Masses without Politics

in homistan

Let’s continue the almost-conversation about political leadership in Pakistan. Western historians often term the politics of South Asia, along with much of the developing nations, as the “politics of masses”. Within this categorization hides both the Hobbesian fear of the masses [“to confer all their power and strength upon one man, or upon one assembly of men, that may reduce all their wills, by plurality of voices, unto one will”1] as well the subscription to western modernity’s teleological stages [brown masses are stuck in the “not yet” historical time2]. Those teeming millions hover out on the streets with rallies and get manipulated by unethical leaders. They break out in riots, they burn american flags, they yell Allahu Akbar. At the head of this unseemly and frightening mass is the charismatic leader – the magical, supra-natural charismatic of Weber [uncanny powers that draw on the realm of the unexplained phenomena like religion! or socialism; no legal or moral framework underpining him/her.].

If one reads respected authors, like say Stephen P. Cohen, on the Pakistan political scene, one feels the urge to hurl on said authors some rotten fruits. So imbibed are their “objective interpretations” with these prejudices. I am not going to waste time rehashing their arguments but feel free to pick up any book that has Pakistan in the title and was published after 1998.

Pakistan has had exactly one type of leader. The dictator. The thing about dictators – of any stripe – is that they operate on the whole “cult of personality” philosophy. The man who really cemented the archetype in Pakistan was General Ayub [1958-1969]. The self-avowed creed of “anti-corruption” and “industrialization” was meant to endear him to the masses. When that failed, Kashmir became the rallying cry and the 1965 war provided the rest. Bhutto [1973-1977] followed rather slavishly in Ayub’s footsteps. The impermanence of power haunted him perhaps more than anyone else [the pyramid approach to governance makes coups so much easier]. Zia ul Haq [1977-1988] played the game as well as his tired soul could. He didn’t have either Bhutto’s flair or Ayub’s tenacity.

The triumverate powerhouses of the Military, the Civil Bureaucracy and the landed elites, have supplied all of these leaders [the one exception is the very intriguing Altaf Husain of the MQM]. Their appeals to the masses are always the same: We will intervene directly into your life and make it better. Whether in the guise of anti-corruption or modernization, the rally addresses were always about development of corner streets and neighborhood factories [anyone remember Junejo/Zia’s cottage industry intiative?], of the crimes of former/current regimes and the efforts to bring individuals to justice. Their appeals to the Americans is always the same: We will fight your proxy wars [commies or jihadis] if you give us money and leave us alone.

The lack of leadership on the national stage in Pakistan is inherently a representation of the lack of electoral politics and the dominance of the dictator. Those that can offer a viable alternative are quashed and sequestered. Those that toady themselves are promoted. Others abandon the field to the man with the gun.

My disgust with dictators begins and end with the simple observation that they epitomize that particular view of the “politics of the masses”. Pakistanis are forever stuck in the “not yet” time – lacking education or training or a civil society to elect goverments to represent themselves. The masses are uncouth and uncivilized. “Mature” democracies such as the United States do not have mass rallies and tire burning after a child is killed in a road accident. “Mature” democracies elect their leaders after impassioned and logical thought as the best representing the ideals of the collective society. Pakistan has to be trained and Condi Rice is completely devoted to the “steps towards democratization” that The General is undertaking. The pendulum of metaphors swings from “time” to “distance”.

On this one, I am squarely with the Subalternists. The filthy masses of Pakistan are political agents and they are ready for democracy. And they even have leaders. But, the unsurprising reality is that the system is set to prohibit any populist challenge to the regime. The two-legged bar stool of Pakistani dictatorship is firmly situated at this moment.

1. Hobbes’ Leviathan
2. Dipesh Chakrabarty’s Provincializing Europe

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