By Wajahat S Khan
Hamza Shahbaz Sharif is looking good. Twenty-four hours before the verdict that will convict his three-time prime minister uncle Nawaz Sharif, and fiery first cousin Maryam, Hamza, 42, who works out every day and sports his standard issue Ferrogamos with a blue shalwar kameez, is about to give his first interview in eons.
With just over two weeks left before the July 25 election, and his party under constant fire, Hamza has been keeping a low profile. But now he emerges, as it is finally evident that he and his father, Shehbaz-the three-time chief minister of Punjab province, younger brother and able deputy to Nawaz-are largely in the clear in this land of judicial filibustering and camouflaged coups.
With the legal disabling of the ‘other’ Sharifs (who were still in London at the time this article went to print, tending to Nawaz’s wife but promising to return by Friday the 13th, just 12 days before the polls, and expected to be arrested upon arrival and helicoptered straight to jail), the political reality at 180-H Model Town, Lahore-the secretariat of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), the only party in the country named after a living man-is clear: Hamza’s time has come. The obsequious army of valets, bureaucrats and advisors around him is definitely behaving like they believe it. But Hamza, a three-time member of the national assembly, and the chief electoral operator of the party, won’t actually admit it.
In the PMLN, not praising Nawaz-the 68-year-old who now faces 10 years of jail and another 10 years of political winter as he stands disqualified to run for public office after he’s completed his sentence for “living beyond means”-or elevating yourself is unwise. It’s also a breach of the rules.
The truth is, Nawaz is still a vote-getter. His absence from the rallies his party leaders have been holding has been felt. Shehbaz has been trying to keep up the momentum, with his dramatic speeches and rolled-up sleeves, but a recent Gallup poll placed the PMLN only marginally ahead of Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), while other surveys upped Khan’s position, creating a lack of clarity, at least in Punjab-the bustling province of over a 100 million which must be taken for any kind of shot at the centre.
Importantly, senior PMLN leaders are standing by keenly for the moment when Nawaz will come to their constituencies, pump his fists and thumb his nose at the establishment. They are waiting for his exquisitely-timed salvos-about the enabling of the Mumbai attacks, about puppeteer space aliens (the new code word for the army in Pakistan) and about why he was removed in the first place (the over-memed “Mujhe Kyoon Nikala”)-a routine that has been swelling PMLN support for months, creating mammoth crowds at rallies and sympathetic editorials in the dailies.
But now, with the conviction of the two most powerful members of Pakistan’s longest-ruling political dynasty after a 10-month trial over the Sharifs’ Mayfair properties, that moment may never come. Nawaz has been removed from the election map, along with his heir apparent and PR chief, Maryam.
Ominously, after the convictions were handed out to Nawaz, Maryam and her estranged husband Safdar, the absence of any serious protests in favour of Nawaz, especially in his hometown of Lahore, while not reminiscent of the distribution of mithai (when he was removed by Pervez Musharraf in 1999), reflected a muted acceptance of a fait accompli: For now, Nawaz Sharif is history.
Still, Hamza puts up a brave face. In his interview, he borrows tactics from his father’s nuanced playbook, and drops his uncle’s aggressive dictionary-“governance through consultative process”, “the army’s great sacrifices”, etc.-but he doesn’t, can’t, disown his confrontational uncle and cousin, who’ve been creating havoc in national security and judicial circles for months, if not years. He thinks that he’s sharp enough to pull his voters past the post on election day, but he won’t utter the magic words that may get him the establishment’s blessings.
“We may have a difference of opinion with him, but Nawaz Sharif is still the Quaid [leader] of the party,” he says. And the feedback I get after the airing of the interview from a close watcher in Rawalpindi, the home of the army: “He’s a good lad. But it’s curtains for the Sharifs.”
After being disqualified from office in July 2017, Nawaz had almost a year to manoeuvre. Instead, he embarked on a self-immolating mission to settle scores, and that too with a slighted military. As he went on the warpath, installing a token PM instead of letting his efficient brother take over the reins, Nawaz-goaded on by Maryam and her media machine of trolls, spokespersons, anchors and ministers who reported to her, not the party-created the biggest victim of his own fall: Shehbaz.
