The discourse of progressivism
September 07, 2012
Progressivism in general political philosophy is advocating or favoring social, political and economic reform or changes usually in opposition to conservative or reactionary ideologies. Progressivism emerged as part of a more general response to the vast changes brought by industrialization and as an alternative to the traditional conservative response to social and economic issues.
The discourse of progressive politics in Pakistan never remained permanently vociferous at the national spectrum despite standout dynamism and activism at grassroots level. The narrative of progressivism is losing its ground since 70s. The word progressive revivalism elucidates that the pattern of progressive politics has failed somewhere. What are the underlying factors that resulted in its failure? This article tends to explore the depreciating trends within the progressive politics that did not let it achieve anticipated results; crumbled it and eventually made it disappeared from the contours of state’s political framework.
The very significant argument in this regard is that progressivism in Pakistan has been always taken as a popular passion, getting imprisoned and being critical of dominant discourse. No ideology lasts long unless it is backed with consolidated institutionalized framework. The progressives did not go for channelizing and instituting this popular passion into a meaningful action through a grounded political party. That’s why it remained vulnerable to be pulverized.
The opposition to the discursive ideological paradigm is well justified but very factor of legitimacy in a polity depends on the cultural norms where these institutionalized norms and ideas help in defining the meaning of the individual actor and the pattern of economic, political and cultural activity in which they are engaged. Here the progressive forces could not maintain poise to extend their support base. Overreliance on secular notions in a framework where instrumental religiosity pervaded in every strata of society largely declined the acceptance for these outspoken voices. In local jargon they were termed as “Dhariyas” which could not render them popular support on social level to mobilize the masses and subverting the system what they aspired for.
Nothing damaged progressivism much in Pakistan as did ZA Bhutto who in chase of his real political interests licensed immunity and legitimacy to the religious forces in Pakistan who later on not only manipulated it, but also made Pakistan a quasi-theocratic state with Zia as an aide.
ZA Bhutto gave goose bumps to the progressives who in raucous term were deluded to put all their eggs in the basket of Pakistan People’s Party which later on proved counterfeit. The infiltration into the People’s Party has tarnished its face of a progressive party and made it a left-right party. ZA Bhutto further turned nightmarish with his mismanagement in terms of hasty nationalization and engineering the constitution with Islamic amendments in a state with secular framework of rule.
The economic mismanagement at the part of Z.A Bhutto has made progressives’ credibility a question mark who were supposed to be his accomplices. Here started the gradual decline of progressivism in Pakistan. Over obsessed with centralization of power into his hands led Bhutto opted for a psychopath General who sheltered himself under the cover of Islam and showed way out to Bhutto. Later on it became evident that Bhutto misgoverned the country but Zia made the country ungovernable.
The obscure agenda of Zia’s Islamization not only pulverized the societal basis but wedded it with intolerance, extremism and pseudo-Islamic legislations which degenerated the state and placed it on tenterhooks. This era of gusty radicalization at one hand was though marked with struggle of some ballsy individuals getting flogged, imprisoned and resisting against illegitimate ruler but one other hand was marked with incoherence among the progressives as well.
With the disintegration of Soviet Union the progressivism in Pakistan was formally disintegrated. Factionalization, groupings, contending voices almost strangled the progressivism in Pakistan. It is noteworthy to mention here that progressivism in this article has been taken as a broad term for student politics, cultural and political progressivism.
The other significant factor was the scarcity of pluralistic attitude. Progressives embarked on the way of opposition for the sake of opposition only. In pursuit of criticizing discursive discourse they also assumed extreme position on one side with religious forces contending them from the other side. It ensued one on one battle between the mean and the extreme. The middle ground remained missing which resulted in the decline of support for both actors and created a vacuum.
The dynamics in post-cold war period were changed dramatically with the rise of democratic order where the progressives always banked on the idea of subverting the system and instituting a revolution on the model of Russia as did the Bolsheviks. With the demise of Soviet Union this idea demised itself and again befuddlement at the part of progressives in comprehending the changing dynamics of the time further dwindled them in the state’s political framework. A group in the progressives is still tracing the remnants of progressivism in Pakistan People’s Party which has largely become a feudal party dominated by landed elite, very contrary to the spirit of progressivism.
The stint of dictatorship in the first decade of 21st century has reshaped Pakistan’s polity in various ways. It has made a firm resolute of people on democracy; the word revolution is though used but being reoriented for democratic transformation and rehabbing of apparent chaos. The role of army is getting shrunk; the ideology of subversion of system is no more saleable. Economic mismanagement is worse, impecuniousness is at large, difference between haves and have nots are more than any other time in history. People are fervently aspiring for change but a soft change, change through ballot. The precedent of Arab populism is well relevant in this regard. That’s why Pakistan everyday is rattled with new slogans like Tsunami et al.
Merely criticizing the discourse will not rescue progressivism in Pakistan. The need of the hour is to raise the awareness for a soft change. Masses need to be mobilized not through sloganeering, but also through a consummate agenda and awareness which could guide them to come out of the deep fosse of miseries and fake leadership. Fanaticism needs to be stamped out and for that tolerance and remaining at middle ground are very important which will spill over the pluralistic trends in a society that is overwhelmingly a victim of intolerance, extremism and terrorism. This progressivism will surely turn beneficial for the denizens of terror stricken country otherwise merely opposition for the sake of opposition will not evoke anything productive as it is rehearsed now a days.