‘Kuch Sheher De Lok Vi Zalim San, Kuch Sanoon Maran Da Shauq Ve Si’ (transalation: a bit of the trouble for us is our persecutors, a bit of trouble is our deathwish), fits so well this third time governing party, that it would be funny were it not so tragic. Where the conspirators fail, they succeed. Time and again it has been said about this party that it’s like a man walking safely on the sidewalk and suddenly he takes it into his head to go crash into a fixed pole. The latest, of course, is Nihal Hashmi when the PML-N was doing fine with the Whatsapp conspiracy – it was well on its way to demonstrate bias and conspiracy against itself when Mr. Hashmi lobbed his hand grenade and changed the subject to Sicilian mafia gangsterism. But this is only the latest example. There are many others in the public domain. And some in private domains.
Take the example of the parliament first. A man who became Prime Minister for the third time, and after having signed the Charter of Democracy, would have been expected to understand the importance of the parliament, the strength it can exude in countering un-parliamentary forces, if made extant. But no. He still makes policies with his kitchen cabinet of five men. One would’ve expected better. Today, he would’ve been a much stronger Prime Minister but for his contempt for parliamentary process.
Take the example of the circus that plagues us every night from 7pm to 12 am through government and PML-N bashing on television by anti-democratic forces. One is not talking of valid criticism here. One is talking of the defence analysts and some boot loving anchors who cast new and unfounded aspersions on government ad-nauseum. Solution? PTV is instructed to come up with a couple of programs bashing these bashers back. But the PTV Chairmanship is awarded to a yes-man-sycophant. Who hands over the task not to talented producers employed within PTV but to his bureaucrat son who is not even an employee of PTV. And every person at PTV calls him ‘Sir’. The bureaucrat son envisions two programs selecting the most uncharismatic personalities to conduct the most challenging task. The programmes have been running for a year now. Has anyone seen them? Has anyone encountered their clips on social media? The money, the policy, the effort remains in the drain. Because Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has still not learnt that politics of patronage will not strengthen democracy. Because he has still not figured out that he needs to induct persons of integrity and credibility to conduct his media, or for that matter any other, policy. A bureaucrat in the tax department is designing current affairs programs. Yes, a tax man. Who happens to be the son of the yes-man chairman of PTV. This is what is wrong. Can he not hand PTV to a democracy adherent professional who knows the ins-and-outs of electronic media. Let me assure you there is no dearth of such men.
Now on to the third example. One minister has privately been found grousing and regretting the abolishment of the secret media fund. He thinks the PML-N’s problem with the media is that ARY and BOL get unparliamentary support and funds and hence are successful in carrying out a malafide campaigns against the government and the PML-N. Were the PML-N able to buy iPhones, fund iftaris, provide Rs 40, 000 to reporters to have their motorbikes repaired, the counter-narrative would’ve been much stronger. Said gentleman doesn’t see the un-bought journalists who are actually credible and fight every day for democratic principles that favour the government, whilst questioning its dubious actions or policies. These credible gentlemen and ladies in the media who are carrying the day, not Mr. Saleh Zafir or Mr Qasmi who are derided even by the Patwaris (N League supporters). The solution is not to buy reporters and anchors who will echo ‘dekho dekho kon aya, sher aya sher aya’ (look, look who just came, the lion came’). If you want media on your side, you institutionalize benefits for all of them; you make their lot better as an entire stakeholding constituency, and a powerful one at that. So, what can the institutional measures be? You could amend PEMRA rules to suspend licenses of those channels that don’t pay their employees for more than a month (a common practice is not to pay for months at a time – a few suicides because of non payment are a documented fact); you could legislate for media houses to provide life insurance to working journalists; you could require the media houses to provide medical insurance or protective gear for reporting in risky locations. These measures are not bank-breakers. You could even match the contributions as a comfort to media house owners. And the beauty? You don’t need stupid secret funds for iPhones and you would be actually doing good for the vast majority in the media who don’t earn in millions. Would these sorts of measures not earn the ruling party genuine support in the media? This is not rocket science. But because some vestiges of the nineties’ thinking have not changed, and the party won’t allow anyone other than yes-men near it, it remains stuck while the world around it has changed.
Want more? Here you go: the paid social media team is a disaster. No one knows them, only a few thousand follow them, they don’t have the ability to trend anything. They are the ‘sher aya’ lot and do not know how to create waves. Who creates waves? The unpaid democracy upholders who all came into the crosshairs of the establishment a.k.a the FIA crackdown ordered by Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar. That’s how useless the actual social media employees are. The establishment doesn’t even care about them. Patronage, incompetence, yes-persons is the tragedy of this party that looked like it was coming into its own. But it shoots itself in the foot again and again by continuing the old thinking: my personal accountant will be the finance minister; my old sychopaht will be the PTV Chairman; my dead friend’s daughter-in-law will be MPA on women’s reserved seat, no matter how much of a snowflake she might be, no matter that I can actually serve the country and democracy better by awarding the seat to a thinking, consciencous woman who will be more able to serve and protect democracy (which will help me more in the long run). One such MPA recently tweeted in favour of FIA’s unlawful actions. She heard from the real supporters and ended up deleting the tweet.
Prime Minister, you need to take this last step towards your own evolution: respect and enable parliament; devolve power; democratise and meritocrise institutions and processes. Will you, in the annals of history, be able to leave your mark? Will you go down as ‘so-so’? Or do you want to really change this country?
The choice is yours.