My leader can do no wrong

Political parties have become personality cults where supporters believe their leader is right and the rest are wrong.

Ali Rafi September 04, 2014
The air is ripe with the smell of revolution, amongst other more pungent smells, in the Red Zone of Pakistan’s capital. The Parliament and PM House remain under siege by a large number of supporters of both Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri. In competition, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has rallied its troops across the country for a show of strength.

Protestors, on all sides, adamantly seem to believe that their respective leader holds the key which will change the fortune of this country. It is only a matter of time, some believe, that Imran or Qadri will end the rule of the corrupt and empower the masses for the first time in this country’s history. On the other side, we are told, lies a despot committed to no good. We are reminded of the nature of the heinous crimes committed by the newly branded ‘khoon-league’, which is often insulted, mocked and told to go home.

Similarly, the government, in its gatherings, levels allegations of similar nature and stature at Imran’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). We are told of the undemocratic principles underlining Imran’s agenda and how he is staging this show just to increase the influence of the all-feared third-party and his own personal egotistical agenda. All this is done, according to them, through women scandalously dancing at the protests and (merely) hundreds of people present who are bent on violence and mischief.

The result is a blaring polarity between supporters of all parties.

It would be fair to say that any debate on the current political situation in the country is highly volatile and likely to blow up in a cloud of emotions. The reason these supporters have such differing positions is because all relevant political parties have now become personality cults.

The PTI is no different from a fan club for Imran, with supporters mostly adamant in denying any accusation levelled against their kaptaan, be it his personal or political life. Similarly, the Inqilab March of PAT is a one-man show with no one capable of challenging Tahirul Qadri. They believe in his agenda so much so that his supporters are ready to lay down their lives on his command. The PML-N has always resembled a monarchy, with little chance of external influence without the wish of the Sharif brothers. These leaders seem infallible to the public. Such personality cults leave little room for rational debate based on principles.

Problems emerge once a set of supporters believes more in the infallibility of their leader than the idea behind them. With the notion of always being right, all these party leaders beckon their supporters and their expectations, only to let them down when the leaders prove themselves human. This also leads to blind support, especially from the easily motivated youth. These supporters think it is their responsibility to defend the actions of their leader, no matter what mistakes the leader makes.

By eliminating a debate based on principles, the possibility of a middle ground is eradicated. This is best seen in the way the PTI has handled the recent expose by their own party president, Mr Javed Hashmi. From being one of the most respected figureheads in the PTI leadership, he has gone to being abused of outrageous things, ranging from being corrupt to a spy by various PTI supporters on social media. Such extremist positions clearly indicate that there is little space left for individual opinions and critical thinking in the ongoing political crisis.

Not only have members of the PTI leadership, and the government cabinet, constantly blamed each other for the fallbacks of Pakistan’s unstable democracy, they have failed in conceding enough space for constructive political discourse. Both sides have remained adamant in their stances, with little compromise and hence have failed at negotiating an agreement.

Not only is this bad precedent, it is also bad politics.

Both sides have forced parties from across the spectrum to take sides, clearly minimising the possibilities of alliances and coalitions in the next general election, which goes a long way in damaging the democratic culture.

The war of political opinion polarity has also extended to the state institutions. The march has shaped into a battle between two media groups claimed of being ‘sold’; while one has been accused of siding with Imran and Qadri, inciting violence and levelling baseless allegations, another media outlet has been accused of plotting against the military, rigging elections and siding with the government.

Though diversity of opinions must always be encouraged, such extremist positions, introduced by certain media groups, lead to polarity in public opinion, which is wrong.

Furthermore, the police, the judiciary and the military have been collateral damage of this polarised political war. The revolutionaries claim that the police have committed atrocities in Lahore and Islamabad on the wishes of the ruling party, while the PML-N denies this. Imran keeps asking the police to grow a conscience, which would ultimately lead to political divisions in an already damaged police structure.

Imran has dragged the judiciary in his allegations of mass organised rigging and hence brought the integrity and authority of the courts under question. Both sides favour the military and rumours of illicit support for one party or the other constantly flow. The judiciary and the military are made to choose and pick sides. This should never happen.

It is time, perhaps for all sides, to tone down the rhetoric and colloquial slangs in an effort to belittle and degrade their respective oppositions. We need to encourage public discourse based on individual opinions rather than spreading views of personality cults and blind support.

As a society, we have inculcated that absolute truths exist in politics – when they do not.

It is okay if something that seems perfect to one person is completely wrong for another. While a certain leader might say the right things, it is not necessary – and nearly impossible – for them to never be wrong.

Democracy needs to be revived through resurfacing of a pluralistic culture where a greater spectrum of ideas is accepted. The idea of absolute truths must be abolished and room for constructive criticism needs to be entertained for any chances of moderate ground to be formed. Only through acceptance of the human nature of our political leaders can we ever hope to evaluate them as democracy demands.
Ali Rafi A student of Economics/Political Science at the Lahore University of Management Sciences.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


Prashant | 7 years ago | Reply Have you guys ever seen WWE? When two chaps are up against a formidable opponent, they would team up to defeat him and once that has been achieved, they would beat the hell out of each other. Either way, you have an audience where none is neutral.
Prashant | 7 years ago Come on ET, how can you edit this?
amoghavarsha.ii | 7 years ago | Reply @AliRafi, This is the perfect journalistic article. Simply reporting. ET should see this as the guide and center line in journals. Never taking any sides. showing what needs to be done.
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