Logic of Politics and Governance in Punjab by ASAD UR REHMAN

Each day one can easily find a rainbow of opinions providing solutions to all the ills of governance and politics in Pakistan. These opinions telecasted and communicated through numerous outlets for the consumption of increasingly perturbed middle-classes. This increase in the flow of information is an outcome of structural changes in economy, society, and technology. Which makes new demands on politics. However, Pakistan polity is stubbornly rejecting any such demand. It is this rejection by ruling oligarchy  and denial on the part of the governing political elite is what pushing Pakistan increasingly into a condition of political volatility and apparent un-governability.

Governance is through and through a political process and there is no denying to it. Political steering is part and parcel of any modern form of governance. Generally, this function lies with the representatives of political parties sitting in parliament. Through legislation, they provide a legal framework in which state and society have to function to reproduce any given social and political order. In case of Pakistan by default, such function of steering is dispersed not just among other state institutions (de facto power of military on the interior, foreign and security policy) but also to the level of the constituency. This mode and logic of governance is a modern version of colonial state formation formula. It was the great  “Punjab tradition” of governance conceptualized by Lawrence brothers which are yet to be discarded after 70 years of so-called independence.

Indirect rule is the quintessential part of any such mode of governance in which mediation between communities and state is delegated to certain hand-picked notables. British used the policies of land colonization to codify social inequality in the center of the governance system. Post-colonial military and civilian regimes kept that legacy intact by not radically altering the land ownership in the countryside. Yet with economic modernization penetration of capitalist exchange system into the social fabric unleashed new political aspirations. Pakistan People Party gave a platform to such aspirations and this age-old system of intermediary governance felt threatened. But these budding aspirations and programmatic politics nipped by the old forces of control and authority who hate deliberation and participation.

The vanguard of 1970’s class dominated political idiom were urban poor, professionals and second generation of middle-farmers mostly studying in colleges and universities. Zia regime in order to curb these political social groups re-articulated in a sublime manner the time-tested colonial policy of mediated governance by incorporating modern representative elements of political governance. In order to legitimise its usurpation, a popular mandate was essential for the regime. The state of politics was such that if a free and fair election were allowed PPP was doomed to win them. Therefore, a non-party based election was the instrument used to design a new framework for political competition. First, it was used for local elections in 1979 and later in 1985 for national and provincial elections. Military regime instead of developing and delegating the real effective power of law-making developed opportunities for dispensing patronage. A Hefty amount of development funds granted to elected representatives without any universal policy of public delivery. Now from getting an electric meter to a paved road, all public, collective and club goods were channelized through these new mechanisms. One can easily evaluate the success of this model of politics and governance that in the assembly of 1985 numerous candidates from municipal tier graduated into provincial and national assemblies. Where MPA/MNA grants were again available for further consolidation of patronage at the level of the provincial and national constituency. This way a military regime re-invented the Punjab tradition of Lawrence brothers and helped in patronizing a new logic of politics and governance dispersed into the whole body politic following regimes of PPP and Muslim League (N) had no other option but to compete for political representation and power in this very “political field”. They have to make calculations at many levels to build vote bank and form an effective government. Structure of political field was such that voter-party linkages were not direct but mediated through local strongmen and stalwarts. Which is why the dominated logic of politics was not to provide a political programme but winning the loyalty of as many electables as possible. These electable build further chains of mediations at the level of union councils and villages to distribute patronage. These chains also provide additional function of monitoring and surveillance to keep the electorate under pressure and in control.

Muslim League N  is able to capture this system of mediation to all nooks and corners of Punjab. Chains and chains of overlapping mediators, brokers, fixers and politicians map the current political field of Punjab. A common citizen who is not rich enough to live in gated communities has to find a well-connected  “someone” to complete a legitimate task. Increasingly lawyers, well-off merchants, and even teachers are also becoming the part of this complex and complicate network. The popular understanding of politics is that it is a way to acquire power, influence, and prosperity. Relatively well-off chattering middle-classes who can access to basic necessities of education through market popularly deem these networks and processes as corruption. Imran Khan voiced their concerns and with the help of Panama successfully send his political rival home. But it is increasingly becoming clear that his anti-corruption rhetoric and strategy will not win him elections. Therefore, he will have to choose his candidates in Punjab such manner that these chains of intermediaries will also get connected to the party.

Which means the logic of politics and governance will remain intact and provide ample opportunities to media, judiciary, and ISPR to criticise the performance of elected government. Legislators rather concentrating on making laws and participating in parliamentary committees to effectively steer the economy and administration will remain busy in their constituencies allocating roads and schools to voters and awarding contracts to local loyalists to sustain chains of mediation. Who will be benefiting from such state of affairs? Definitely neither people of Pakistan nor parliament as an institution. Can we end this system of governance? Yes definitely by politics. But politics is itself the instrument embedded in this logic of governance. And those who set the logic and protect it will let it not wither  away without any serious fight.

Asad ur Rehman Born in Punjab, Pakistan is currently residing in Paris as a PHD Candidate. He is interested in transformatory politics in Pakistan

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