In the past 6 months, much has changed in the South Asian region’s political landscape. Three countries – Pakistan, Nepal and India – had their voice heard through the ballot. Congratulations are in order for all three countries, particularly Pakistan where voters defied Taliban threats and Nepal, where just they very holding of elections is a huge step forward for the Himalayan kingdom.
Some key parallels can be – and have been – drawn between the recently-concluded elections in India and Pakistan’s May 2013 elections, the first of which is of course the almost mirror-image ascents of Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf and the Aam Aadmi Party. Pakistanis went out in large numbers (a predicted turnout of 55%) to literally throw out the incumbent government of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), similar to Indians’ disgust with the ruling party Congress which has a received a huge battering. Interestingly, conservative Pakistan decided to vote in conservative Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) which was barely a surprise. But, surprisingly and similarly, secular India decided to back conservative Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – whose prime ministerial candidate is accused of mass murder of Muslims in Gujarat.
But I want to focus on one key difference: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s statement following his party’s defeat. While his mother Sonia, a traditional subcontinental leader, insisted that inflation was to be blamed for her party’s dismal showing, Rahul went right out and stated clearly that he would like to learn from AAP’s success and transform Congress. One of the things that he said had made a lot of difference was that the AAP had been able to bring into the fold people who earlier used to look down upon politics. Never a fan of Rahul Gandhi (apart from his looks), I have to say that this is a very sensible statement to make. He has clearly reflected at length about what went wrong and has at least displayed some intent to try to tackle the problem. Although I do not have very high hopes, I wish him success in his efforts to revitalize his party.
No such reflection was on show in Pakistan, where PPP and its assorted allies cried foul, with its co-chairman claiming that there was a local and global conspiracy against them that had caused their defeat. “Young gun” and Chairman of PPP Bilawal Bhutto Zardari responded by moving to Dubai semi-permanently and using Twitter more aggressively. So serious was the PPP to rebuild itself that it decided to name Qaim Ali Shah the Chief Minister of Sindh AGAIN, in whose 5-year term provincial capital Karachi reverted to the sort of violence last seen in the 1990s. The losing parties almost stopped short of publicly stating that the Pakistani people had gone crazy. Surely they must have that they wanted to throw out the very parties that had performed so well in the 5 years of their government, soldiering on to effectively addressing issues like terrorism and food insecurity in Pakistan. I mean, just look at the numbers…ok, nevermind, the numbers are probably manipulated too. After all, the media is also Pakistani public, and the Pakistani public clearly had lost its mind.
There is still time, if anybody is listening. The PPP has five years to reflect, to learn and to rise back to its once glorious stature in Pakistani politics. It’s a voice that is needed in Pakistan, it still enjoys a large support base. Its leaders, like Aitzaz Ahsan and Sherry Rehman to name a few, need to stop lying to themselves and put their house in order. They need to read the writing on the wall: The reason they lost so miserably is not because Pakistanis woke up one morning suddenly hating the PPP, they lost because of the wounds that they had inflicted and left to fester on the people of this country.