Democratic governance and dynastic politics

ByM Ali Siddiqi

writer who contributes to leading periodicals


February 18, 2023

dynastic politics

M Ali Siddiqi talks about a much-debated subject

It is intriguingly evident that the cumulative perception of Pakistani polity is riddled with ample contradictions and the funny aspect of it is that it does not realize it. If it would have realized it then matters would have been radically different. It must be kept in mind that perception is not only relevant to dynastic politics life but is also crucial to human existence.

Unfortunately, perceptions do not care if they are based on positive or negative grounds. They stick irrespective of their credibility or falsity. Since human behavior is profoundly altered by perceptive notions therefore it is imperative that prevailing perceptions in the social order are carefully assessed, analyzed, and nurtured. It is particularly relevant to address public perceptions as their impact is wide-ranging and more effective.

Unfortunately, no one in Pakistan pays any attention to this crucial angle of existence. In this context, the repeated contention is that the primary problem afflicting Pakistani democratic political governance is the involvement of dynastic politics connections in it. It is castigated that this tradition is prevalent in every corner of the government for generations and from one to the next and it is extremely harmful.

To begin with, it is widely known that Pakistanis repeat the virtues of family ad nauseam and vociferously propagate the preservation of the family unit to be the ultimate blessing in a radically altering social kaleidoscope. They tout it as the crucial point of superiority over the decaying West and feel tremendous pride about it. Extended family systems are carefully nurtured and maintained.

Family loyalty is rated higher than any other social bond. Family ties are valued above all else. But true to their classic contradictory nature Pakistanis simultaneously berate family presence be it in the shape of birdies, professional fields, business cartels, or political groupings.

Some Public Perceptions

The chameleon-like Pakistani thought process is prone to easy manipulation. Since a few years after its creation, the cumulative thought process of Pakistani polity had been gradually but steadfastly molded by design. It is very tragic to witness that Pakistanis are led to believe that they are exploited by every segment of social order: feudal classes were castigated for loyalty to their estates and fealty to colonial masters, politicians for their chicanery, merchants, bureaucrats, and professionals including doctors and engineers.

The purpose was to pave way for creating and eulogizing the only sacred cow in the country at the expense of all other corrupt segments of national life. The exclusive entity has since successfully managed to hold its preeminence at a cost that only history will tell. Currently, the public perception, forced with a vengeance, upon Pakistani polity is that the presence of families in the political arena is the source of all ills.

The detractors of the family element in the political field are acutely unaware that the political family is not exclusive to Third World democracies and that it is present in industrialized democracies as well. Even in countries like France and America, founded on the avowed principle of civic nationalism hinged on all men being created equal, repudiating inherited political power, and the presence and influence of families.

Dynastic politics could be gauged from the fact that the US political system produced no less than eight Presidents belonging to the Adams, Harrison, Roosevelt, and Bush families, the high point emerging in 2000 when Al Gore, son of Senator Albert Gore, ran against George Bush, son of President George Bush. The practice of families indulging in dynastic politics is just like other professions running in families.

Democratic Organizations & Dynastic Politics

Although its evaluation is primarily subjective unlike professions such as medicine, law, and science whose objective qualification assessment criteria cannot be tagged with the accident of birth but the argument is universally accepted that heredity plays an important part in success. Every class displays the tendency to become hereditary so it is not strange that in democratic organizations filial connections ensure entrenchment in power.

Political families draw their cohesion through a maze of factors. Theirs is a brand name associated with public goods followed up by consistent public service by subsequent generations. The members of a family have easy access to the political system and they are willing to afford the time, resources, and money to engage in the political domain.

They are quite conscious of the physical rigors of political life and are very willing to undertake them. And, they have a deep sense of honoring the family’s name instilling a deep sense of mission. They have the unparalleled advantage of getting advice from elders and they are exposed to lesser risk of internecine struggle.

One exceptional advantage such personages get is that they belong to households abuzz with political activity and it would be difficult if they remain untouched by it. Political activity is all-encompassing and it rarely fails to attract public perception.

This angle was amply demonstrated by Violet, daughter of British Prime Minister H.H. Asquith, while narrating how often she was taken into her father’s confidence about matters of state prompting Winston Churchill, son of a political stalwart, Randolph Churchill, who as a child was badly neglected by both his parents, to wistfully comment that he wished he could have such talks with him. Such exposure places such individuals in a position whereby they are saved from the rigors of acquiring initial experiences through the trial-and-error method.

Dynastic Politics Emphatically Credible Segment

A credible segment of early sociologists has emphatically mentioned that ability is not distributed haphazardly but affects certain families and the relationships of statesmen abundantly prove the hereditary character of their genius. Interestingly though they undervalued most high-level personages yet concluded that based on their assessment of eminent lawyers, politicians, and scientists it is evident that the statesman’s type of ability is largely transmitted or inherited.

However, in wake of the evolution of the sociological discipline, this assessment does not hold crystal clear dominance as the modern world recognizes meritocracy as the touchstone of ability but it certainly does not imply that the genetic base has lost its relevance completely. It is also very clear that social hindrances can impede men of high ability belonging to any stratum of the social ladder and this also includes people of influential families.

A large majority of columnists, particularly of the Urdu Press, keep harping on this subject as serves well the interests of their readership and repeat such perceptions scurrilously spreading them out without looking at the picture in totality. Electronic media also indulges in mindlessly following wrong perceptions with no sense of responsibility.

Politicians belonging to political families should not be sheepishly defensive about their filial associations and should come out forcefully to rectify false perceptions created about their untiring public duties. Public trust could only be gained by defending public duty assigned to a politician irrespective of where he belongs to. It is futile to denigrate any filial connection in political life as one quality such individuals develop is the ability to withstand any criticism as this is part of public existence and they are quite attuned to treat it accordingly. The Weekender


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