Democracy is not just a set of procedures and rules, indispensable as they may be, but also a culture and a state of mind. Democratic form of governments and political institutions are the easy part, even though Pakistan has even failed at that.
Democratisation of the polity is the hard part and hence a work in progress everywhere. Depending on one’s point of view, one emphasises democratic form of government versus democratic polity or vice versa, with one supposedly leading to the other. I argue that one doesn’t lead to another, but rather institutions and polity (or say a democratic culture) are in a mutually reinforcing relationship. They both have to grow together — one cannot be without the other. That they cannot be is well illustrated by the tamashas (spectacles of the absurd) the Pakistani people have witnessed across the three branches of government—executive, parliament and judiciary, over the last three months. The most recent example of the same being the disqualification of 10 Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) legislators in the Punjab Assembly for voting against the instructions of their party leader.
Much has been and will be written about the constitutional veracity of the Supreme Court’s rulings on parliamentarians’ ability to vote against the wishes of the party leadership. My interest academically has been in critical legal studies, whereby we understand that law is not formulated or interpreted in a cultural and political vacuum. It is not just about the personal whims or rectitude of this or that politician or jurist. It is more about the cultural context within which, this or that politician, jurist, general or a bureaucrat becomes possible and legitimate.
… law is not formulated or interpreted in a cultural and political vacuum. It is not just about the personal whims or rectitude of this or that politician or jurist. It is more about the cultural context within which, this or that politician, jurist, general or a bureaucrat becomes possible and legitimate.
Journalist community in social, electronic, and print media is perhaps the most influential in defining the context within which the three branches of government operate. And the term that has set the tone for discussing parliamentary politics in Pakistan for the past three decades is ‘horse trading’, even ahead of ‘treason’. The term ghadaari (treason) has been peddled by the ‘miltablishment’ and politicians for the past 70 years and has now been thoroughly discredited in the public eye. Evoking ghadaari nowadays just invites rolled eyes and disgust in the public and it doesn’t merit mention in polite company anymore. But horse trading and its Urdu equivalent lota (a sistern for ablution typically for after bowl movement) have had a hold on public imagination. The hold is constantly reinforced by the use of the term by journalists.
The use of the term horse trading by even the most progressive journalists is testament to the success of the anti-democratic forces in Pakistan to discrediting democracy and democratic norms. The term equates public representatives with animals and hence the public that voted them in, with the same. It ridicules the process of election by describing it as a response to basic instincts of food, money and herd instinct. The term along with its Urdu equivalent frames the parliamentary norms of debate, dissent, negotiation, and compromise as corrupt money centred transactional one. Or worse, in its Urdu incarnation as something best done in a toilet. The sanctimonious hubris displayed through the use of the term is quite disgusting, actually.
Banning the term horse trading or lota in serious journalism, might be a start to bring us back from the brink.
People of Pakistan are not horses or lotas and neither are their representatives. There are good and bad representatives, but to paint them all with the same brush is unfair. People vote for personalities, parties and/or maybe even just for patronage. God forbid some may even be voting for principles and ethics they see in a person or the manifesto of a party. It is an act of tyranny characteristic of Nazi and Communist totalitarian states to proclaim that the vote belongs to a party alone or to the individual alone. They can and do belong to both, because the public voted for both. Why does the entire process have to be reduced to the singular metric of money? Which is what horse trading means.
Public representatives owe their representation to their constituents. Their opinions and service to their parties. Their loyalties to the state and the constitution, and their conscience to no one. Why do we assume that 342 MNAs of the National Assembly of Pakistan, and hundreds of representative in the provincial assemblies cannot have a conscience or act according to it? Should an MNA for example be punished for following his conscience or his loyalty to the constitution if the party is asking for something immoral? Verily that is the end of democracy.
The fact that the PTI reduced the entire democratic enterprise to a transactional conversation about money, and then got millions of votes is indicative. The uni-dimensional, money-centric view of politics is reflective of a cultural moment. That cultural moment is reflected across all three branches of the government. Why should the judiciary or the journalistic community be able to view anything beyond that uni-focal lens? They must, because they have to. Otherwise, it is all over, and we are dangerously close in Pakistan to that anyway. Banning the term horse trading or lota in serious journalism, might be a start to bring us back from the brink.