The punditry’s ideas, frozen in time…
You might have seen it. It was footage made from a cell-phone camera. Given the rapid improvements in phone cameras, the footage isn’t even grainy if there is a lot of natural light. And that, there was plenty of, on a scorching afternoon in district Dera Ghazi Khan, when Sardar Jamal Leghari was on his way to a funeral. His SUV was stopped by a bunch of local protestors, out of whom, one started vocally asking questions about the state of development in the area, in particular, the shoddy state of the local road.
The youngster was articulate and seemed educated. Leghari,on the other hand, didn’t handle the situation well. Though he is not a shy sort, the son of the late president Leghari isn’t exactly a gifted communicator. And his appearance on political talkshows would have proved that he isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, to say the least. There is a shade of arrogance in his demeanour and it isn’t a smooth, palatable – even charming – arrogance the likes of which Rana Sanaullah, Zulfiqar Mirza or even Imran Khan can show. Just the sort of arrogance that will rub everyone the wrong way, regardless of how you slice it.
Back to our scene in DG Khan: the mercury kept rising as far as Leghari was concerned and he finally let it rip. I am the one who built this road; it was me. How can you speak to me like that? Leghari then segued on to the Baloch ecosystem. This is just a small chit of paper that you give me (when the youngster pointed out how he was a voter asking his representatives some basic questions) is this the ehsaan you are doing for the sardar of your tribe that you are bringing up again and again?
The clip went viral. To reiterate, this wasn’t Leghari’s finest hour. But the response to the clip by the commentariat was a bit behind the times.
Switch on any television channel and you will find one talking point coming to the surface over and over again: the pervasive presence of the “feudals” in the polity.
Now one doesn’t know what the f-word means in 2018. But let us not be pedantic and take it for what it has come to mean. The anchors and pundits sitting in the bigger cities have a view of the peripheries that is completely frozen in time. Much water has passed under the bridge. In all of central and northern Punjab, the whole feudal thing is remembered by grandfathers. And it has all but frittered away in the southern part of the province. In parts of Sindh, where it was once more than rife, it is barely holding on.
Sure, we will still hear stories now and then about the local landlord intervening in the electoral process but that is becoming rare. With the presence of the broadcast media and now, social media, we have reached a state of affairs that the so-called feudals are extremely circumspect themselves. All across the country, large landlords, coming from families that were represented in legislative assemblies from before partition find themselves challenged by local upstarts who have been beating them at their homeground. Don’t get me wrong here, they’re not poor, these local social climbers. But they’ve made their way from the middle-class in local businesses like retail, perhaps, or tractor repair, or a flour mill. In an increasingly urbanising Pakistan, the faultlines of caste are also becoming less and less relevant.
Leghari is perhaps one of the few of such dinosaurs where an incident like that would have even raised eyebrows. In other parts of the country, it is so commonplace, no one would even remember it. And in the Pashtun belt, urban and rural, it was perhaps never around in the first place.
Among those sharing this video gleefully was the PTI’s Hamza Ali Abbassi. Though the video was a feel-good moment, but one wonders if he was doing it to prove some sort of political point? Knowing what we know about the PTI, Jamal Leghari could have well joined the PTI had he wanted to. And that in that particular timeline, these youngsters would have been shouting “Ik vaari faer, SHER!” instead of “Aai aai, PTI!”
The Jatois in Sindh, another Baloch family that doesn’t speak Balochi, but Seraiki, like the Legharis, and as “feudal.” They are not only a part of the PTI, but got a “family deal” in the ticket awarding process.
None of the above means, however, that money doesn’t play a role. It still does. Just that the origins of this money are now becoming irrelevant. You will continue to see famous family names in the lists of legislators. But because they have money and the more polite and worldly-wise of them would have adapted themselves to the brave new world, like Jamal Leghari’s brother Awais, for instance.
Money alone cannot get you elections. Increasingly, even the rich upstarts are being challenged by others, maybe lesser affluent players.
The Tarakki family of Swabi, PTI stalwarts (Shahram, being the former health minister) aren’t exactly large landholders but are filthy rich. This is tobacco country and they have a brand or two; though allegations of the big break coming from counterfeiting the bigger brands aren’t even refuted anymore.
The two gentlemen you see on the motorbike are the candidates that the ANP has fielded against them on the national and provincial assembly seats. Waris Khan and Ayaz Khan, both the sons of Congress-member Khudai Khidmatgaars.
True, the Tarakis have spent their own money lavishly and these two don’t seem to stand a chance, goodwill notwithstanding. But the Tarakis lost to the ANP in the local government polls in 2015.
Who knows? Maybe money will also soon go the way ofsardari and become less relevant.