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The Express Tribune Editorial 28 January 2020

Principled stance?


That the chief ministers nominated by Prime Minister Imran Khan to run Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa have been the cause of disagreement between the government and its coalition partners as well as within the ruling party’s ranks is an undeniable fact now. The PM sacked Atif Khan, Shahram Tarkai and Shakeel Ahmed – the three K-P cabinet members who were unhappy with CM Mahmood Khan – in what brings to light the struggle that he has had to do to tackle a pretty serious divide within the party’s K-P chapter and that has thus far been downplayed by party spokespersons. And the growing distrust – mainly by the PML-Q – in the performance of Usman Buzdar as Punjab Chief Minister has, on the other hand, exposed the fragility of the coalition ruling the Centre as well as the country’s biggest province.
The PM, however, insists that Usman Buzdar will remain the “fully empowered CM”, and blames an “organised mafia” that is “conspiring” to forestall the “change” the incumbent government is trying to bring in. What the PM calls a “conspiracy” can well be explained as the push of power politics i.e. the lure of control – something for which the vacuum has been created by his non-performing CMs. Being the selector himself, the PM cannot escape the blame for the situation that has the evil potential to evolve. There can be no denying that both Mahmood Khan and Usman Buzdar were compromise candidates – and pretty weak as well, if compared with many others that were under consideration for the coveted position – nominated with a view to 1) tackling the grouping within the party, and 2) controlling the provinces directly from the Centre.
Explaining the PM’s decision to sack the three K-P cabinet members, an official spokesperson claims that the PTI has now decided “not to sacrifice party discipline for the sake of appeasing personalities”. Well, politicians are known to toe the principle so long as it suits them politically. Not much different is this instance too.


Republic Day wrath


A day meant to celebrate the birth of the Constitution of India was marked by protests against a regime that has been working overtime to rewrite it in its own fascist image. Big and small cities in India — besides many others elsewhere in the world — saw thousands of people turn out to protest on Sunday against the discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). At the same time, some protests also echoed with slogans relating to the Kashmir lockdown, which has been in effect for almost six months. It was hardly the image of India that the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi wanted the world to see. Instead of celebrating India’s formal transition from a dominion to an independent republic on January 26, 1950, citizens were slamming the government’s efforts to turn the country into a Hindu nation.
Over 250 public meetings and protests were reported in the state of Kerala alone, with one of them featuring a human chain which claimed to have over 100,000 participants. “It was not a mere human chain, but a human wall against the violation of the principles of the Constitution,” said Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. In Kolkata, organisers claimed to have formed a human chain over 11 kilometres long. Massive protests were also seen in Mumbai and Lucknow, with many of the protests being led by women. Lucknow, incidentally, is the capital of Uttar Pradesh, where most of the 25 protest-related deaths have taken place.
State security forces under the BJP-led state government have killed at least 19 people and injured hundreds in their failed attempt to silence protesters. The largest protests in New Delhi were in the Shaheen Bagh area, where major roadways have been blocked since December. Meanwhile, Assam, which was the testing ground for many of the BJP’s recent discriminatory policy measures, saw multiple blasts take place, although no casualties were reported.


Constructive engagement


Prime Minister Imran Khan last week invited digital-media persons to talk about his vision for the country, the challenges faced and how some of these would be solved. Those invited were YouTubers and Instagrammers who effectively form the face of Pakistan on social media and other online networks with a mindboggling combined reach of nearly 30 million. All of them were youngsters, the youngest being just 14. The session offered interesting insights into the direction the PM is heading to. But more important was the gesture of inviting these people and allowing them to not only ask questions but also discuss some concerns that they face from their respective audiences almost daily. It was refreshing to hear the PM admit that they should have held the session much sooner.
The ruling PTI has prided itself on promoting a pro-youth narrative with Imran terming social media a ‘weapon’ for the party against the status quo. It is thus welcome how Imran took the time to sit with the youth in a more interpersonal and informal manner than what some of the other heads of governments have done in Pakistan and even in other countries. Having created a groundswell of support online, the government realises that a large audience, especially those in favour of the PTI, are influenced by content online, particularly a large chunk of the youth. Never mind that even as the PM hosted these social media influencers, the government was hard at work drafting policies which would seriously curb the freedom of these practitioners to continue what they are passionate about.
These are not easy times as the PM said, and dedicating an hour or so to answer questions from the public and resolving their problems goes a long way without costing too much. One hopes that Imran can spare more time for such interaction and on a more regular basis, perhaps with a greater mix in the audience and little less rhetoric and party-meeting feel.
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