Middle-Class, Karachi, Politics
Note
This is the second and final article of a two part series.

As discussed in detail in the first part, the demographic change resulting in the emergence of the middle class as counter elite not only paved the way for new political entrepreneurship in the form of PTI, shifting the dynamics of relationship between different institutions which are but eventually led to social changes as well.

For instance, in the 2018 general elections, this newly empowered urbanized middle-class elected PTI to power at the federal level as well as in two of the provinces; Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa respectively.

This departure from traditional interplay of binary politics between PMLN and PPP can be partially attributed to demographic changes. Moreover, in Karachi, this class also relegated Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) from the political scene as it elected PTI representatives to almost every seat of National and Provincial assemblies.

This departure from traditional interplay of binary politics between PMLN and PPP can be partially attributed to demographic changes.

Though in Karachi, MQM’s defeat is not very surprising. Statistics show that Karachi is currently home to 50% Urdu speaking while the other half are ethnically different. Among these ethnicities, the rapid ascendance of the salaried class displayed a sense of weariness toward traditional political parties.

Ironically, it is MQM’s core political belief, comprising a larger part of its political rhetoric, that the party represents the urban, educated middle class. In its embryonic phase, MQM did made good on its promises as it stormed its way to power in 1980s, snatching the ethnic vote bank previously dominated by religious parties. The prominent political rhetoric which helped the MQM to power was the marginalization of the Urdu-speaking ethnic community, particularly with the introduction of Quota system in Sindh province.

However contemporarily, the newly urbanized middle-class is no longer interested in public sector employment. They receive better education at public and private universities holding degrees in diverse fields and prefer to become part of the burgeoning private sector inclusive of multinational firms. In a similar light, many seek higher education abroad.

In addition to this, technology and globalization of communication are also bearing an effect on the millennials in Karachi as they are far more connected with the wider country and globe through social media. This new sense of connectivity has enabled them to espouse a broader understanding of the issues the country is confronting. Therefore, the anti-corruption rhetoric of PTI appealed to them more than any ethnic, racial or religious issue.

In addition to this, technology and globalization of communication are also bearing an effect on the millennials in Karachi as they are far more connected with the wider country and globe through social media.

Besides MQM, the ascendant middle-class is giving profound shaken old patronage networks sustained by political parties such as PMLN and PPP. A larger number of PMLN voters belong to the informal sector of the economy, running small businesses in Punjab largely uncounted for in the national tax database.

If PTI attempts to document this sector, it is likely that instead of clinging on to the PMLN, it would be compelled to forge a new transactional or strategic political alliance with the ruling PTI either to have this documentation attempt vanish altogether or to have its effect on their businesses minimal.

Starkly contrasting this shifting voter pattern affiliated with the PMLN, the PPP represents a different case. For one, its voter base largely comprises of agricultural and industrial labour. They do feel marginalized but are not interested in shifting their loyalties, particularly those belonging to rural Sindh. Consequently, PPP also does not enjoy mass support from the middle-class. Even, back in the days of an ascendant PPP, it faced just the one mass movement which was The Pakistan National Alliance, comprising of various political and religious parties. The Alliance rallied against alleged electoral rigging by PPP’s late Supremo Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in 1977. Some political commentators referred it as a movement of the urbanized middle-class.

By taking lessons from history, a future scenario can be envisaged for PPP. It has to restructure its political narrative and speak of the issues concerning this emergent class in addition to agricultural and industrial labour. It will be difficult for PPP to retain its electoral strength as projections put this new, urbanized middle-class at 66% of total population by 2030. Needless to say, it is a test for Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the young scion of PPP, on how to cultivate good perception in this class.

However, in the recent general election PPP succeeded in securing more seats not only in Sindh but also in other parts of the country. However, recent numbers do not complement the party’s past glory. Though is clear that adherence to traditional political lines in Sindh will not weaken easily. A weak middle-class could be one reason among many others.

Interestingly, apart from demographics, the political reality also sees PPP holding power in Sindh. Politically it will not easy for a de jure or de facto authority to retain PPP in Sindh after battling with insurgency in Baluchistan. Likewise, PPP has taken a stance after the 18th Amendment. This rhetoric was seen from ministers and members of PTI. The PPP posed this effort as against the prosperity of small provinces as issued from the federal government.

The 18th Amendment is a milestone in the decentralization of power in the country which alongside with 7th NFC award has given more powers to province. If PPP’s present stance persists, then along with creating feeling of marginalization in Sindh, it has the prospect of causing the up-rise of ethnical movement like that in Baluchistan.

There is immense responsibility on the shoulders of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari for cultivating this new narrative. Recently, PPP’s concerns have been focused on social democracy with a slightly popular and more left leaning narrative. It may help him to penetrate this new class to gain mass support in other parts of country as well.

There is immense responsibility on the shoulders of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari for cultivating this new narrative.

Much depends on the performance of the PTI government. If the party continues to suffer from performance anxiety in matters of governance and lack of institutionalization in the party itself, then it may possibly lose support of this class leaving PPP with a real chance of filling the political vacuum.

The grasp of power in the hand of middle-class has not only changed the political paradigm, it has affected the social fabric of society. In fact has resulted as a nail in the coffin for resistance movements. No progressive political and social movement is currently operating in the country. Historically, the length and breadth of country has been ruled by outsiders; from Mughals, Afghanistan to the British Empire. So this region could be referred to as arena of resistance movements.

Now, it seems that this phenomenon has become history. It has been more than 10 years since the largely social and political movement, namely the lawyer movement. Land reforms, issues regarding mill and agriculture labor and the need for revamping of labour and student unions are not being raised in society.

Somehow, activists of civil society are more proud to say that protests on street have been replaced by keyboard warriors. The recent anti-encroachment in the length and breadth of country eliminated various shops and houses including own by poor people.

As demographics change, so does the need for pursuing the imagination of this new class by various political parties.

In Karachi only, over 1,400 shops and 4,000 hawkers have been removed in the first phase. It directly affected 10,000 families. The eviction drive has not ceased but not a single street protest was witnessed. In fact, a part of the elite and middle class is appreciating this drive. It helps them drive their vehicles easily towards their offices, amusement parks, elite-class malls and departmental stores.

As demographics change, so does the need for pursuing the imagination of this new class by various political parties. In the foreseen political future of the country, this new class will definitely play a more prominent role not only in ushering in a new political paradigm but in affecting the outcome of every election to come.

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