Broadly tolerated by the military, genuinely respected by the bureaucracy, naturally more media savvy, a speaker of Mandarin, German and Turkish, the works-18-hour-days dynamo that is Shehbaz Sharif was edged out of succession by his brother. As 2017 became 2018, and a campaign of anti-military innuendo became a blazing, non-stop, social and mainstream media army-bashing fest-so much so that serving ISI generals and brigadiers are called out by name as political engineers by the Nawaz machine on prime-time TV-Shehbaz, the eternal good cop, kept apologising about his brother’s rants and his niece’s tirades, remained on the back foot about the spiralling tensions with the establishment, and increasingly lost his backdoor access to General Headquarters, the home of the army.
Even when Nawaz grudgingly installed him as party chief, Shehbaz remained powerless against the parallel headquarters run by Maryam. And then trusted aides were picked up on corruption charges; favoured journalists and bloggers disappeared; opposition leaders derided Shehbaz’s inability to stand up to the disgraced Nawaz. In Rawalpindi, Shehbaz was written off as an invertebrate, not ready for a bigger platform that was his to step up to and take. But, clearly, the traditions of the Sharif household came first for Shehbaz: “If I’m not loyal to my brother, who am I going to be loyal to?” he told me in an interview earlier this year.
Moreover, Nawaz’s longest-serving deputy and former interior minister Nisar Ali Khan, a pro-military member of the party who was close to Shehbaz, was also pushed out after tensions with Maryam, cutting off a vital link with Rawalpindi and creating a rupture of electoral defections, widening what I call Pakistan’s biggest divide: The Garrison Gap.
Duly assisted by his eldest, Hamza-though not the entire PMLN machine (half of which reports to Maryam)-Shehbaz’s only traction now, in a fractured party which is missing its primary weapon, Nawaz, is getting the actual vote.
But there is a 65-year-old rock in the way of 66-year-old Shehbaz. This summer, Imran Ahmad Khan Niazi celebrated 22 years of the founding of his PTI. Once termed as a vanity project, a gentlemen’s club, then a cult, and now scorned as the ‘King’s Party’-liberal code for being military-backed-the Pakistan Tahreek-e-Insaf, translated as Movement for Justice, has become that for its millions of followers. Today, Khan is polling higher than he’s ever polled in any surveys in the past, and given most of the credit for disabling Sharif. But he didn’t just get here on his own. The winds of change were with him.
Here’ a killer statistic, literally. Pakistan’s never voted an incumbent back to power. By hook or crook, by bombing or ballot, by coup or craft, Pakistan doesn’t vote, nor allows its leaders, back into consecutive terms.
But around early 2016, just before the Panama Leaks disclosed details about his offshore companies, Nawaz was looking like he was all set for a comeback. He was signing energy deals across the region; he was taking credit for anti-terror operations; he was crushing it with his Kashmir speeches at the UN; with the China Pakistan Economic Corridor in his sights, he had even managed to brush off the flak that came from the surprise birthday visit of Narendra Modi in late 2015, all the while his brother went into overdrive with vote-magnet projects in the Punjab.
Disavowed after a messy divorce and an anti-climatic months-long protest, Khan was lost in the wilderness in early 2016. But with the Leaks, Khan came back to life. He tweeted, rallied, protested and repeated his anti-corruption campaign against the Sharifs, swearing their London flats were from ill-gotten gains. First, nobody really got it. Offshore companies? Didn’t all rich folks have them? London apartments? Hadn’t the Sharifs lived there for ages? Soon, ‘Panama’ became ‘Pajama’, a meme for morons. But Khan didn’t relent.
