How the left was lost (Part 2) | Shahzad Chaudhry

Senior Analyst Shahzad Chaudhry Article

What must Bilawal do to revive his party around the relevant elements of political thought for the next quarter of a century at least?

One, he must understand that society has moved significantly towards the right – 2008 was an aberration, a carry-over of the romance of BB, who gave the PPP its victory but wasn’t there herself to give it direction. That was the missing link. To connect with the masses, the party must also move slightly towards the right on the spectrum – a la BB in the 1990s and Clinton’s period of the 1990s. That is where the masses are located. You can wean them back, but to do so you will first have to get there.

Two, the left which Bilawal might frequently come into contact with as he assumes the role of party chief, is confined to those few in the margins of the civil society where all of the left is now ensconced. These are not the masses. The masses have little knowledge or understanding of the policies of the left as they have been left to the whims of other ideological or political strains for a long time. The chimera that Bilawal will get introduced to as the left is the only left now left which allegedly bases itself on elitist causes.

Such groups have a place in human rights and other areas of political delivery but continue to depend on foreign support for sustenance. Their buy-in to local support, even for just causes, is tertiary while their credibility of intent continues to be widely doubted. Whether it is because of state policy or the nature of society that these groups are unable to find coherence remains a moot point. But suffice it to say that serious misgivings exist even if some gains might accrue.

There are two ways to consider this in the PPP’s thought formulation. One, that this is a state conspiracy to defeat human rights efforts. Two, this is the context that has emerged over the last 25 years, five of which were under the PPP’s watch. In the former, one would fight the context while in the latter it would use the context for a wider appeal.

The needs of a society will determine the priority of attention that a political entity must factor in. The chimera must then be treated as such and not lead away from the politics of the most pressing appeal. The PPP is a political party and not a human rights group, though human rights could be its subsidiary belief system.

The mazdoor and kissan population are still the appropriate sections to target – as are teachers and low-paid workers – but this cannot be done through empty slogans. The PPP must focus on these working classes with policies invoking government intervention that can offer them a fair chance at receiving equitable returns. Bilawal will need to formulate policies which will catch their eye as they haven’t been attended to for a long time. Some of these sectors will be difficult to win back for others have encroached on this territory. But commitment to their well-being and policy attention in their favour remains the PPP’s best bet.

At the moment, the PPP seems to be positioning an issue from an issue, betraying the lack of a consistent, integrated and long-term view of what shall drive it in its new avatar. Its coterie of experienced, capable and credible leaders means that while each speaks as per the founding ideological bent – most leaders from this category are now vintage – they seem to be held back in time.

What is, instead, needed is to be nimble on one’s feet and possess the dexterity to carve a way forward in the maze that the nation finds itself in. It may be great to swim against the tide but you never make enough distance. The PPP has to cover a lot to re-establish itself as a relevant and a major player. Similarly, the PPP’s recent reservations against the extension of military courts is an ideological fallback which becomes an opportunistic clamour in the absence of a coherent, integrated plan of action relevant to the electorate in the current and foreseeable context.

The context involves the elimination of terror infrastructures through all possible tools without being held back by the ideological moorings of another time or a different space. We may have meddled in Afghanistan in the recent decades under one guise or another – especially when doing America’s bidding – but a detente between Afghanistan and Pakistan was first upended by a seriously souring relationship between ZAB and President Daud of Afghanistan in 1972-3. Cumulatively, we have now reached the dead-end of what has constituted a maleficent Afghan policy which must be corrected for us to find the security that will enable any leadership to focus on countless internal fronts.

The extension of either the Ranger’s powers in Karachi or the military courts under relevant checks as have been practised till date under the 22nd Amendment, will only mean that an all-round political commitment to the elimination of terror hasn’t waned. Let the PPP not cast itself on the wrong side of history when the need of the hour is to unplug all efforts – including those which involve conflict with its long-held principled positions. It always will be what the masses want, not what an elite fringe dictates. For the moment, the PPP is missing the point.

Finally, the lynchpin anywhere in the world for the left to reassert its political traction will only manifest around a changed economic paradigm. The current free capital market system has also hit its limit with income inequality, a major social disruption, on the verge of unravelling the entire fabric of a stable society. It has become the case of the one percent against the remaining 99 percent that marks the culmination of a free, market-driven economy.

If ever there was an opportunity for the left to reassert itself, it must be now. But it will have to base this around a more innovative, egalitarian and a responsible economic system which can permit growth as well as the proportionate distribution of the fruits of such growth.

This is where anyone hoping to base his liberal politics must focus on. Merely espousing humanitarian causes alone of belonging to a social fringe is not what will gain either the attention of the masses or their traction. Political parties seek power and centrality to run the affairs of the state and the welfare of the people. It’s a dual responsibility. Altruism looks good in a perfect context. In a muddled environment, progress on all axes moves the society forward. That is the essence of a social compact between the state and its people and the mainstream politics that seeks to represent the people.

The PPP will have to rise above its past to reinvent itself away from the populist sloganeering of the 1960s and the 1990s and understand the context within which it needs to make its mark. Taking action without a clear and comprehensively conceived message is akin to purposeless wandering. It is time to reflect.