No Sadiq Khans in Pakistan

Published in The Express Tribune

In this corner, the son of a Pakistani bus driver. He’s a walking bullseye for skinheads. He’s a civil rights lawyer for the oppressed. He’s a progressive in parliament. His life story is a come-from-behind Disney movie.

He is London.

In that corner, the son of billionaire aristocrats. He spent some time in an ashram in Rajasthan. He’s got a winning smile. His campaign’s been called ‘repulsive’, ‘disgusting’, and ‘poisonous’ – and that’s just by his own party.

He is also London.

Khan vs. Goldsmith is an epic matchup, one with a happy ending: Sadiq Khan may be London’s first Muslim mayor, but he’s won the biggest personal mandate of any politician in modern British history.

The Tories, meanwhile, tried the same trick twice: they won the general elections by making Miliband out to be a weirdo, and the Scots to be secessionist demons. A year later, it was again low-hanging fruit they served up: paint the brown guy as a terrorist sympathizer.

There was innuendo, and slurs, and racist dog whistles just decibels short of ‘don’t vote in the Paki Muzzie’. Mr. Goldsmith’s op-ed in Mail on Sunday, too, was a glorious ball of mud: it bashed Mr. Khan under a grisly photo of a bus from the 7/7 attacks. Only, no one cared.

Because left to the real issues – rent and housing and transport – Mr. Goldsmith, he of 18th-century Ormeley Lodge in Ham, drew a sunny blank.

And the voters, to use a British expression, were miffed at the Tories’ latest offering: a gormless pinup who couldn’t name the tube stops on the Central line. Mr. Goldsmith once again proves what we’ve always known of Rich Guy Candidates: being rich only means being rich – it’s neither indication of competence nor clarity.

To elaborate, Donald Trump is a racist moron whose biggest achievement was being born. As of last week, the only difference between him and Mr. Goldsmith is the London voter’s good sense. Mr. Goldsmith started out on the Tory Party ‘A-List’ (that’s apparently a thing), and ended up in the company of small-fry skinheads that post Aryan symbols on the Internet.

In a way, the campaign’s diving for the gutter comes as a sigh of relief: we’d forgotten this is, after all, the Party of Thatcher. After years of ‘Call Me Dave’ Cameron and that sinister buffoon Boris Johnson, the veil’s come off again: exposing the rotten innards of the Conservative Party. Just as ‘Modi Sarkar’ exploded the intellectual bankruptcy of Savarkar’s BJP, Mr. Goldsmith’s campaign too shows up the Tories for what we always knew it to be: a crew of ethnically divisive, commercially exploitative hyenas.

To turn homewards now, celebrations were had in Pakistan: the son of a local boy bus driver takes on the Nasty Party and whips it in the polls – a hurrah for diverse, democratic Britain, and a sweet song for us to sing back home. The hypocrisy’s hard to miss: there can be no Sadiq Khans in Pakistan.

A Sadiq Khan story is not unlikely in Pakistan – it is constitutionally impossible. Minorities are barred from holding the presidency (Article 41); they are also barred from holding the prime minister’s office (Article 91).

And while we may point to ZAB’s majoritarian hijinks all we like, that was a lifetime ago; the onus has shifted to the six democratic governments that have since supplanted Mr. Bhutto’s, with not a thought to ending the exclusion. In fact, parliament went the other way – via the great liberals that brought us the 18th Amendment in 2010, it was further clarified in Article 91 that only a Muslim may become PM.

Second, even should we move past this tiny caveat, it would be equally hard for anyone of Sadiq’s economic origins to do this well: society is conscious of class to the point of distraction, and a bus driver father – though it be a shameful thought – would act as disincentive.

Even around us, political success is dictated by financial success (which comes first is another debate): the prime minister is a declared billionaire, the chairman of the PPP is an undeclared billionaire, and very many of our lawmakers are millionaires. Money – as well as its unfettered accumulation – is lifeblood to winning elections.

If nothing else, the Panama Papers confirm the stench of corruption is broadly acceptable to the electorate, and broadly defensible to the lawmakers they vote in. The press, too: pick up this past week’s opinion pages and witness all sorts of what-aboutery – but what about the fragility of our democracy, what about the sinister designs of the anti-corruption brigade, what about the literal brigade in Rawalpindi?

Sirs, the two aren’t mutually exclusive: corruption, not its criticism, is bad for democracy. This much money in politics is bad for democracy. And this complete obfuscation of the issue – i.e. that the state’s chosen ones suck the state dry – is bad for democracy.

Third, a man of Mr. Khan’s cosmopolitan bent would find little to no place in our public life. Just the criticism dealt the other Mr. Khan – for backing Zac Goldsmith – is informative. None of our politicians called out the PTI chairman for backing a sordid race-baiter. Instead, in slamming the chairman’s choice, they ended up out-Zacing Zac himself.

‘[Goldsmith] lobbies for Israel, and [Imran] lobbies for [Goldsmith],’ said Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman. ‘So whose lobby is it?’ Some may say the Maulana had a point: after all, Bibi’s Israel is a vicious apartheid state. But if only the debate were that nuanced: by the end of his interview, the Maulana cashed out – he complained Mr. Khan was sending people off ‘to vote for Jews’.

Throw Sadiq Khan into this sort of mix – a man on the periphery of Muslim progressivism – and you have an even unlikelier success story.

Finally, even leaving aside the Constitution, leaving aside corruption, leaving aside the majoritarian murk of our politics, we’re left with Sadiq Khan the leader – and he still wouldn’t survive.

Mr. Khan went against his party, and slammed the Iraq war. Upon election as mayor a decade later, he’s written ‘What Labour can learn from my victory’ in The Guardian, gently chiding the party’s drift. If the (future) mayor of Lahore were to ‘gently chide’ the Muslim League leadership in the press, he’d may well have committed career suicide – we prefer devotion to dissent.

But one can always hope. Congratulations, Mr. Mayor. We hope your success will one day be Pakistan’s.