Ambition is a strong desire to achieve something. Political ambitions also have strong political desires but that ‘something’ that politics of various political parties in this country wants to achieve only becomes apparent through the means they employ for the achievement of that something. Lying and cheating and later justifying the whole process through ‘the ends justify the means’ philosophy of behaviour is a normal thing and a favorite pass time in Pakistani politics. But is this justified, and right?
We all know how ‘bribes were offered’ and how political loyalties were purchased. A day prior to the Senate elections the entire electronic media in the country was showing videos of our lawmakers indulging in the ‘sale and purchase’ of their vote for the Senate elections. A sitting minister of a provincial government was shown ‘wheeling and dealing’ with them on phone. Despite this alarming disclosure the process of Senate elections was allowed to continue. Couldn’t the Election Commission announce a delay in holding the elections, initiate a quick inquiry, apportion and fix the blame and disqualify, bar and prohibit all those lawmakers and candidates that were involved in this foul practice? And hold the elections only when they could be held in a transparent way, fair and without the element of any corruption. How could the Election Commission of Pakistan allow this political trampling of the process of our elections that has definitely caused damage and injury to our national conscience and national-prestige (of whatever is left of it)? But no, this is Pakistani politics where ‘fair is dubbed foul and foul is contested and always colored as fair’ and nothing ever is proved here.
I started this piece by writing about political ambitions; and for there to be balance and order in a society for every ambition, there always is a ‘counter ambition’ to contest it. This counter ambition keeps equilibrium in society and without these ‘counter ambitions’ it would be difficult to contain the ‘unrivalled despotic powers of any political ambition’. At the level of the state, a society needs to be mobilised by a leader to shackle the ‘despotic powers of a given political ambition’.
Today the PDM’s ‘political ambition’ confronts Imran Khan’s ‘counter political ambition’. The battle lines are clearly drawn; and on the one side is a political ambition that is guided by the sword of Machiavellianism and on the other side is the politics shielded by moralism. To explain the concept of Machiavellianism for the readers, in chapter 18 of The Prince, Machiavelli can be found instructing a prince on how to behave and how to keep up appearances. He says it is very important to appear ‘merciful, faithful, humane, upright and religious’. He also says that one must be prepared to act in a manner ‘contrary to appearance’. This is because everyone can see what you appear to be but only few will get close enough to touch you and find out who you are and what you can do. For Machiavelli achieving an end result far outweighs how one gets there, what road is taken or whether the behaviour during the process of achievement of that goal was ethical or not. To sum up, and in the context of the recently held Senate elections, the personal and party-political ambitions of becoming quick millionaires or billionaires matters more than the self-respect and dignity of holding the office of a political leader or a law maker. Period.
The practitioners of politics of morality — PM Imran Khan and his team reminds the nation that if it cannot take a clear stand on what is ‘permissible and non-permissible behaviour in politics’ then it is a shallow nation that has lost the way shown by its fore founders, Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Allama Iqbal. Their message is that what this country is experiencing is not only the crisis of leadership but also a crisis of followership. What did Iqbal want us to do? Ghafil na ho khudi say kar iss ki paasbani (you can’t be ignorant of your consciousness and must safeguard it), guftaar dilbarana (talk filled with charm and grace), kirdaar kahiraana (mighty deeds), jazbe qalandrana (a saint’s fervent zeal). Moralists project that today all this is lost and we have become such poor followers of his dreams and writings and that is showing in our politics. But the Machiavellians will not stop defending and what do they say?
The defenders of this ‘moral fall from grace’ say that the whole event involving the sale and purchase of votes was a ‘sting operation’ designed to malign and put to disrepute the political stature of the contesting candidate (former PM Yousaf Raza Gillani). Not only him but also our former president, Asif Zardari, whose name was mentioned in the leaked video scandal. Machiavellians — always the great twisters and turners of the events.
So, is it difficult to carry out an investigation, hold an inquiry, initiate an audio and video forensic and with the right analysis and evaluation punish the culprits? But in Pakistan nothing ever gets concluded and evidences are manipulated and investigators are bought, prosecutors are murdered and judges are purchased. In fact, it is only because we are a nuclear power and have an outstanding and a professional military that we earn some attention and respect from the outside world else our politics, its practitioners and our statelessness, is as bad as can be attributed to one in Congo, Afghanistan, Sudan and Nigeria. We are not at war with others, we are at war with ourselves.
So, what now? Prime Minister’s speech was brilliant. He spoke from his heart and his decision to take a confidence vote from the National Assembly is based on moral principles and justifies the politics of morality that he believes in and conducts. By the time this piece appears in print we would know whether he stays as a Prime Minister or not.
I am a great admirer of Machiavelli, and The Prince is a great coaching guide to all the politicians who want to learn the art of statecraft. But I am not a politician, I am a professor who professes in a university and I have to stand in front of the students, our young generation, our hope. While I can recommend to them the reading of Machiavelli and his work, I will never advise them to go astray from the moral path. I will always recommend to them to stay morally upright and just. It’s not the end but the means that we employ to achieve that end what justifies who we are. That journey that we undertake to achieve an end unlocks our true potential and our actual character, and establishes who we are — both as individuals and as a nation.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 7th, 2021.