In the backdrop of recent Sheikh Rashid’s episode that caused q ruckus in the National Assembly because of allegations’ exchanged between opposition and government benches, Minister of State/Chairperson Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) Marvi Memon posted a tweet which said, “Why has politics become so abusive? What r we doing to take the level of discourse back to civilized n decent?”
The questions posed by the chairperson, as a student of Political Science who is currently pursuing MPhil in International Relations, intrigued me a lot, and put me into deep introspection to find answers to these questions as, I think, these questions are worth pondering upon in broader perspective because they have a lot to do with almost all the issues that we have been bearing day in day out.
This op-ed is a modest attempt to answer the above questions, on the part of someone in academia, to help the Chairperson understand what went wrong because of which politics has become so much, to put it in her words, “abusive” and what we can do in order to attain its essence where it almost parallels worshipping. Hopefully, my endeavour will be reciprocated by the Chairperson with reading this article to make a sense of common citizen’s vantage point regarding her questions.
Prior to becoming a student of Political Science, my understanding of politics was very imbued by the social construction of politics which is quite negative. Hearing things like, “S/he is doing politics.”; “Don’t do politics with me.”; “I don’t like politics.”; “Avoid politics”, I had completely become disillusioned with the term “politics”, considering it the most loathsome thing. Unconsciously, politics, in other words, had been embedded my mind as a kind of ruthless romance with one’s own interest at the cost of utter disregard for others’ interests, and this invoked revulsion in me for the term and for all those people who embodied its essence.
But nature had its strange way. I decided to pursue graduation in Political Science at Government College University, Lahore. I reserve the story for some other day for why I chose Political Science for getting graduated in but, briefly, the foremost reason for opting Political Science was that it would help me in qualifying civil services exam like Central Superior Services (CSS).
Even after becoming student of Political Science, I, for a long time, could not relieve myself from skepticism for the subject, which fed itself from the revulsion for the term “politics” that was socially constructed. Moreover, the other reason that kept my revulsion for Political Science alive was the way its core concepts were being dispensed with a self-centered approach- be those concepts about individual or society or state- like how individuals, societies and states pursue politics for narrow interests.
For readers’ convenience, who are not familiar with Political science, Political Science is the holistic study of how power is regulated in state or society. “Power”, in simple words, is all those means that helps one influence others. And individuals, societies and states influence each other for a particular outcome which we, in common language, name interest. The ability to influence, in academic jargons, is known as Politics. In short, Political Science is the study of politics.
A little deeper study of the subject impressed upon me that the subject also talked about how to influence one another not for petty interests but for those interests which are win-win in nature and this invoked my interest. Like the way, the subject talks about how to cope with global challenges like climate change, women empowerment, global security, education, health, poverty and terrorism. People need to be made aware of this face of politics where individuals, states and societies impact one another in a positive way for an interest in which no body is being marginalised. Just as an aside, here I would like to appreciate the initiative, BISP, which Marvi Memon has been stewarding. as I am actually advocating this version of politics.
In the light of my encounter with the subject of Politics, which I now deeply cherish, I would say in academic perspective, and here is answer to the above questions posed by you, Madam, that politics has become abusive in our society because those at the helm, out of their ignorance, are, first of all, deeply naïve in how to influence one another in positive ways, and in how to select an outcome that is for the greater good. Their disagreement over the nature of issues tells about their approach towards politics and what kind of outcomes they want to materialise via politics. Their self-centered approach towards politics always prompts them to influence one another through abusive language because of lack of innovative ideas-thanks to their ignorance- and their nativity of the essence of politics also reflects itself in the so-called interests they pretend to make for greater public good.
In order to maintain integrity of politics, those at the helm need awareness about the role they have been assigned; improvement in the above case seems like hoping against hope as their thinking has ossified because of years of conditioning in the status quo. But what we can do to make politics a noble profession, is to incentivise the study of Political Science with future economic prospects so that more and more students opt to study it for their professional career and become an aware about the essence of politics. From such a lot, politicians, knowing the true essence of politics, will emerge. Moreover, the study of Political Science should be dispensed among students in academic institutes in ways that nurtures all those values that help them engage in resolution of collective problems. Initially, this can be achieved through properly facilitated research centers which are hardly present at the moment.
The writer is an MPhil scholar are the Department of Political Science, University of the Punjab, Lahore.