The road to the elections were a truly phenomenal experience, and regardless of the outcome I must express my immense gratitude to Imran Khan for making me part of it. The days leading up to it were perhaps the greatest learning experience of my life.
In light of this, I feel I must share some observations.
To start off, all you urban middle-class, educated, mineral water drinking, Facebook warriors, well done! Pat yourselves on the back. You have managed to send a resounding ‘Fuck you!’ to the hordes of pragmatic ‘intellectuals’ on both sides of the class divide; all those who first taunted you for not having what it takes to participate in political rallies, those who accused you of not having the strength to back your convictions, those who essentially thought you would be busy tweeting pictures of your dinner while the polls went on outside. You showed up to the polls. You flew in from outside the country in droves, you drove to your villages and when the system tried to discourage you with cheap tricks and strong-arm tactics, you stood your ground. For the first time in my life, and I’m sure in most of your lifetimes, you invested in the system and you should be proud.
I still have a childhood memory of Imran Khan’s first election. Everybody we knew trusted him and wanted him in power. However, halfway through the polls, as it probably became apparent that he was on course for a crashing defeat, a hastily prepared ad started appearing on TV. It was the great man himself, standing alone, desperately pleading for people to get out and vote. I don’t think anyone moved. Our generation can, at least, be proud of learning from the mistakes of our parents.
Having said this, there is no denying that the results initially came as a disappointment. Though everyone knew practically that 20-30 seats would be a good showing for PTI, and though we could probably guess that Imran Khan was indulging in psychological warfare when he made tall claims, deep down somewhere, there was hope that the tsunami just might come. The no show definitely hurt, but it highlights just how much work remains to be done by the party. This brings me to my second and most important point. Unfortunately, there is a huge social class divide in our country. Canvassing for votes during this election reaffirmed my growing realisation that the middle/upper-middle class is heavily isolated from the rest of the country.
There has been a long held, and oft-stated belief among the educated middle classes that democracy is not a good model for an illiterate population. In recent times, intellectual proponents of the democratic system have been viciously attacking this perception, denouncing it as elitist and intolerant. They go even further to criticise the middle class’s understanding of the situation, firmly attesting to the inherent wisdom and maturity of the average voter. To this day, I had usually fallen silent at this argument. Far be it from me to be a bigot!
However, today, after weeks of speaking to voters, I would like to loudly and unequivocally call “Bullshit!” on these intellectual assessments. The fact of the matter is, most voters are uneducated and isolated, and they are totally exploited by the Pakistani democratic system. Politicians operate through a careful manipulation of disillusionment, fears and misperceptions. Most voters are brow-beaten to the point where cash is good alternative to ideology. Many are fed lies and conspiracy theories to keep them on board. Some are threatened, some are bribed. All these analysts who talk about illiteracy not hampering decision making are essentially pulling facts out of their backsides.
But here is where the crucial question arises. What next? Well, in Purana Pakistan, these urban educated middle class voters would have thrown up their hands in despair and cursed themselves for being associated with such a state. They are, after all, vastly outnumbered (and one suspects, not by accident!). When it comes to democracy they can easily be overwhelmed and disillusioned. A broken bureaucratic system used to, and benefitting from, this state of affairs will also not up and vanish overnight. To be honest, as I write this, it occurs to me for the first time that Khan’s political rhetoric was not just rhetoric – this really was an attempt at shaking up the status quo. So, the deck is stacked firmly against our educated middle class heroes.
On the other hand, I hope in the Naya Pakistan (or the repaired Pakistan, as many are calling it), things will be different. After all, Imran Khan is nothing if not inspirational. He is renowned for his dogged refusal to accept things as they are. That was what Naya Pakistan was all about, a resolve to change the country to better serve its citizens.
Fortunately, illiteracy and ignorance are neither genetic nor incurable. Even without a PTI government at the helm of affairs, we can still declare an education emergency. We may not all be able to get involved in formal education, but we can certainly start by engaging more with those around us; by leaving our cocooned lifestyles, by adopted greater civic and political sense and by imparting it at every given opportunity. It has now become essential that we take on this cause, not for the betterment of other peoples’ lives, but for the sake of your own. In other words, procreation isn’t the only way to swell your ranks!
Finally, as I write this, there are reports of a protest going on against Saad Rafique’s now famous hooliganism at NA125. This is another good sign. As more people get invested in the political system, there is increasing awareness about rights and responsibilities. Thus far, the educated middle class have been hamstrung by their inability to take the final step of actually stepping on to the street. Many will try to dissuade you, many will tell you that this is just about being a sore loser, many will tell you it wouldn’t have made much of a difference anyway. They are wrong! This is about sending a message to parliamentarians that such actions are intolerable. Ideally, the police would have arrested him and he would be facing charges. However, when the state machinery fails, it falls to citizens to enforce their rights.
Too long have we been dictated by people ‘who know better’. They don’t! If anything, they only know how the system works. They have no idea about how it should. It’s high time we took charge and started spending more time and energy into bettering our surroundings.