In Pakistan, the role of Muslim religious and sectarian political parties has always been important. These parties and groups have been representing the ultra-conservative sections of society and appealing to votes of this stratum of society. However, none of these parties have ever been able to win a majority in any national election. Only in the 2002 elections, an alliance of these parties known as the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal had won around 50 National Assembly seats and attained a majority in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) province. Despite being unable to win national elections or a substantial number of seats of National Assembly and provincial assemblies, religious parties have been getting a noticeable number of votes in each electoral constituency.
For quite some time, religious and sectarian parties in Pakistan have been grappling with multiple challenges. This is despite the fact that the two larger Muslim religious political groups, the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) and Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan (JIP) are still part of the federal government of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and the K-P government of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf. But by and large, these outfits are beset with troubles and facing strife. These range from organisational problems to incompatibility of their narrative and arguments with the values and discourse of the postmodernist age, which have also attracted a lot of people in Pakistani society and affected our political culture. Like elsewhere, Muslim religious parties in Pakistan have had based their politics on ideologies and grand or meta narratives which are no more relevant in the postmodernist age. Rather we are living in the post-ideological age where issues, identities and personalities are more relevant than ideologies or a grand discourse. The present situation of Muslim political groups can be analysed within that context. Here we have an interesting example of the recently held election in the National Assembly constituency (NA-120) of Lahore.
A key dimension of the NA-120 election was the humiliating defeat of the JIP. The party only polled around 500 votes. The JIP has always had a sizable vote bank in Lahore, a key metropolis of Pakistan. The party has been getting more than 5,000 to 10,000 votes in most constituencies of Lahore and even won some of them in the 2002 national elections. The September 17th result of NA-120 must have come as a big blow to the party. So the demagogic antics of JIP head Sirajul Haq have resulted in the decline of the party instead of rejuvenating it. The JIP, although a coalition partner of PTI in the K-P government, has been refusing to support the latter in elections elsewhere in Pakistan. The JIP has gained a lot from its uneasy alliance with the PTI but its strategy has failed in K-P — at least politically. This is because of the incompatibility of the party’s politics with the spirit of the times. Similar is the case of the JUI-F. The ‘perfect society’ which these parties promise to their followers and people at large can never be created, forcing the people to disbelieve their arguments. Even the leaderships of these outfits themselves know that such a perfect society cannot be created. Consequently, leaders of these parties have been more after power and perks.
Another important aspect of the NA-120 election has been the impressive showing by two independent candidates who were backed by purely sectarian parties. The one belonging to that got around 6,000 votes, while Hafiz Saeed-led Milli Muslim League (MML), the political face of the Jamaatud Dawa, bagged more than 4,000 votes. The MML represents the Ahle Hadith school of thought. The impressive vote tally of these Muslim sectarian groups could be seen in the light of political values of our time in which identities and issues are of prime importance. These parties got so many votes because their supporters are more concerned about their sectarian identities and issues.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 23rd, 2017.