Sharif overplayed his hand. After the heavy-handed crushing of a protest Khan had planned in Islamabad in 2016, coupled with a dangerously timed leak to an anti-establishment reporter about the military’s links with militant groups, the tide turned, and the establishment went to battle stations. Enter, the courts, which started the Panama proceedings in earnest. Throughout the first half of 2017, Khan was only to be found at the Supreme Court, scribbling notes, doing pressers, tweeting about the forensic details of the Sharifs’ alleged financial malfeasance. Again, it was a case nobody thought would go anywhere. But dozens of hearings down the road, at the last one, a year ago, I spoke to Khan during the court’s recess in one of the chambers he had set up as his headquarters. Picking on a mango with a fork, he was ambitious, as usual. “I will bet you my last shirt that Nawaz is going to go,” he told me, like it was gospel. His lawyer, Naeem Bokhari, chimed in for effect: “He’s gone! Nawaz is caught behind by a fair judiciary! Bowled by Imran from the pavilion end!”
They’re saying that if Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Sheikh Mujeeb broke Pakistan’s one-party system-and then Pakistan itself-in the 1970 polls, then this is the year that Khan-third-time husband, fourth-time contender, born-again-and-then-born-once-again Sufi-will break the two-party system dominated by the PMLN and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) for decades. If politics is the art of the possible, then Khan is the only leader flirting with clear probabilities right now.
With federal investigators summoning former president Asif Zardari of the PPP last week (for money laundering), with the assassination of Khan rival Haroon Bilour (member of the Awami National Party) by the Taliban, with the expected arrest of arch-rival Nawaz, and with the army’s plan of deploying the largest-ever contingent of troops for a general election (an unprecedented 371,000 troops inside and outside 80,000 polling stations), even Machiavelli would admit this week is looking like Khan owns it.
But there is time, yet. And Khan has been blamed for misjudging before. Maybe that’s where the honourable judges will come to his aid, yet again. Or maybe, come election day, by the process of elimination, none of us will have much of a choice but to vote for Khan anyway.
The contours of contest ahead
By Mahesh Rangarajan
This summer will see a carnival of democracy in the general election. Much has changed in just five years. The elan of Narendra Modi’s party is more muted this time. Last weekend, key opponents, the Samajwadi Party and the BahujanSamaj Party, joined forces in Uttar Pradesh, making the contest real and not a walkover. The Index of Opposition Unity cannot predict outcomes but no one can afford to ignore it.
The Congress’s victories in the Assembly elections in three north Indian States have given it a shot in the arm. Equally important, the older party is firming up alliances in the southern States. The 131 Lok Sabha seats in five States (Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Telangana) and two Union Territories (Lakshadweep and Puducherry) have been critical to it in times of trouble.
The Telangana poll outcome was sobering for both the large national parties. Regional nationalism is not new to Indian politics: Jammu and Kashmir and Tamil Nadu were precursors. Regional formations have long governed West Bengal, Odisha and now Telangana. They may well hold the keys to power in New Delhi.
In 2014, it was the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that led in securing allies. Between then and now, BJP president Amit Shah has helped expand its footprint. Not only does it have more MLAs than the Congress, but its cadre fights every election like there is no tomorrow.
The challenge lies elsewhere. The Congress may have lost in 2014 and come down to a historic low of less than one in five votes cast. Yet, only a decade age, in May 2009, the roles had been in reverse. It was Congress that had then polled 29% and the BJP just 19% of the popular vote.
This time is different. It is 1971 that will be the textbook case for the ruling party. When the Grand Alliance said it would oust Indira Gandhi, she replied she wished to banish poverty. She won hands down.
Mrs. Gandhi did not have to contend with a powerful Dalit-led formation in the Ganga valley which commands 20% of the vote. Many of today’s regional parties were yet to be formed. She captured the public imagination. It was a gamble and she won hands down. Mr. Modi too will fight to the last voter. He will try to be the issue. He has sounded the tocsin against dynasty, caste and corruption. Hence the record in getting visible benefits to the individual and the family. The gas cylinder, the light bulb, that rural road: each will, he hopes, add to his appeal.
History has another instance too. The 2004 general election was held early. Atal Bihari Vajpayee was confident that ‘India was Shining’. The dream came apart on counting day. Rather than a unified Opposition (for there was none in the all-important State of Uttar Pradesh), ground-level discontent denied the ruling alliance another chance.
