National Assembly session

So it is not the action or the event but the root-cause that politics must address

Muhammad Ali Ehsan May 17, 2020
The writer is a member faculty of contemporary studies at NDU Islamabad

The National Assembly session sought by the opposition was finally held this week. The policymakers were expected to re-assure the nation about their ability, commitment and undying willingness to fight the Covid-19 pandemic but all we saw and heard was not a mature discussion and debate on the subject but political slurs, insults and slanders that pour down like the Canadian Niagara from the side of the opposition. The opposition claims that the government has no plan and strategy yet none of its speakers enlightened us on what could be the right plan and strategy to fight the pandemic.

For the last few days the opposition has been criticising and unnecessarily condemning the government for having no strategy to fight the pandemic. What else can be the strategy but to understand the threat posed by the pandemic which exposes us to a risk and then employ and deploy all available capabilities to reduce that risk? Has the government not done this to the best of its capabilities from day one? Is this not strategy?

The bizarre chair warming, speech making and time wasting that we witnessed in the National Assembly only makes a mockery of the system we call democracy. Seeing what has happened in parliament, is democracy as an instrument of politics really fit to lead us in our fight against the pandemic like the military does as an instrument during the war? While the society is seized by a crisis all that politics and democracy is doing is wasting time and staying far and away from reality.

If there is enormous social difference between the various classes of the society, how can there be equality and similarity in their social distancing? What was the Sindh government expecting the majority of people in Karachi to do when it announced relaxation in the lockdown? Were they likely to go to the posh shops in DHA or the cheapest market to make purchases for the Eid? Those who live in Karachi understand that sealing the Zainab Market in Karachi is like sealing the gharib’s (poor’s) possibility and ability to make any purchases at all. If the Sindh government was clear about the objective of relaxing the lockdown it would have kept in place a plan of action to organise the efforts of the people in places like Zainab Markets.

If tactics imply an understanding of the situation and one’s place in it then most provincial governments failed to correctly read the situation and also failed to put in place the right strategy to deal with the developing situation due to relaxation in the lockdown. Blaming the people is easy but not making and executing the right plan which is the job of any government is difficult. In the critical moments the art of leadership consists nine-tenths in knowing how to sense the mood of the people. Closer to Eid and given the first opportunity to move out of the lockdown the people were not expected to go to the hospitals, they were only likely to throng the marketplaces for Eid shopping. This should have been anticipated and a right strategy with breakup of timings and appropriate methods of regulating and controlling the movement of the people should have been put in place.

‘Money pilers’ that lead our politics with their political impotence give least importance to their expected political and social responsibilities and roles and thus they dodge the crisis more than deal with it. The social crisis that the people face especially in the province of Sindh has got everything to do with the creation of dual power and dual sovereignty — courtesy 18th amendment. This territorial expression of ‘provincialism’ that the 18th amendment has gifted us has divided the concentration of power into two halves — one at the Centre and the other in the province both taking fixed, fortified and competing positions that are not people friendly.

There should only be a single sovereign, a single government, the power can devolve but not challenge the Centre by creating intolerable conditions of double-sovereignty. What good is democracy that identifies a sovereign as incompetent, hopeless, inept and corrupt at the Centre, drives it out of the door yet allows it to come back through the window and continue to rule people in a province? Isn’t there something inherently wrong with this system of democracy? How can those that are found inappropriate and rejected to rule the country can be suitable to rule a province and rule well? A watch without a spring will misread the time no matter on which wrist you put it on and regardless of when and where the time on it is read.

Dual power and double sovereignty is a recipe of political disorder and political decay. Such arrangement will only continue to create dissenting political force that will continue to advance claim to dual sovereignty and power. Such a political apparatus will be a no go and seek alteration. The military in Pakistan is accused of political interference but when the duality of power yields a power at the Centre and another in the province and both indulge in an uncompromising and dangerous faceoff, what is military as the true guardian of the sovereignty expected to do? Would an effort to try and propagate the creation of a stable and people delivering political equilibrium out of order?

The two fundamental features of the 18th amendment-gifted dual power and dual sovereignty are democratic hypocrisy and political impotency. History would have no value if it stops teaching us. What the short history of the life of 18th amendment has taught us is that when a province is being mismanaged, is corrupt and poverty-stricken and is plunging into absolute political darkness then there is only one hand that can be seen at the switchboard. This 18th amendment-enabled hand must be checked.

When the overcrowded people live a miserable life in the slums, when the overcrowded boat of refugees capsizes when trying to negotiate the Mediterranean and when the public hospitals cannot provide medical attention to the poor, it is not the slums, boat and the hospitals that are at fault. At fault are the politicians that did little to fight poverty, prevent civil wars and fight the given health crisis in a country. So it is not the action or the event but the root-cause that politics must address.

Some of the political stalwarts that spoke in the parliament session were born, brought up and have grown old in the service of their parties. I wish some of them can now see that the place where they sought the cause of their political salvation all their lives is exactly the place where lies the cause of their political failure.

Eighteenth amendment is the democratic tonic created to delay and prevent the absolute political failure of some of the dying political parties in the country. Under the given circumstances it seems difficult for both the failing political parties as well as the amendment to continue to endure. For how long?

Published in The Express Tribune, May 17th, 2020.

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