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Dr Farid A. Malik |

Most of you will remember the 1997 blockbuster by Producer and Director James Cameron. If you don’t remember Cameron, you will certainly remember the unforgettable love of Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio. Lovers they certainly were, but Kate lived on the Upper Deck of Titanic and DiCaprio belonged to the lower Deck. Pakistani politics has also two decks: Upper and Lower.

All “Upper Deck Politicians” were created by the establishment. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (ZAB), the first real politician, was himself once an upper deck politician who was introduced by President Iskander Mirza. ZAB then broke ranks with his political mentors and decided on his own flight. Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) was launched by him in 1967 as a progressive ‘awami’ political outfit.

Bhutto ensured that the upper deck operatives whom he called ‘Drawing Room Politicos’ worked together with the lower deck players. Benazir Bhutto carried the same traditions of popular politics where there were no barriers. Party workers or ‘Jiyalas’ as they were called had direct access to the leadership.

Bhutto ensured that the upper deck operatives whom he called ‘Drawing Room Politicos’ worked together with the lower deck players. Benazir Bhutto carried the same traditions of popular politics where there were no barriers. Party workers or ‘Jiyalas’ as they were called had direct access to the leadership. ZAB, after a few years, then allowed the upper deck politicians to surround him; and by the next elections in 1977 they were the ones all around him. Bhutto, Pakistan’s first & only genuine Quaid-e-Awam, was cornered and then eliminated.

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Like PPP, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) also started as a progressive ‘awami’ movement in 1996. It attracted a big chunk of change-minded individuals to its ranks. The party worked in unison there were no upper or lower decks. By October 2011 it emerged as a major political force. At this stage several upper deck politicians managed to enter the party ranks, they even negotiated high positions of authority for themselves. Like PML-N, now PTI has also turned into a party of ‘upper’ and ‘lower’ decks. While PML-N is a family controlled party that occupies the upper deck, PTI’s upper deck consists of several tried horses of other parties like PML-Q, PPP, JI even PML-N who sit together with the Kaptaan, the leader of change.

Like PPP, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) also started as a progressive ‘awami’ movement in 1996. It attracted a big chunk of change minded individuals to its ranks. The party worked in unison there were no upper or lower decks. By October 2011 it emerged as a major political force. At this stage several upper deck politicians managed to enter the party ranks

Except for the Kaptaan himself the upper deck of both PTI and PML-N are quite similar but there are stark differences in the lower deck. PML-N is a party of interests everyone is allowed to milk the resources of the motherland. While major projects are for the upper deck, the lower deck is allowed to pick the crumbs. Plots, permits, perks, positions everything is up for grabs.

On his last day as Chief Minister (CM) Punjab, Nawaz Sharif had allotted thousands of plots in every housing scheme of Lahore, which resulted in the bankruptcy of these schemes. When Lahore Development Authority (LDA) was formed in the seventies, 25% plots in every scheme were reserved to meet development costs. Almost all of them were doled out to party workers in return for their loyalty creating serious problems for the infrastructure of Lahore. But this is what ‘Upper Deck Politics’ is about.

PTI’s lower deck consists mostly of individuals who seek change not plots. While the upper deck talks about political realities the lower deck sticks to principles. The only support the upper deck has within the party is of the Kaptaan while the lower deck despises them.

PTI’s lower deck consists mostly of individuals who seek change not plots. While the upper deck talks about political realities the lower deck sticks to principles. The only support the upper deck has within the party is of the Kaptaan while the lower deck despises them. For the party’s ship to float in unison the skipper has to unify the two decks which has not happened as yet.

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In olden days before steamship was invented the oarsmen in the lower deck rowed with their muscle power. When the ship entered troubled waters, the upper deck was at the mercy of the lower deck and its oarsmen otherwise it was either captured or it capsized, it never made it to the shore intact. While the upper deck steered the ship, it was the lower deck that powered it. Steering and power were both needed to keep the ship going in the right direction. Misdirected efforts cannot produce results that is why the party graph is not moving upwards since October 2011.

PTI, like PPP had started as a Lahore based progressive party while PML-N, PML-Q, PML (Convention) etc. are all Rawalpindi launched regressive political outfits.

The battle is between the forces of change and status-quo. Change is now inevitable and unstoppable. PML-N is a party that was created to strengthen status-quo and to stall change. Today both the upper and lower decks of PMLN are partners in crime. Loot, plunder and roguery are engrained in their approach. By contrast the lower deck of PTI is committed to change. It is unwilling to compromise on the basics of honor and morality. While the upper deck of the party seeks power, the lower deck is committed to change, compromise is unthinkable. In fact in most cases the upper deck is an embarrassment for the lower deck.

read more: Imran Khan’s PTI ends its boycott of Parliament, but why?

Today both the upper and lower decks of PMLN are partners in crime. Loot, plunder and roguery are engrained in their approach. By contrast the lower deck of PTI is committed to change.

The true democratic order has been very limited (1947-51, 1971-75) in the country. The founding fathers were elected but the establishment started to tinker with democracy after the murder of the first Prime Minister in 1951. ZAB introduced people’s power in 1971 which continued till 1975 till it got derailed with military action in Balochistan. It is mainly because of his political legacy that PPP has won five elections despite all odds. PML-N is a party of interests that seeks power for narrow self-interests. PTI and its Kaptaan seek power for change while its upper deck refuses to combine with the party rank and file. It aims to fully utilise the power of the lower deck without accommodating its desires.

While Bhutto could rub shoulders with world leaders he was equally comfortable to sit with ordinary workers. Roshan Ali the rickshaw driver who rode him to safety in his days of struggle and confrontation remained close to him and so did the jailer who took care of his personal needs while he was kept in the camp jail.

From 1967 to 1970 ZAB brought politics out of the drawing rooms of the powerful. He believed in peoples power and street politics. While he could rub shoulders with world leaders he was equally comfortable to sit with ordinary workers. Roshan Ali the rickshaw driver who rode him to safety in his days of struggle and confrontation remained close to him and so did the jailer who took care of his personal needs while he was kept in the camp jail. Kaptaan and his party have risen from the ranks. Like PPP it started as a Lahore based progressive party while PML-N, PML-Q, PML (Convention) etc. are all Rawalpindi launched regressive political outfits. Status quo is tied with upper deck politics, for meaningful change its influence and control has to be significantly reduced for ‘Naya Pakistan’ to emerge.

Dr Farid Malik is a prominent technical and management expert in mining, materials, engineering and high-tech industry; he is a regular columnist with The Nation and Pakistan Today; this piece, is being published by his permission. Global Village Space may not necessarily agree with the facts, opinions and analyses given here.

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