Newspaper Article 09/01/2023
Manichaeism heralds a dualistic religious movement that surfaced in the 3rd century hinged at the cosmic mano-a-mano on binaries: the kingdom of good and the kingdom of evil, the realm of light and the realm of darkness; likewise the angels and the demons. This struggle between the two extremes echoes a neologism of binary politics, which pertains to both theory and practice entailing the idea that politics can be comprehended as a system situated on a single locus where people are divided into a rigid dichotomy of ‘0 or 1’or ‘a or b’ in an attempt to galvanise people’s support and votes.
For the past few years, Pakistan is caught in the throes of vicious political binaries wherein the political vocabulary reduces all state of affairs to two sharply articulated Manichean opposites: corrupt versus Sadiq and Ameen (truthful and righteous); and Mr Right versus Mr Wrong.
Wallowing in the valley of Pakistan’s binaries, images of a political and social culture replete with stories of political mistrust, blame game, political vengeance as well as victimisation and media bifurcation appear on face value. These factors have been cascaded from the political campaigns of the past two elections. The electoral mantra of major political parties of Pakistan, currently coalesced into Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) turned pale in comparison to the slogans of Pakistan Tehreek-e- Insaaf (PTI) translating into an electoral victory in 2018.
The subsequent events of assembly of seminal political parties on one platform of PDM ensuring a successful vote of no-confidence against the then Prime Minister Imran Khan, the plummeting economic indices, widening chasms in media, and the tales of a foreign conspiracy aerated divisive politics and fanned populist narratives.
All political parties are evenly involved in continuous attacks on each other and trading barbs which have exposed the political fault lines now more than ever. While the PTI proposes a system free of corruption and one revamped with accountability, the PMLN-PPP duo presents a political choice wrapped in economic-relief symbolism. These practices have contributed to injecting a binary choice of ‘us or them’ in the citizenry’s imagination ushering in a new tainted political culture.
The corollary of these binary choices is metamorphosed into a subculture of incessant binary ultimatums. They are characterised by an abomination to commingle, pigeonholing the populace in ‘traitors’ and ‘patriots’, stigmatising the dissent, and using ubiquitous tropes such as ‘imported government, corrupt mafia’ has engendered a political milieu which is devoid of agreements and compromises even on petty issues.
The fertilisers of religious and ethnic factionalism and elitism have further cultivated these binaries, and resulted in the trickle down and adulteration of almost every political debate while simultaneously punctuating myriad subtexts in domestic politics. A normal kitchen discussion will morph into a war of words and reflexive labelling of people as being a part of the ‘other’ camp.
All these issues have culminated in the yearning for an ‘honest’ leadership which will cure all the ills and pains of the country. However, the definition of politics on a single axis has disturbing implications. Intense polarisation, a milieu of increased mistrust, deepened social cleavages, political parochialism, and cementing the ossification of Pakistan democratic transition are some of the by-products.
Government challenges are multivariate which require complex choices underscoring the need to eschew the approaches premised on either of the formats. It is essential to understand that the political beliefs exist in continuum in lieu of stark binaries. Unlocking the chains on the freedom of expression and creating space for dissent will not be sufficiently remedial for the inflamed and polarised political culture. A different and holistic understanding of politics is required. Politics of consensus and a wave of democratising change across partisan divisions is needed.
Note: This article appeared in Tribune, dated 09 January 2023.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are of the author and do not necessarily represent Institute’s policy.