Left to right: Ayaz Amir; Haris Khalique; Amit Baruah
All major political parties have publicised their manifestos for the election 2013. These manifestos express and articulate their respective ideologies, programmes and policies and they differ from one another both in focus and detail.
The Herald invited three experts to discuss the need and impact of party manifestos. The panel included Amit Baruah who has reported for the respected Indian daily The Hindu from Islamabad and headed BBC Hindi Service. The second panelist was Ayaz Amir, a leading Pakistani journalist and columnist and a member of the outgoing National Assembly. The third member of the panel was columnist, analyst and poet Harris Khalique who has also contributed to the latest manifesto of a major political party.
Herald: Is there a difference between campaign slogans and party manifestos?
Amit Baruah: Yes, there is a difference. Parties tend to be more formal in their manifestos and catchier in their slogans.
Harris Khalique: Slogans are [created] to catch people’s attention. A manifesto is a road map; it is more of a policy document. Sloganeering takes place [both] in highly literate societies as well as in countries with poor literacy rate where slogans become even more important: “Roti, kapra aur makaan; maang raha hai har insaan (Everyone is asking for a square meal, clothes and a house)” — this has remained the same for the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) from Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to Benazir Bhutto [but other slogans have changed]. When General Ziaul Haq deleted the PPP’s election symbol – the sword – from the election symbol list, the arrow became the election symbol for Benazir Bhutto and the PPP. In Sindh, a new slogan was coined — “Nah meer ke nah peer ke; vote Benazir ke; vote saare teer ke (neither for the mirs nor for the pirs; our votes are for Benazir; our votes are all for the teer (arrow).”
Baruah. Indira Gandhi’s slogan when she returned to power in 1980 was “Nah jaat par, nah paat par; Indira ki baat par; muhr lagegi haath par (neither on the basis of caste nor for breed; our votes are for Indira’s word; we shall put the stamp on [vote for] the hand [the Congress’ election symbol]”. It was quite effective! I wonder whether in the internet age, slogans will have to be different.
Khalique. Language and rhyming continue to catch the imagination, even in the internet age. The internet is just another medium in that respect.
Herald. Do you think slogans won’t change at all for social media campaigns?
Khalique. Well, they may but they haven’t yet. Look, for instance, at the Insha Allah Naya Pakistan song sung by Salman Ahmad and Junaid Jamshed for the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).
Baruah. I think that the link between social media and the real world – on-the-ground – campaigning still needs to be established. In societies where literacy and internet penetration is low, real slogans of the kind mentioned above will still be important. We can see in India, for instance, that some politicians are using social media, but given the literacy levels, getting people out for a political rally can’t be done through Twitter and Facebook. I also wonder if there will be extensive use of social media for the May 11 election in Pakistan.
Khalique. Yes, there will be, because both our countries have huge populations. Even the middle class sections of society using social media include millions. Those in the diaspora also get equally involved in Pakistani politics, and many of them use social media.
Baruah. I totally agree. As we can see in Bangladesh currently, social media in urban spaces will be actively used and politicians and parties will have to become social media savvy.
Herald. Political parties have the tendency to overcommit themselves in their manifestos and campaign slogans. Isn’t it counterproductive for politicians and political parties to overcommit when it widens the gap between what they promise and their eventual performance, thereby endangering their future electoral prospects?
Baruah. Well, this is an issue endemic to the whole of South Asia: there are actually yawning gaps between what parties promise and what they deliver. The real issues facing people most often take a back seat. In South Asia, there is a definite tendency to promise the moon to the electorate — this is the nature of our political parties.
Khalique. Slogans are always exaggerated. The problem is when a serious commitment made in a manifesto is not realised. We, however, must consider that parties make their manifestos as singular outfits. But when they come to power in large, complicated countries, they work in coalitions. For a third-world country, things change quickly. Parties, therefore, argue that they could only fully implement their manifestos if they sweep the polls.
Herald. Do manifestos even matter when politics is completely dominated by personalities in South Asia in general and Pakistan in particular?
Baruah. Well, even personalities have to come out with a manifesto — a minimum programme of sorts, if you like. And the party in power should have something to show to have a chance of re-election. One thing that we must also consider in the South Asian context is the role of families – or dynasties – in our elections where the family is the manifesto.
Khalique. Manifestos matter. Personalities symbolise a certain thinking, sensitivity, slant and world view. People see them as icons. One will choose a personality to follow if one has a similar if not the same understanding of how things should be and how political, economic and social decisions are made. Have you ever heard of a political party contesting polls without a manifesto? A leader becomes popular because of a shared world view — be it clear or confused. Besides, you could hold a party responsible against its manifesto if it has been in power.
Herald. What makes certain political dynasties click with voters better than others? Is it what they stand for? Or do they receive votes because of who they are?
Baruah. We have many political dynasties in South Asia — the Bandaranaikes in Sri Lanka, the Nehru-Gandhis in India, the Bhuttos in Pakistan. Dynasties also have to be clever. They must be able to measure the pulse of the people and know what the electorate wants.
Khalique. The Nehru-Gandhi dynasty is more of a strip tied around the wild bouquet of the Congress party now. In Pakistan, no Bhutto [family member] is actually ruling at the moment, if you follow the patriarchal definition of the family. But they or those closely related to them will still have influence in Pakistan. However, just think about it — if Bilawal Bhutto Zardari begins to raise conservative, right-wing slogans, will those who follow the Bhuttos continue to follow him?
Herald. Who reads manifestos? Do voters read them? Voters are always in millions and no party can print millions of copies of their manifesto…
Khalique. Of course, not everybody reads manifestos. But slogans derived out of the manifestos are heard by all. Many would read the gist in newspapers or listen to the key points through the electronic media. The summaries of both the PPP and PMLN manifestos appeared on the front pages of all Urdu, English and Sindhi newspapers.
Baruah. Even in India, no one reads the fine print of manifestos; only journalists and other politicians do.
Herald. Mr Amir, from your experience of canvassing for an election, do you think voters are attracted to manifestos? Or are they attracted to something else, such as the personality of the leader or candidate?
Ayaz Amir. In all the elections I have contested, no one has ever asked me ‘what is your manifesto’? Manifestos are read only if dramatically written; otherwise, they go into the trash can. Voters are definitely not attracted to manifestos; other things matter now. The last time anyone was interested in a manifesto was in 1967-1968 — the PPP manifesto which still resonates [in the political sphere].
Herald. So you think that manifestos are simply a legacy of the past?
Amir. No, they can still matter and turn people’s head if written like, say, The Communist Manifesto. Now that was some writing.
Khalique. What will you hold the party accountable for if there is no manifesto? Nobody in Mr Ayaz’s constituency may have asked about his personal manifesto but he did run for a party and the party had one.
Amir. There is a perception about parties and that matters. Parties in Pakistan stopped being literate a long time ago.
Baruah. Manifestos are also important to differentiate one party from another. n
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