And yet, there is the cloud of the horizon. Even in 2004, the Congress was only a whisker ahead of the BJP — just seven seats more in the Lok Sabha. The Congress had 145 seats to the BJP’s 138. The key was on the ground, where the mood had shifted. The economic upturn began in 2003, but voters did not see gains early enough for the ruling bloc to reap an electoral harvest.
In 2014, the challenger drew on the tiredness with a decade of a Congress-led government and promised a fresh start. Runaway inflation and the spectre of corruption undercut the appeal of the Congress. This time the issues have changed. It is the squeeze on farm incomes and rural debt that are the key poll planks. Similarly, the issue of jobs is more pressing than ever. Cultivators across all strata and young people seeking productive employment want answers.
Two States are key. Maharashtra, a State critical in the histories of both the Congress and the BJP, is not only seeing a coming together of Opposition forces; it is undergoing drought and rural distress. Ominously, key farmer-led allies have walked across. Uttar Pradesh, a bastion of the BJP, has rival Dalit- and Mandal-led parties coalesce for the first time in a quarter century. Both States have something in common. In both, sugarcane cultivation is a determinant of electoral fortunes.
Cane (not caste) and jobs (not community slogans) may hold the key. Ganna and Naukri, not reservations or the emotive Mandir issue. What matters more: bread or identity? Even when both count what takes precedence?
Government policy has had a key role in this denouement. By according priority to consumers in cities (who want low prices for cereals, oil seeds and pulses), the government did not have to pay heed to rural residents who need to earn more. The latter, as producers, are larger in number and percentage than in any other democracy.
India still lives and votes in its villages. Under Mr. Shah, the cadre, organisation and outreach have made the BJP a vastly larger party than any other. But economic policies can strain such organisational gains.
Democracy is about more than development. In a polity where people can throw their rulers out, it is centrally about politics. Since 1999, there has been a bi-nodal system, and the choice is not simply between Mr. Modi and Congress president Rahul Gandhi.
We have effectively a one-party government with a firm hand on the wheel (but with the danger of an over-centralisation of power).
Against this, is ranged a looser coalition in which regional forces and rural interests have more play. Needless to add, the latter will be rockier, more contentious and tough to manage in a coherent fashion.
The Modi government is driven by ideology and not pragmatism on a range of issues. This is the first ever BJP government with a view of culture, history and politics that seeks to remake history as much as the future. Is this the party’s agenda or the country’s? This is a question in the background: if the Ram temple issue comes to the fore, it will be a major choice for the voter.
The pluralism and Hindutva debate have another dimension more so than ever, namely the federal question. Across the Northeast (including Sikkim), far more important to the country than its 25 Lok Sabha seats indicate, the idea of citizenship is at variance with the new Citizenship Bill passed by the Lok Sabha. Across the country, State-level parties see an accretion of powers in the federal government unseen since the 1980s.
True, Mr. Modi has a wider mass appeal than any one since Mrs. Gandhi. But history is witness that such appeal can also have limits if voters decide that enough is enough. Has that point been reached? We simply do not know.
More central is the question of questions. Are you better off than you were five years ago, and if not, why not? If so, and even if not, do you think we are moving in the right direction?
In 2014, The Economist observed that if India had the per capita wealth of Gujarat, the country would rank with Spain. Has that dream come true or it is unravelling and fast? How voters answer that will show who they stand with.
(The writer is Professor of History and Environmental Studies at Ashoka University, Haryana. Source: The Hindu)
Headwinds rock Rahul, Modi
By Jawed Naqvi
Recent headlines have offered clues about the way the wind is blowing before the general elections in India. A make-or-break element in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s re-election bid in May lies in Uttar Pradesh. It was here that he swept the 2014 polls on the back of anti-Muslim blood and gore set off in Muzaffarnagar, what some in the prime minister’s choral media have praised as ‘Modi Magic’. Spurring his win in the country’s most populous state was a palpably disharmonious opposition. That may have changed this year — or has it?
