By Misbah Azam
During the mid-1960s, when America witnessed the Civil Rights Movement and the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, then the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which gave the voting rights to African-Americans, the Republican Party Presidential candidates, Berry Goldwater and Richard Nixon exploited the Republican Party’s “Southern Strategy” to woo the white conservative voters by appealing to racism against African Americans. Historians believe that 1960s Republican’s strategy created ready audiences for the Donald Trump.
Looking into the trends of common Americans’ socio-political inclinations during 20th century it is evident that the people in general are strongly affected and attracted by the firebrand demagogues. Republican Senetor Joe McCarthy in 1950s was famous for hurling unsubstantiated accusations, as well as public attacks on the character of political opponents. Even then he was a popular speaker, invited by many different organizations, covering a wide range of topics because people want to hear him. During the Great Depression, a Catholic priest, Father Charles Coughlin, who used to preach the fascist views, was so famous that his radio broadcast had millions of listeners.
People of Pakistan are no more immune to the demagogues and narcissist. Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed brags and boasts, flings unfound allegations on his political opponents, his political forecasts actually are what he wishes to see. Although he insists that his “predictions” are based on the “inside information”, but those predictions are hardly proven correct. Even with all these personality traits, he is seen daily sitting on some private TV channel in “exclusive interview” where most of the host anchors listen him and nod their heads while he brags, because people want to hear him so those shows get high ratings. Another famous egotist is Hassan Nisar who seems to be angry with everyone, who openly abhors democracy, argues that Pakistan must be ruled by some “tough” general who can “chop the heads of snakes (politicians)” in 5-6 years of “strict autocracy”, however, he very conveniently sheds from his recollections that most of those “snakes” were created by the same “tough” generals who have already ruled directly for half of Pakistan’s history and indirectly controlling the politics even to this date from the backgrounds. If they will come back in power once again, they will create new “snakes” to rule over the masses by sitting on the shoulders of their creations. If Hassan Nisar doesn’t know about it then he is either naïve or an intellectually dishonest and partisan, because he is willing to forgive every misconduct and political/ethical transgressions by Imran Khan, his party leadership and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s (PTI) young supporters. Such a biased and unjust person always invited as “independent analyst” on TV shows because he attracts huge audience who want to hear all the brags and bravado. Then there is another braggadocio, Dr. Shahid Masood, who is a known controversial character and is caught in changing his positions with time and spreading misinformation, then changing his statements in public and even allegedly in the court of law. He is another darling of simpleton people and he gluts the airwaves whenever he talks about politics or about the “End of Time.” There are more characters like them in the politics, media, among journalists and so called “analysts” who come daily on the 5 pm to 11 pm TV talk shows and contaminating the minds of masses with their ultra-conservative views and against the progress.
Well known Austrian writer, journalist, satirist, essayist, aphorist, playwright and poet, Karl Kraus, described the above mentioned characters in his words, “The secret of the demagogue is to make himself as stupid as his audience so that they believe they are as clever as he.”
After the 1999 Martial Law, the leaders of major political parties Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML (N)) decided to sit together and agreed to call off their politics of blames and allegations and signed a Charter of Democracy. Although, the charter was never respected by both PML (N) and PPP but both parties confined themselves in certain bounds. The PPP government imposed the governor’s rule in Punjab which they had to revert after strong street agitations during the lawyers’ movement in 2009. PML (N) leadership was badly advised when Nawaz Sharif and Khwaja Asif went to Supreme Court against the Memo-Gate scandal. However, even with all these issues, after 2013 elections power transition was very smooth and first time in the history of Pakistan the civilian government handed over power to another civilian government. When President Asif Zardari completed his term, the Nawaz government gave him a decent farewell and exchanged pleasantries. Senior analysts and journalists believed that it was watershed in Pakistan’s political history, and in the future, governments would be formed and complete their terms as per the constitution of Pakistan.
