By Agha Iqrar Haroon
All is set for General Elections 2024 that will be held on February 8, 2024, and political parties are attracting 110 million plus voters with slogans, promises, and Public Sector Development Program (PSDP) kind of manifestoes. Borrowed and copied from UNDP-made Visions (2010-2020-2025), social uplift programs are printed as “manifestos” after changing the cover pages. Whatever is being sold, is bought by voters as per their choices.
An academic review of manifestos offered by major political parties shows that everybody is raising “populist slogans” (millions of jobs for youth, free-of-cost electricity, distribution of state-built residences among voters, etc). Blueprints of Foreign Affairs of major political parties have a one-point agenda that is attracting foreign investments and privatization of state-owned enterprises to foreigners.
There is no difference whether voters are choosing “A” instead of “B “or “C” because promises are promises and all are promising the same and only God knows who will fulfill them or who will not. Politics based on intellectualism and romanticism have no space left in countries having higher poverty rates
There is no doubt that all the above-mentioned promises are very attractive in a country that is facing an economic meltdown and has no skilled labor, no well-educated youth, and is run after receiving foreign loans but is still refusing to slice its huge state salaries bill. Political parties understand that to gain political mileage and to get ballots in their favor, the poverty-ridden population should be offered bread, clothing, and shelter and that is what every political party is doing.
There is no difference left whether voters are choosing “A” instead of “B “or “C” because promises are promises and all are promising the same and only God knows who will fulfill them or who will not. In such a scenario, it makes hardly any difference whether the country is going for “Selection” or for “Elections”.
Politics based on intellectualism and romanticism have no space left in countries having higher poverty rates; illiterate/unskilled youth and running on foreign loans because such countries are run by “need-based” reasoning and ideas such as democracy; right of expression and free will to elect candidates are not preferences of voters.
Concepts like “intellectual agreement with the State” are the least popular political thoughts in countries like Pakistan. However, the intellectual class of Pakistan which is still in love with the romanticism of the early 1960s, is not ready to accept the realities of the 21st century.
A majority of political thinkers and sociologists are of the view that the public separates itself from “intellectual agreement with the State” due to several reasons including “need-based” reasoning in developing countries with higher poverty rates and less education.
We are living in a politically charged age without having a cadre of leaders who even know the meanings of this phenomenon and they are satisfying their politically charged followers with popular slogans that are further compromising the importance of intellectualism. This anti-intellectualism response is partially due to socio-economic realities that divide the societal sphere into two main categories—Intellectual political thought and Real-world political thought. Intellectual political thought is somehow a form of “political elitism” while practical political thought is a form of “need-based” response of society.
The need-based response in developing countries offers a nourishing soil for populism – a worldview that sees political conflict as primarily between conventional citizens and those who believe in classical democracy that ensures “social equality”, “freedom of expression”, “education for all”, “social justice”, “rule-based governance” etc.
Since the party-less General Elections of 1985, speaking about classical democracy is considered a talk of “a privileged societal elite class” or “political elitism” in Pakistan and discussions take place around promises like cheaper food, free electricity, and 10 million jobs because these subjects fascinate hungry population and feed the desires of the populist thought that further creates anti-intellectual predispositions among the masses, encourages anti-elite rhetoric, and triggers anti-intellectual sentiments.
The academic works of several sociologists and linguists about populist rhetoric such as Richard Hofstadter, Daniel Rigney, Lim Sojung, Mark D Brewer, Lee Harris, and Michael Kazin help us to recognize philosophical aspects of intellectualism and populist approach.
As we know anti-intellectualism is appreciated in countries where the poverty rate is higher but poverty is not the only enemy of intellectualism. Social thinkers identify three distinct components of anti-intellectualism that play a role in opinion formation and they are:
Anti-rationalism, or the dismissal of critical thinking as a desirable trait; Unreflexive instrumentalism, or the devaluing of long-term payoffs for short-term material gain; and Anti-elitism. It is also evident that in countries where religious sentiments steer state decisions, intellectualism is perceived negatively as it is fundamentally a threat to religious authority.
Another factor is that in countries with low literacy rates, people do not see the value of education and critical thought; they see it contrary to practical knowledge and common sense or may be skeptical of acquired knowledge because they see it as a tool of an exploitative societal elite. Additionally, anti-intellectualism has some connection to other personality characteristics, like a tendency for intuitionist over rationalist thinking. The conceptual connection between populism and anti-intellectualism suggests that anti-intellectualism rhetoric may have important implications for the public’s opinion as “Rhetoric” has the power to shape political attitudes.
Whether we accept it or not, it is reality that the last populist rule of PTI had set the tone for “populism” and all political parties are now dancing to the same music while offering the same slogans that had been part of PTI’s manifesto of 2018 General Elections. Ten million jobs, five million state-built residential units, cheaper electricity, and many such promises of PTI are now found in manifestos of mainstream political parties like PMLN, and PPP, and even in Jamaat-e-Islami’s manifesto looks like a photocopy of PTI’s 2018 manifesto.
The romanticism of “Asia is red (Socialism) or Asia is green (Islamic rule of governance) is no longer a popular slogan. Religio-politico parties such as JUI and JI are now raising slogans that are “need-based” instead of “political thoughts”. In these circumstances, this is not important whether the forthcoming General Elections 2024 will be Elections or would be Selection, it is more important for the public whether new rulers (Selected or Elected) will deliver “need-based” or not.
One should not forget that subjects such as “fair and free elections”, “freedom of expression” or “level playing field in the polling process” are subjects of “intellectualism” and have nothing to do with the “need-based response of society”.
Furthermore, a hybrid administrative regime has no place within the parameters of Classical Democracy but there is no place left in Pakistan having Democracy without devouring a hybrid administrative regime. One must accept the reality that Political Romanticism and Political Intellectualism are outdated and obsoleted dictions in all developing countries and Pakistan is not an exception.
The views and opinions expressed in this article/Opinion/Comment are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the DND Thought Center and Dispatch News Desk (DND). Assumptions made within the analysis are not reflective of the position of the DND Thought Center and Dispatch News Desk News