The electoral triumph of Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek-E-Insaf (PTI) in 2018 general election has left little doubt in the notion that an emerging middle class is now at the helm of affairs. The shift is indicative of an unprecedented change in the dynamics of Pakistan’s class structure; owing to elections conducted last year.
An analysis of the evolution of demographic forces during the past decade makes a profound case for the argument presented. Quantitatively, 49% of the population can be identified as belonging to the middle class, 47% from the poor and the remaining 4% from the upper class. Additionally, the youth bulge is worth 60%. As estimated figures would have it, the youth constitute a large chunk of the middle class.
Quantitative strength paves the way for electoral success; the likes of which the governing party, the PTI marveled in. Strong opposition and rigorous campaigning against the more traditional political parties namely the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PLMN) helped the now governing PTI embrace the youth as an electoral tactic. More so, the youth, impulsive and vying for change, also supported the Military and the Judiciary even when the institutions unconstitutionally constrained PPP and PMLN politics.
Notwithstanding apparent self-serving social and political traits, this class is strangely very conscious about the nation’s future
As a social phenomenon, this middle class possesses a rather peculiar set of characteristics. Sohail Warraich, a prominent journalist, aptly described this corporate and salaried class as, ‘modern in attire and conservative in thought’. They are unsure of their own ideological predilections, therefore stand nonplussed on significant matters pertaining to culture, religion and politics.
They are not bothering with scandals around the private life of Imran Khan even if they are not supportive of Khan’s alleged personality misconducts. They do not share concerns regarding threats to parliamentary democracy, suppression of freedom of speech and media and human rights. Their concern lies with maximization of their finance and consolidation of their newfound power and prestige. In conclusion, this class is the result of ideological mooring in the society due to variegated reasons with state policy being a more prominent one.
Notwithstanding apparent self-serving social and political traits, this class is strangely very conscious about the nation’s future. Perhaps, this can be explained through the notion that their newfound power and prestige aligns with the socio-economic development of the country. However, philosophically, this trait puts them in ‘courageous soul’ model of the Middle kind of soul described by Plato among the Appetitive soul, the working clan and Thinking Soul.
The soul can be allegorised into an executive and a military branch. Due to this bifurcation, they are more willing to take up challenges. They are driven by motivation that is needed for their professional career. They also firmly believe in philanthropy and social work aimed at social change in the society.
In view of these characteristics, they threw the full weight of their support behind Imran Khan, an accomplished cricketer. He is a politician without any feudal background but is rather an embodiment of philanthropy in addition to being a motivational speaker.
The same characteristics can be observed in the current formation of the party with all intended diversities. Political representatives and notable affiliates of the party, inclusive of the current Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, industrialist Jahangir Tareen, Provincial Minister in Punjab Aleem Khan, Governor Punjab Chaudhry Sarwar, and Speaker National Assembly Asad Qaiser come from the middle class. Members such as the current President of Pakistan Dr. Arif Alvi, Punjab’s Information Minister Fayyaz Chohan and Additional Secretary General of PTI Ijaz Chaudhry belonged to the student wing of the Jamat-E-Islami and the Islami Jamiat-E-Taliba, in the past.
The old guards, epitomes of a colonial mindset, are being replaced by people whose academic and professional upbringing largely took place in the post-partition era and align strongly with social consciousness of the masses
Amidst this diverse composition are current Finance Minister of Pakistan Asad Umar and Senator Faisal Khan, both of them belonging to a corporate class; a shared background with many PTI voters. These leaders of the party are prominent among the voters. In fact, Asad Umar’s professional career has been discussed as a measure of his credibility to be Finance Minister.
Aside from demographic shift in politics, social institutions such as the Judiciary, Bureaucracy and Military alongside Media are also increasingly being steered by an ascendant middle class.
It appears that after seven decades, we are arriving at the end of colonial era mindset as transition of power from these state institutions is taking place gradually and peacefully. The old guards, epitomes of a colonial mindset, are being replaced by people whose academic and professional upbringing largely took place in the post-partition era and align strongly with social consciousness of the masses.
Concurrently, it can be argued that the underlying reason behind alleged tacit support for state institutions from the PTI Government has been this shared class consciousness, therefore collectively striving to retain the alluring power and prominence in the power structure of the nation.
Quite similar is the case with demography comprising the middle class. As increasingly, in urban as well as in rural areas, they emerged as counter elite to industrialists and agriculturalists. Historically, this class was in slumber when ideological conflicts were at their heights.
Furthermore, a fascinating notion is that their ascendance to prominence is not due to any long struggle for power but has been credited to the demographic change which occurred in the country.
A few years ago, political commentators tried to list down the factors which resulted in holding middle class political activism at bay. The first factor was clinching to power by the elite class whose political power derives from their hold on economics such as agriculture and industrial sectors. However, this carefully constructed political equilibrium was disturbed by the emergence of PTI, whose political representation largely rests on people not represented by these feudal elites. The doors of political entrepreneurship opened by PTI changed the political landscape of the country and perhaps led to one of the most significant political upsets in South Asian political history as a third party made a prominent dent in a two-party parliamentary system.
The second factor has to with the four military interventions periodically. These regimes depended on the nexus between the bureaucracy and the military. Again, historically, the first tiers of these institutions were largely steered by arrogant and rich elitists as well as tribal leaders.
The doors of political entrepreneurship opened by PTI changed the political landscape of the country and perhaps led to one of the most significant political upsets in South Asian political history as a third party made a prominent dent in a two-party parliamentary system.
But after seven decades, and holding three consecutive general elections, the Military’s overt attempt to influence the course and structure of politics has been weakened; partially due to the Military’s own efforts to stay into the background. Third, the demographic change in favor of the middle class and its proliferation into state institutions is also a significant cause for this dynamic change.
Strangely, it is also the first time that a ruling party in the center and in two of the provinces is publicly claiming that military and civilian leaderships are on one page on matters of national importance.
Nevertheless, this tectonic shift in demographics represents no less, a sea change in politics as well as in functioning and practices of various national institutions. On one hand, the ascendant middle class counter elite have significantly dented the nexus of feudal privilege and national decision-making. On the other hand, by attaining high positions in state institutions it is reordering the state priorities toward public welfare and socio-economic development while maintaining security and stability as evident in Karachi and Balochistan.
However, this emerging class of professionals needs to grasp more effectively the political realities of our society, subsequently evolving in political thought and practice so as to have a firm grip on power and its attendant responsibilities.