• February 23, 2024

Fool me twice

(First published on July 13, 2019)

It is about to begin again. The much ado about nothing. The tale full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Opposition parties are gearing up to change the chairman Senate. Again. Although the move is unprecedented, for no sitting chairman Senate was ever sacked by his House in the past, but we have seen this film before. When the time came to elect a new chairman Senate in 2018, there were many who naively hoped that the outgoing chairman, Raza Rabbani, a political stalwart of great stature, would be returned to office. The ruling party of the time, the PML-N, which had the numerical strength in the Senate had already thrown its weight behind Mr Rabbani, a member of the PPP. But the head honcho of his own party, former president Asif Ali Zardari, would have none of it. He cast his spell, did some hocus pocus which involved the overthrow of a provincial government, dilution of the PML-N in the said province, creation of a new party, and a lot of money. Consequently, when the incumbent Sadiq Sanjrani assumed the Office of Chairman, his Senate experience, actually parliamentary experience of any kind, was just as long as that of his chairmanship. Zero hours and a few minutes. Instead of chairmanship of the Senate, the PPP accepted the post of the deputy. As the baffling results were announced, Mr Zardari’s minions sitting in galleries raised slogans in jubilation.

But why did Mr Zardari oppose Mr Rabbani as a candidate? The man could easily have been elected and was really popular in the Senate. Initially, the former president tried to imply that he was not acceptable to the country’s establishment. Like an establishment that could not tolerate a mildly critical chairman Senate would cut deals with Mr Zardari, not exactly Mr Popularity in the establishment circles. When clarification came from the quarters concerned, the former president changed tack and stated that the man had annoyed him. The media then dived right into the debate on the nature of this annoyance. Our TV pundits told us that when Mr Rabbani was chairman Senate, he wouldn’t return the calls of his party’s co-chairman, Mr Zardari, and was guilty of fraternising with the former prime minister Mian Nawaz Sharif. Mr Zardari’s feudal sensibilities could not accept this alleged slight. The man had grown too big for his boots and had to be cut to size.

The seismic shift in the Senate back then and in the Balochistan Assembly significantly weakened the PML-N’s rule and proved to be a symbol of its decline. It is all forgiven and forgotten now. Why wouldn’t it be? The PML-N was not exactly stranger to sacrificing its long-time loyalists. When the Dawn Leaks scandal surfaced it was unthinkable that the motivation would have come from within the-then information minister’s pay grade. But then who was shown the door? Pervaiz Rashid, the man who had faced uncountable humiliations for his unwavering support of his party leadership. The crime of Mr Rashid, like Mr Rabbani, was that he was a moderate if not a liberal. Consequently, when he was incarcerated, when during his party’s rule he was accused of being a non-Muslim, or he was called names, his party never came to his rescue. Anything to protect the party leadership or the ruling dynasty.

But wait a minute. Shouldn’t democracy, literally the rule of the people, mean that party leadership would sacrifice itself to defend the loyal little guy? Apparently not, especially if these parties were designed to be personal fiefdoms. This is where a stalwart was hurriedly thrown overboard and left for dead if in the course of his ‘duty’ he drew disproportionate fire or grew too big for his britches. Remember Aitzaz Ahsan during the lawyers’ movement and how he was cut to size lest he might pose any challenge to the party leadership? Or Amin Faheem? Or Javed Hashmi? Ever heard of J A Rahim?

Now that Mr Zardari is incarcerated and his PhD in politics could not be of any use, he seems to have had a change of heart. Penitence? No. Bargain. Mr Sajrani proved to be a quick study. He managed to learn quickly and while executing his duties earned respect of friends and foes. Separately, his party’s government managed Balochistan well. But why should that matter to our feudal lords? When in anger or anguish, Mr Zardari, like just any other feudal lord, prefers to break things. When his eent se eent speech backfired, he brought down the Balochistan government, Senate’s leadership and eventually the PML-N. He is in pain again and the PML-N is simply too easy to manipulate. So, it is change-the-chairman-time again.

Will it succeed? And what is to be gained? The answer can be found if you look at the opposition’s nominee for the potential replacement. Mir Hasil Bizenjo hails from Balochistan. Since you are seeking to displace an incumbent from the least populated, least developed and area-wise the largest province of the country, his replacement has to come from the same province. That much makes sense. But somehow the replacement also has to come from neither of the two largest opposition parties in Parliament. Both parties have sizeable representation in the province and the Senate is not devoid of their representation from the province either. One explanation is that they have displayed considerable maturity by nominating a candidate from a smaller party. But after what you have read above how likely are you to believe this? There is another explanation available, of course. The same reason why the late Makhdoom Amin Fahim was denied the chance to form his government during Gen Musharraf’s rule in the absence of his party’s leadership. The same reason why Javed Hashmi had to spend years behind bars for distributing an incendiary letter which was actually addressed to the late Fauzia Wahab and not him. Or Yousuf Raza Gilani was prohibited from writing a letter which could do little harm to his party’s co-chairman, the-then president of Pakistan, and not writing cost him his premiership. That no one from the party should grow more powerful than its feudal leadership.

Now in this post-truth society, there is no dearth of people, even journalists, who would collate all of this with the struggle for democracy. They would point to the shortcomings of the incumbents and the country’s establishment and would readily be martyrs for these feudal parties. It is a free country. But to the likes of me, it now matters little who rules the country. What truly matters to me is that the Raza Rabbani episode exposed the feudal colors of Pakistan’s oldest parties. Fool me twice, shame on me.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 13th, 2019.

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