The current situation is contrary. Once again Pakistan’s politics is getting contaminated by the rhetoric, bravado and blustering. At every level, no matter it is inter party or intra party, a power play is clearly seen in and among all major political parties. The rise of PTI brought some hopes to some, that this party will be different from the conventional political parties. However, very soon PTI turned to a traditional political party which relies on the “electable”, turncoats, aristocrats, who spent and willing to spend unlimited amount of money, and now — according to one senior analyst — the sectarian organizations to “buy” the votes for NA-122 candidate. The supporters still believe that Imran Khan is some kind of a catalyst for “change” even after they witness his misinformation, U-turns, political compromises – like one he did with Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao of Qaumi Watan Party (National Country Party) –, abhorring and attacking the institutions other than military (for obvious reasons). Recently, a famous columnist Fahad Hussain described the general perception. He write, “He [Imran Khan] failed to win in 2013. He failed to rock the country with his protests. He failed to bring down the Sharifs with his dharna. He failed to prove his rigging charges. He failed to get his way in the Judicial Commission. He failed to win [by-]elections. He failed to halt the bloodletting within his party. He failed to make the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government a model to be emulated across the land. He failed to have a deep impact on national policy. He failed to perform in the National Assembly. He failed to get rid of the election commission members. And he may be setting himself for failure in the 2018 elections”. Although Fahad is calling it “the general perception” but the ground reality forces us to believe all what Fahad wrote is actually the case. Even with all this some media anchors and analysts lecture about how Imran Khan has challenged the “status quo” and he would be credited for any positive change in the country.
Altaf Hussain is another political braggart in Pakistani politics. Like PTI, Altaf also enjoys the “cult-like” supporters who are not willing to hear any criticism to their leaders. The PPP, PML (N) and other political parties do not enjoy such leverage. They launch counter attack through the social media in the worst possible way which anyone can think about. This attitude is not consistent with the progressive political parties.
For last 25-30 years we are witnessing the cult-like supporters of political parties where the leader is considered as a person who is incapable of doing any misconduct, no matter what (s) he does. Even the most reasonable and intelligent followers are fooled by their firebrand leaders and defend them in most irrational ways. They are attracted to those who can make humangous claims and give them the dreams they want to be in. History tells that even the very enlightened and educated people get attached to those who have courage to stand up and say without any shame what people want to hear. That creates a culture in which the political party’s leader is brought to the levels of Messiah and respected like a spiritual leader. This is the stage which is considered as the cult mentality.
Deborah Layton, who joined Jim Jones’ People’s Temple in 1970 and moved to Guyanese rain forest Jonestown in 1977 to join other 900 members of the cult. In May 1978, she decided to escape from the Jonestown to seek help for her mother and for other 900 cult members. There is a wide spread perception among the Western intellectual community that her escape was the catalyst for the tragic episode of mass suicide of more than 900 members of Jim Jones followers in November 1978. In her memoire, Seductive Poison: a Jonestown Survivor’s Story of Life and Death in the People’s Temple, she wrote, “People do not knowingly join “cults” that will ultimately destroy and kill them. People join self-help groups, churches, political movements, college campus dinner socials, and the like, in an effort to be a part of something larger than them. It is mostly the innocent and naive who find themselves entrapped. In their openhearted endeavor to find meaning in their lives, they walk blindly into the promise of ultimate answers and a higher purpose. It is usually only gradually that a group turns into or reveals itself as a cult, becomes malignant, but by then it is often too late.”
In democratic societies, supporting any political view does not require the worship of its leader. Democracy demands the voters to keep their eyes open and scrutinize their leader whom they brought to power instead of defending their every right and wrong actions. Similarly, it demands the leader to guide the people instead of provoking their passions for their political gains.
Ron Suskind wrote in his book Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President, “It is one thing to rouse the passion of a people, and quite another to lead them.” So here is the million dollar question, is Pakistani leadership rousing the passions of people or they are trying to lead them? Only the people on the street can answer this question, which they keep answering in every general and by-elections.