In a pack of 52 cards, the joker is a perfect ‘Lota’. His card can be a part of any winning sequence but carries no points. In other words, it can propel the player to the victory stand but once there it is worthless. In Punjabi, the closest term is ‘Railu Katta’ (one that can play on either side). The use of the word ‘Katta’ has special significance. In villages ‘Kattas’ have no value as they are considered parasites who consume milk; a valuable commodity but with limited returns. Eventually they are slaughtered and consumed as young prime beef.

Despite the fact that ‘lotas’ have a limited value bank, they play a dominant role in the politics of Pakistan. They are bestowed by respectable titles like: King makers, electables and political players. At best they ensure a quick, short term rise to power followed by the imminent fall which the PMLN is currently experiencing after only thirteen months in power. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (ZAB) overcame the ‘lotas’ in the 1970 elections but fell into their trap seven years later. The founding fathers finally lost power in eleven years (1947 – 1958) after braving repeated ‘lota’ onslaughts to the nascent democratic order. PTI is currently facing a ‘lota’ infestation of its own that threatens to change the DNA of the party.

Somehow, the ‘lotas’ have survived and prospered while the ideologues are getting extinct. It is becoming a circus. The show must go on while the country sinks and the nation suffers. The Zia episode lasted over eleven years (1977 – 1988) followed by the Benazir-Nawaz circus and side entertainment by Musharaf (1999 – 2008). After the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in 2007, the lead role was changed (Asif Zardari Bhutto and Bilawal Zardari Bhutto), and now Nawaz Sharif is on the stage for his third stint in power.

Yasin Watoo can be bestowed with the title of ‘lota-e-Azam’. He was introduced as a provincial (West Pakistan) minister during the Ayub era. Wattoo sahib then made his way to the ZAB cabinet and finally the Zia administration. After his demise, Manzur Wattoo entered the arena as a Punjab Minister in the Muslim League government. He then toppled the Wynn government by forging an alliance with PPP. His ‘lotacracy’ landed him in the prized position of Chief Minister. During the Musharraf administration he spent his conviction time in the Punjab Institute of Cardiology (PIC) to emerge again as a minister in Zardari’s show.

Historically, the leadership of the Muslims of India was divided between the Muslim League; a centrist party, and the Khudai Khidmatgars or Red shirts as they were known who were politically left of centre.

The league struggled for the partition of India and believed in a strong centre whereas the Red shirts under Ghaffar Khan were pro-Congress and against the division of the Sub-Continent. As a child of the league family, I heard negativity against the Red Shirts all the time but their adherence to ideology was always appreciated. Till today, the Awami National Party (ANP) is left of centre and progressive. In the words of Wali Khan, we can neither be bought nor forced into submission. Originally the league was also an ideological party that gradually drifted, leaving the ideologies high and dry. In the words of my father, who was a league ideologue; individuals who compromise on ideology deserve to die. It was because of adherence to ideology that politics was corruption free till 1958.

The twentieth century brought with it ideology with no room for ‘lotas’. The world was either left (red) or green (right). The Bolchevik revolution in Russia dominated for 77 years before the break-up of the Soviet empire. Labour Unions were strong and the distribution of wealth more so. Growing up in the sixties and seventies, one had to take sides. Imperial empires came tumbling down. While the world was moving away from ‘lotacracy,’ unfortunately Pakistan was moving in that direction. After the political defeat of ‘lotas’ in the 1970 elections, Zia decided to create his own legions of such jokers who continue to dominate the political arena today and are spread across all parties.

Time for the culling of the Trojan horses of politics has arrived. These useless political beings have caused enough harm to the country and its nascent democracy by propelling a third rate political leadership to power that is devoid of ideology. There is no ideological divide between the two main political parties that have ruled the country in the recent past. Both PML(N) and PPP are money making entities following different methodologies.

The lota ideology is built on thwarting change at all costs and strengthening the status-quo. The two main parties PML(N), PPP have been taken over by the ‘lotas’ and their ideology of stagnation. The Nandipur Power Project is a glaring example of this approach. Originally, the project was signed with the Chinese and the equipment ordered during the PPP regime. It got stalled when the high ups in the Ministry sought kick backs.

Then came the new regime. The project was revised but with cost escalation despite the fact that the machinery had arrived at the part. Details of the enhanced costs have not been made public and the plant is still not fully functional while all costs have been incurred.

Now the focus has shifted to the party of change (PTI). The party ideology is under serious threat due to a ‘lota’ infestation. It is a test of leadership for the ‘Kaptan’ and tests the resilience of the workers. History may be in the making, where finally the ‘lota’ ideology will face the door or the comrades will come home empty handed. ‘Azadi’ may finally come to this ‘lota’ controlled nation that has been longing for change. The comparison between Jinnah and Imran may at last hold. The country that Quaid created may be saved by the ‘Kaptan’ for our future generations, for which the ideologues have to come to the fore.

n    The writer is ex-chairman, Pakistan Science Foundation.