Mohammad Waseem’s column in today’s Dawn – A Tale of Two Classes – provides an interesting look at the effects of social class on politics. According to Mr. Waseem’s hypothosis, there are two dominant social classes that wrestle for control over the country. These two classes – the middle class and the political class – are in constant struggle with each other to promote their particular ideologies. And the middle class does not come out looking too good.
Mr. Waseem contends that much of the middle class is rightist of one sort or another.
An absolute majority of the middle class is rightist in its collective thrust for policy and ideology. This includes: the moneyed right, i.e. the commercial elite committed to the preservation of the current privileged structures; the moral right, as the upholder of a conservative code of ethics; and the religious right, with its increasingly radical Islamic worldview. The rightist middle class, or parts of it, often served as a constituency of army rule in Pakistan.
Mostly “the descendants of military officers and bureaucrats,” according to the author, the middle class embraces politics that reflects their background – one of strict rules and unquestioned authority. It is this middle class, a coalition of rightist groups, that is involved in most of the anti-democratic work.
In addition to being anti-democracy, Waseem claims, the middle class is also very much anti-corruption. This is hard to argue with, except that it is often these same middle class bureaucrats that demand some gift of baksheesh in order to get the necessary paperwork moving. But more importantly, perhaps, this very passionate anti-corruption feeling is rooted in being out of touch with the common people, says the author.
The middle class has enhanced awareness about the issue of corruption. It finds it extremely difficult to understand why people vote for ‘corrupt’ politicians. It fails to appreciate that the state structure, run by an administrative elite rooted in the middle class, bars people’s access to the system of governance. People seek to break open the gates of the remote, impersonal ruling mechanism with the help of politicians, corrupt or otherwise.
The common people are less worried about some petty corruption than they are about load shedding, transportation, education, price of sugar, etc. In fact, it is the middle class of bureaucrats that the common people need politicians to address. Otherwise they are at the mercy of the middle class.
If Mr. Waseem is correct in his analysis, what does this mean for the future of a democratic Pakistan? For one, it speaks to the need to reform not only the political offices with democratization, but perhaps also the administrative bureacuracy so that all people have access to their own government resources and can petition for their rights.
But also it speaks to a real need to reform the attitudes of the middle class. As the authore Mr. Waseem concludes his column,
Of course, there are liberal, progressive and public-spirited intellectuals, lawyers, civil society activists, trade unionists, poets, writers, playwrights and media persons, all from the middle class, who uphold the cause of democracy. They speak, write, demonstrate, sing, strike, organise, and perform, all for democracy. Unfortunately, they are only a fraction of the middle class.
It is these liberal democratic voices in the middle class that need to speak up and to be encouraged to speak out more. We need to grow that opinion from being on a fraction of the middle class to being the primary ideology of the middle class. Perhaps over time this will happen. But for now, we must do our part to encourage and promote these individuals.