The demagogue is usually sly, a detractor of others, a professor of humility and disinterestedness, a great stickler for equality as respects all above him, a man who acts in corners, and avoids open and manly expositions of his course, calls blackguards gentlemen, and gentlemen folks, appeals to passions and prejudices rather than to reason, and is in all respects, a man of intrigue and deception, of sly cunning and management.
[James Fenimore Cooper, 1789-1851]
The populist stance of the Pakistan Peoples Party was manifest from the very beginning. It is only now in the wake of the NRO’s birth and death that the perils of it have started showing up. This has put the whole lot of its leadership and workers against all that is known as morality, law and the present Pakistan. What damage it is going to inflict on the nation and the country and the magnitude of it is no guesswork!
Populism by its very nature is inimical to principles of morality and dictates of law. Like a blind force it razes everything to ground the first of which are morality and law, endangering the whole edifice of the society. That is what the PPP is up to this moment. It has shut itself in a shell and is refusing any meaningful dialogue with the outside world. It has exalted itself to a yardstick to measure and judge whatever exists beyond its pale. In this spirit, it is repudiating both morality and law.
Likewise, its present politics, too, is a typical case of populism on the rampage. The popular support that it earned in its heyday greased it to fall in love with itself. The myth of its vote bank still intact after a period of four decades needs to be cross-checked as do a number of other myths about it. What the writer is interested in showing is how its popular support was internalized, and how an ideological party was transformed into a party without an ideology.
It is important to see how the fundamental political slogans of the PPP underwent no change though its election manifestos were adapted to the demands of the times. That this ideological change or no-change brought no apparent fluctuation in its popular support was sufficient for the party to relax into a philosophy of populism. Also, as the party’s elitist interests and its vested politics did not damage its popular support, this was reason enough for its populism to harden.
Now with its ideology already vanished, the PPP is playing naked populism: that since it has popular support, it is all free to do whatever it wishes to. Its rhetoric of its eternal victimization and target of conspiracies too nourishes from the same fount of populism: that to deny people their rule and their own government, their own party, i.e. Pakistan Peoples Party, especially when in power, is always made a target of. This also assumes that it is the only party that represents the interests of the people.
Now after the Supreme Court’s verdict on the NRO, its populism is raging again, though it was evident too in judges’ restoration case. Strangely, the NRO, which it could not carry through the National Assembly, and did not contest inside the Supreme Court either, is being defended now as if it is a matter of life and death.
It is to malign the Supreme Court or not is off the point, but certainly the PPP is using populism again, like it always did, to destroy the constitution and the institutions that it created such as the independent higher courts, the rule of law and just one manifestation of the fundamental rights, the free media. Let here be no mention of moral values! As always, its stance is the same: we have the people’s mandate and we are free to do whatever we wish to, no one can tell us to stop or stop us.
That is populism pure and simple! No regard for moral principles, legal norms, constitutional proprieties, and political traditions! We have popular support and it empowers us to rule in the manner we like. How dangerous it is can be seen by having a look at the past history of the PPP. The way it is putting the whole country into a mess of immoralities, illegalities and unconstitutionalities is unbelievable. It is trampling everything good or bad including itself.
This reminds us of a cautioning by two-time Prime Minister of Norway, Kjell Magne Bondevik. He said, “To exchange principles for popularity might be a temptation. It’s at the core of populism. We must offer something else.”
It is time we decide we are not going to exchange moral principles, or our constitution, or our higher courts, or rule of law, or our free media, for the PPP’s populism. We must offer something else!
[The writer is founder/head of the Alternate Solutions Institute.]