Let’s quickly scour the headlines. My first story refers to the Congress party’s bizarre plan to contest all 80 parliamentary seats in UP on its own. What then becomes of the promised coalition?
The second story seemed facetious at first but it describes a crippling fallout on the BJP of its ban on slaughter of cattle in UP. The alarmed party must now contain unwanted cattle in their post-productive state when they become a load on the farmers. Will the revered holy cow be artificially inseminated to produce more cows than bulls, as the animal husbandry minister says? How serious is the looming crisis in a political season?
A fourth story is The Hindu’s damning report by a former Indian supreme court judge, which gathered dust in the vaults of the apex court for over a year, on fake encounter deaths in Gujarat. Will it haunt the BJP together with an equally strong concern expressed by UN rights officials about allegations of widespread killings in Yogi Adityanath-ruled Uttar Pradesh?
And finally, the party’s national convention addressed by Modi where he offered himself as the only choice to lead India, which needs a ‘mazbootsarkar’, a strong government. The opposition alliance can only produce a ‘majboorsarkar’, says he, a government weakened by its own political compromises.
Two of the stories should suffice to indicate the headwinds ahead. The Congress party’s announcement of fighting all seats in UP, came not surprisingly a day after the backward caste Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Dalit BahujanSamaj Party (BSP), once bitter rivals,
declared a joint campaign in 76 constituencies, leaving four for Congress, presumably. In the last vote count, BSP (22.23 per cent) and the SP (28.07pc) totalled more than BJP (41.35pc) and Congress put together. Congress is an insignificant player in UP, and its irresponsible claim to contest all seats makes it a laughing stock given the high stakes in May.
What lies behind the absurdity? The fact is that Congress, perennially described a family enterprise of the Gandhis, is actually a coalition of powerful satraps, usually but not always shored up by Mumbai businessmen.
The business clubs have a chronic allergy to the Gandhis, though they are not averse to backing a Narasimha Rao or a Manmohan Singh in Congress. The allergens are old and damning. Nehru had jailed their leading businessman for corruption, Indira Gandhi had shut their banks, and Rajiv Gandhi ordered them to get off the backs of Congress workers. The tycoons came back hard at him with the Bofors smear though.
In the recent elections in Madhya Pradesh, a local Congress chieftain deemed close to a particular business family, opposed and subverted an alliance with Mayawati’s Dalit party. Congress won but not cleanly and it needs the BSP to sustain a majority. In Uttar Pradesh, the SP has strong ties with key business families, including the one that Rahul Gandhi has named in the Rafael warplanes scandal.
Given the state of play, the young Gandhi should ideally decide whether he wants to be a compromised representative of disparate, even contrary interests as prime minister, something his satraps would like him to be. Or should he be nudging the opposition parties, bereft of common ambition, with a Nehruvian vision to forge a truly durable secular polity?
The left had done this successfully with Indira Gandhi. The model can only strengthen Congress and its essentially left-leaning mass base. See it as a Tony Blair-Jeremy Corbyn moment within the Indian equivalent of the Labour Party. Else, the system in India, a tycoon-run deep state, would continue to harness Congress satraps and the BJP in a bind that undermines the constitution’s fair promise.
Signs of disarray in the opposition should comfort the BJP, but evidently the party for the first time is looking mortally afraid of losing. From ‘Congress-free India’, Modi is now talking about ‘a weak opposition government’. There’s more evidence of panic in Omar Rashid’s story in The Hindu about a cattle market that has collapsed, about stray cows raiding UP farms as impoverished farmers abandon their hungry animals.
Explaining the dilemma, BJP’s minister for animal husbandry said: “UP is a state of small and minor farmers, with two crop seasons. For 15 days of ploughing, a farmer no longer wants to feed two bullocks all year round.” To solve the problem the government has started a sex-sorted scheme under which the chances of a cow producing a female calf would be as high as 90pc to 95pc. Simultaneously, the BJP government is imposing a 0.5pc gaukalyan (cow welfare) cess on liquor and road toll collections, besides doubling an existing 1pc levy on the incomes of wholesale produce markets. The proceeds will fund construction and maintenance of new cow pens.
