of confidence, Money Bill or Constitution Amendment) shall “cease to be a member of the House” upon the recommendation of the “Party Head” (through the laid-down procedure). In other words, no member of the parliament can exercise his or her own mind, in critical matters of governance, against the will or pleasure of the Party Head. With independence of opinion ruled out, can we really be surprised that our political culture has descended into a rat-race of becoming ‘more loyal than the king’?
In all honesty, this immoral and disingenuous political culture feeds on the media frenzy that surrounds it. Since Danyal Aziz, Khawaja Asif, Rana Sanuallah, are likely to create a scene, our television channels are eager to invite them onto their talk-shows, in an attempt to spike their ratings. And this symbiotic demand-supply relationship, between a vulgar political culture on the one hand and our national appetite to crave sensationalism on the other, thrives on each other.
The result is no real damage to the personalities involved; after all, how much more can you damage Rana Sanaullah’s reputation? However, in the wake of such events, our collective national faith in the idea of politics takes a real beating. And a clear message is sent to everyone listening or watching: if you do not have a stomach for this kind of mud-slinging, if you are decent person with reasonable moral character, please stay away from Pakistani politics.
In the days to come, when Khawaja Asif and Hafiz Hamdullah’s episodes die down from the daily news feed and social media, it will be a forgotten episode in Islamabad. The populace will all go back to its regular lives of fasting, and coping with this load-shedding in the scorching heat. And no meaningful institutional reforms to overhaul the culture of our politics will be undertaken.
Business as usual.