Politics makes strange bed fellows. This is adapted from a line in the play, ‘The Tempest’ by William Shakespeare :( Misery acquaints a man with strange bed fellows). This phrase is meant to indicate that in politics there is no permanent enemy or friend. Enmity and friendship is acquirable at the drop of a hat. Today’s friend can be a foe tomorrow. What may appear good today may look the opposite on the morrow.
Politicians, who are possessed of a strong sense of history and who have sound foundations, that are fortified by unquestionable integrity and adherence to values and principles transition to become Statesman. Only a few of them, however, make it. My favourite case in point is Abraham Lincoln.
Politicians are adept at using historical coinages and adages with impunity. ‘Ikhtalaf-e-Rae, Jamhooriat Ka Husn Hai’ (Difference of opinion is the beauty of democracy) or politics is the art of the possible; these are quoted to give respectability to their unscrupulous behaviour. They conveniently forget these adages came into vogue, as a result of certain set of circumstances at some point of history. They were conjured to reflect integrity and honesty, not to justify dishonesty, unprincipled attitude or even corruption.
We recently saw as a nation the inconceivable (Only to those who have some grounding in values and traditions), that those who shouted hoarse about each other’s corruption gathered together on a single platform. One who wanted to tear upon the guts of the opponent to retake the Ill-gotten wealth was playing a ‘gracious’ host to the same individual.
All of who that had debased each other’s standing quite suddenly were seen on TV screens embracing each other. They were even breaking bread together. Sometimes one wished that all this was being done in the true spirit of the Holy Month’s traditions and for standing up to the display of the brotherhood of the Ummah. Alas! No this sham camaraderie is not for any noble pursuit, but it is to engage with each other, out of reasons of political expediency. A single objective, however ignoble, it maybe is a good driver to galvanise, togetherness for its achievement. Hence it was sixteen versus one!
Also some politicians remembered the noble traditions of visiting the ailing. That it took more than 25 years to decide to take this righteous path is a different matter.
The country witnessed with chagrin, the alleged trading of the ‘rekindled, reawakened and a more noble conscious’ on the shop floor and the market of the humankind. That this “trading” brought down a government is one small fallout. The damage to the moral and social fabric is far greater than the loss of a political seat, which is likely to return with greater numbers and with a more pronounced moral authority.
Politicians are drawn to office. In July 1834, Lord Melbourne was considering whether to accept the offer of premiership made to him by King William IV when his notoriously outspoken secretary vociferously said to him: ‘Why Damn it all, such a position was never held by any Greek or Roman: and if it only lasts for 3 months, it will be worthwhile to have been Prime Minister of England’. ‘By God, that’s true. I will take it, exclaimed Lord Melbourne. He did. It is another matter that his ambition was matched and aligned to the genuine talent that he possessed.
Z.A. Bhutto’s party had mass appeal at least in the then west Pakistan. Nobody after him had mass appeal across the nation amongst the middle class. His party and ideology, died with the assassination of his erstwhile daughter, Benazir Bhutto.
Without digging into the dirty hole of history to find out who created MQM (Muttahida Qaumi Movement), it must be recognised and to their full credit that they emerged as the political party of the middle class. They were geographically restricted, hence were popular only in the urban areas in a single province. MQM was hugely popular in the commercial capital of Pakistan. They had sway that none had seen before. At the call of less than half an hour they could shut down the financial capital of Pakistan.
The power that was acquired through noble claims and objectives was squandered through dirty and ignoble actions. MQM, a truly middle class political party, undid itself. Today it is a pathetic picture of splintered groups. It is down but certainly not out.
PTI (Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf), a Tonga party of the late 1990s and the decade of 2000s, finally arrived as a political party of relevance on October 31st, 2011 in Lahore, often referred to as the heart of Pakistan. A single well organised political mela catapulted PTI into a political force to be reckoned with. Like MQM, its manifesto was based on the need and to the appeal of the middle class of society.
The fundamental distinction that it had over MQM was its federal character; the party became popular in at least three out of four provinces. MQM was restricted to just urban areas of one province.
Karachi is largely a city of businessmen, professionals, labourers and millions of the less privileged - indeed an odd motley of crowd - but all clubbed as middle class. Following the 2013 elections, PTI gained for the first time, seats that were once the stronghold of MQM. By 2018 MQM was a party that had self-destructed itself beyond redeem, but still it was able to clinch a few seats in the National Assembly during the 2018 elections.
PTI lacking majority in the NA (National Assembly) looked at the smaller parties and quickly gobbled up a coalition setup at Islamabad. MQM, which was belittled, abused in public and was short of being called traitor by PTI strangely, was wooed - again a classic case of politics being a ardent adopter of the concept of expedient duplicity. The two parties, representing the middle class of the nation, who till then did not see eye to eye, were now sharing the treasury benches.
Last three to four months saw MQM dithering away from PTI. In the no-confidence motion against the prime minister Imran Khan they proved to be his nemesis - and placed the last nail in the coffin of the coalition government. They hurriedly changed sides. PTI yelled, Et Tu, Brutus! MQM had struck the final blow to Caesar. It is hoped Caesar has learnt a few lessons.
At last nights public power show of PTI at Karachi, one of their uncontrollable worker, boastfully and arrogantly thundered, ‘PTI shall never join hands with MQM in the future’. To use political opportunist jargon, there is no last word in politics, and that there is in politics no point of no return - everything is up for grabs. The PTI leader may have to retract—— and politics permits that with no shame.
Politicians of all ilk consider Karachi as a ‘mini-Pakistan’. It is an important city to be won by any political party in any sort of election.
MQM and PTI have unanimity of political manifesto, that is serving and increasing the size of the middle class, that is educated, emancipated and forward looking. With apologies to a Whig lawyer and politician, Lord Brougham, who had said this about education, I am altering the reference to education and replacing with middle class: ‘Middle class makes a easy people to lead, but difficult to drive; easy to govern but impossible to enslave’. The thought is fearful. Both the parties are cognizant of this power.
In the next (forthcoming, more appropriately) elections, clearly, if they decide to pitch candidates against each other in Karachi, a party that lost Karachi back in the 1970s will run away with most seats. The middle class of Karachi will be confused to choose between MQM and PTI, consequently the vote will be split between them to the advantage of the party, that has their eyes on regaining Karachi. This represents a formidable challenge to MQM and PTI if they decide and remain divided.
MQM made a very wrong choice to part ways with PTI. To the electorate today their decision appears so opportunistic, selfish, self centred and certainly wasn’t representative of their view.
Both MQM and PTI, who stand for changing the system and improving the economic lot of this blessed country must reconsider their position. The quicker they sit on the negotiating table, the better for them. Failure to do so, will be akin to giving a walkover to all other political force. We know Imran Khan does not give walkovers, he plays till the last ball - his advisors must let him play!
(The writer is a free lance contributor. The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the newspaper)
Copyright Business Recorder, 2022