While the kitten entangles itself in the ball of wool, the opposition should be taking control of the narrative. But Congress, far from offering a vision, which only it could, is saddled with its recent promise to make cow urine economically viable while discussing the grade of the Brahminical thread Rahul Gandhi wears, neither of which is part of the winning calculation for the SP and the BSP.
The social fibre is in disarray
By Tawfeeq Irshad Mir
Kashmir lost its claim to heaven a long time ago but the debate today is not about ‘why’ but ‘who’ caused the paradise to fly away, leaving behind its miserable and yet romantic claimants.Say Kashmir, and the sweet aroma of pine takes over the mind fluttering among images of valley flowers,
While the valley is brewing to shivered cold, resorting to bone ache, and suddenly you get to hear the act, that tender your muscles and your brain starts oscillating in agony. While I was on the way to home, and as usual my phone keeps on beeping with variable feeds, and at a moment my eyes stuck to a feed, mentioning that a baby was thrown outside in a cartoon enveloped in polythene, across the road from the city’s maternity hospital Lal Ded. Not the first time, I got to hear such inhuman act, previously such incidents have filled the social networking sites with tetra byte data.
Kashmir, a Conservative populace with rigid religious beliefs, where such incidents dwindle the heart, to the core and ionise in the surroundings within fraction of the second.
,,, “oh foetid soul, you aren’t a burden,
Your cravings, your presence, is sacred,
” unworthy are those, who abandon you,
,,, “you are born to take nap at the realm of GOD,
This mischievous act is on surge in Kashmir citing numerous incidents in the past, Now concerning the aetiology of this social chaos, : over the years there has been a paradigm shift in the psychological, behavioural, living style of the people inhabiting valley, leading to variant changes, pertaining to psychosexual onslaught, Now we see pre-marital sexual relations, a non-serious concern leading to apathy in the ethos of society, the ramifications of this are vivid and perturbing, the couple especially in their teen ages, moved by their sudden hormonal changes engage in sexual relationships, and in certain cases, unaware of its complications, maybe due to lack of knowledge, debarring the use of protective devices, the female counterpart conceives and remains unaware for most of the time, as fear of surroundings, the societal rejection, the client fears to express the event to parents, till she develops such symptoms, and in reaction, either they go for illegal termination of pregnancy or wait for the term to deliver remaining in isolation carried out in privacy, and later the baby is abandoned.
In certain cases, the baby delivered from legal couple, go for termination, if it’s unwanted, or a female,, called female infanticide “in Kashmir such incidents are on record where foetus laden with blood were found in toilets, on the footsteps of shrines, some years back, an abandoned baby, caught by mob of dogs was noticed outside Lal Ded hospital, such incident shocked the consciousness of people,.
Congenital defects :Every single creation of God is not futile, but I can say, a sheer ignorance, the babies who are born with genetic defects have every right to continue life, even Stephen Hawkins was born with hereditary defect, still he rose to prominence, even normal human couldn’t think ever, contributes to the cause of abandoning babies, recently a horrendous incident captivated the conscious minds of valley where a father tried to Bury his live baby, citing the reasons of poverty, that he can’t afford the care of baby born with genetic defect.
Now describing the risk factors, loosening bondages from religious acuity, problems in socialisation, faults in upbringing, difficulties in coping up with puberty, lack of education, accelerate such incidents.
The treatment is more of a belief than literal.The old age adage holds true everywhere, we should focus on preventive strategies, we should be more religious, because not a single religion advocates such horrendous act, be more conscious when you go for such a relationship, we should profoundly act on such incidents, awareness schedule should be set up,
We need to develop legal resolutions for those abandoned, because we have many childless couples, so as to create balance.
Certainly at the end, those who abandon live births, are abandoning the humanity, the moment they opt for such gigantic mischief, they turn into wilds, and their ability to be human seizes.
(The writer is perusing graduation in Nursing at GMC, Srinagar. He can be reached at: [email protected])