This article was published in Dawn on October 19, 2020 and is available at the following link
Catchy slogans sell way more than a well-thought out and immaculately structured manifesto in an election in Pakistan. People don’t have the time or taste for voluminous documents to understand what a political leader stands for. They want something brief and crisp that touches their soul.
The All-India Muslim League (AIML) led and won the struggle for Pakistan riding on the waves of the slogan ‘Pakistan ka matlab kaya? La ilaha Illallah’ meaning ‘Pakistan means there is No God but Allah’.
This slogan which aptly explained what the Muslim League stood for rallied a majority of the Muslims of the Indian sub-continent around the party in seven short years culminating in the creation of Pakistan in 1947. The die was cast and religiosity became the corner stone of this and subsequent struggles.
Powered by this and similar slogans, Muslim League factions continued to rule the hearts and minds of Pakistanis until two charismatic leaders emerged.
Sheikh Mujib of the Awami League in the Eastern wing of United Pakistan with the powerful slogan of provincial autonomy, and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto of the Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) in the then West Pakistan with the populist slogan of ‘Roti, Kapra aur Makan’ (Food, Clothing and Shelter) stormed the country in the late 60’s. Although Bhutto’s key slogan appeared to be secular, it was coupled with the slogans of ‘Musawat-e-Muhammadi’or ‘Muhammadan Equality’ and ‘Islamic Socialism’ to attract the strong religious constituency in Pakistan.
Then came the anti-Bhutto movement of a 9-party Pakistan National Alliance in 1977 and this time the slogan was ‘Nizam-e-Mustafa’ or ‘System of the Prophet (PBUH)’. This slogan was once again laced with religiosity. The movement, successful in mobilizing huge crowds on the streets, ultimately led to the toppling of the Bhutto government through a military coup in 1977.
The ‘Nizam e Mustafa’ slogan remained the mainstay of military dictator General Zia ul Haq’s 11-year rule.
Although Khan is seen passionately tending to the patchwork of a welfare state by opening a Langar (free meals’ station) here and a Panagah (shelter for the poor) there, the serious and challenging work of preparing the blueprint of such a welfare state on the pattern of the state of Medina and raising its super-structure seems to be missing – at least for now.
Ahmed Bilal Mehboob
While PPP and various factions of the Pakistan Muslim League alternated in ruling Pakistan with military interventions in between, another charismatic cricketer-philanthropist turned politician experimented with various slogans since he founded Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) or the Pakistan Movement for Justice in 1996.
Justice, not only judicial but also social and economic, remained the key plank of PTI since its founding. The slogan of justice alone, however, did not get much traction among the masses. His party’s performance in the general elections of 1997 and 2002 was disappointing.
Rightly realising that religiosity is an extremely important ingredient of political messaging in Pakistan, PTI started translating its struggle for socio-economic justice into the quest for establishing a state on the pattern of the ‘State of Medina,’ which was the first state established under the prophet of Islam, Muhammad (PBUH), based on a ‘Charter of Medina’ agreed to by a number of feuding tribes of pagans, Jews and Muslims living in Medina 14 centuries ago.
The struggle for establishing another ‘Riyasat-e-Medina’ or ‘State of Medina’ lent the necessary religious gloss to a potent political slogan with amazing results.
Imran Khan has repeatedly expressed his deep admiration for the welfare states of Scandinavia and often quotes examples from their system where the state takes care of almost all the needs of its people and heads of state lead a life similar to the one enjoyed by ordinary citizens. The ‘State of Medina’ is Khan’s version of a welfare state.
PTI’s vision, as narrated in the party’s 2018 election manifesto, begins by referring to the state of Medina. The opening paragraph reads: ‘Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), was envisaged as a movement to fight for a just and equitable society based on the system that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) laid down in the Medina Charter, which was the foundation of the model Islamic state, an egalitarian society based on the rule of law and economic justice – the first welfare state in the history of mankind.’
While PTI may be sincerely committed to the ideals of the ‘State of Medina’, a very serious and sustained effort is needed to adapt these ideals to present-day Pakistan – both in terms of planning and execution.
Although Khan is seen passionately tending to the patchwork of a welfare state by opening a Langar (free meals’station) here and a Panagah (shelter for the poor) there, the serious and challenging work of preparing the blueprint of such a welfare state on the pattern of the state of Medina and raising its super-structure seems to be missing – at least for now.
If the slogan of a new ‘State of Medina’ is to be translated into reality, a powerful commission comprising religious scholars, experts of various fields such as governance, economy, human rights and law needs to be constituted as a first step.