The Politics Of The Electables

The Politics Of The Electables
After I sent out my previous article – Elections 1985: The End of The Electables – I realized that the story was incomplete. The following history probably completes the picture.

The politics of the electables is as old as this country – the non-party-based elections of 1985 only inaugurated a novelty in an already existing structure of power. Even before the creation of Pakistan, the feudal lords of the UP and what became West Pakistan ­– Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan, and KPK (then NWFP) – had dominated the political arena. There was no place for a commoner in this game. Those sardars, khans, waderas, and nawabs had been close to the British before they changed sides to be with Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s Muslim League. After Pakistan was made, they continued to dominate the political scene. This country inherited those electables, who could make their way to the assemblies without much ado.

The creation of Pakistan also set in motion a whole new system of land-grabbing that was to last forever. The commercial and residential properties and agricultural lands – left behind by the fleeing Hindus and Sikhs of the Punjab – fell easily into the hands of the powerful and the cunning, both in urban and rural locales. The Evacuee Property Trust that was established with an aim of allotting the properties among the claim-holders, who had migrated to Pakistan, leaving their properties in India, became an epicenter of corruption. The local land grabbers, however, functioned in collaboration with the government officials – from district administrations and revenue departments, to civil judges, police and lawyers – in acquiring the properties by employing every deplorable means and methods. This practice continued undeterred, uninterrupted in the civilian and martial law regimes alike. This system consolidated the position of the feudal lords – whose landownership grew tremendously by acquiring evacuated properties – and they remained unchallenged, in both local and national politics, as the electables.

The non-party based elections of 1985, however, introduced new a breed of the electables.

The 1985 elections pitched the urban industrial class against the feudal lords – Nawaz Sharif, with his industrial and business background, became symbolic of this long-awaited change. It was hailed by both urban and rural middle and working classes for their respective reasons – the rural population had suffered the atrocities of their feudal lords for too long, and the urban folks, having no connection with the feudals, just despised them. The businessmen and industrialists – men in suits rather than waistcoats – looked more acceptable to the urban, as well as rural, voters as the new electables. During the 1990s, the national politics was neatly dominated by the two types of the electables: feudals in the rural constituencies and the industrial-business class in the urban centers.
The businessmen and industrialists – men in suits rather than waistcoats – looked more acceptable to the urban, as well as rural, voters as the new electables.

Post 2000 politics, with General Musharraf in the driving seat, ushers a new team of the electables – property-dealer turned housing societies owners.

When General Musharraf opened up commercial TV licences in 2001, many of those house society owners and businessmen acquired broadcast rights. Television media came under the control of the businessmen and the property tycoons. The growing economy during the Musharraf regime attracted the inflow of the remittances from the Pakistanis living abroad and they mainly invested in real-estate, meant to be a safe asset class. This meant more money in the pockets of the housing society owners and the property-dealers. The land-grabbers had not only grabbed the national media, now they also exerted tremendous control on the politicians, police and the civil administration. This influence, however, was not absolute. The government could control the media through PEMRA, under which these channels are created and regulated. So, there appears a delicate balance – only theoretically. Practically, there is absolute power in the hands of the few, who control the businesses, the real-estate and the politics at the same time.

The establishment faces this challenge in the current scenario – the Frankenstein Monster which has grown over time. It has eaten up all institutions and consequently the national economy. A poor economy – that too for too long – makes the national defence vulnerable and is likely to frustrate the defense forces.

It didn’t happen overnight. There’s a painful history behind it all.

Once I asked my father, why did you distance yourself from the PPP, since you were quite a jiyala – a PPP stalwart? He said, Bhutto sahib had stabbed us in our backs. We had hoped that he would demolish feudalism, but he proved to be Janus-faced. His advocacy of the trade-unions and the student-unions – and his slogan of roti kapra aur makaan (food, clothing and housing) – was just a charade. He used them - the middle and the working classes - exploited them, and obliterated them. He was always loyal to his feudal friends. This is what the urban middle class had resented about Bhutto and his PPP, with an apparently socialist manifesto, which ultimately paved the way for the businessmen and industrialists to enter politics. This is how true politics came to look bad. This is how a large section of the society developed a soft-corner for the non-civilian governments of General Zia and General Musharraf.

Now (probably like my father), we all feel cheated, disappointed and disillusioned. With these electables on the scene – howsoever they have been created ­– politics cannot look pretty. It is out in the open, stark naked. It only needs to be seen how it ends.

The author holds a PhD from the University of Glasgow, UK. He hosts a political talk show on TV and appears as a political commentator in TV shows.