In the re-election of Jamshed Dasti, the parliamentarian from Muzaffargarh who was forced to resign after the Supreme Court took up the issue of his fake higher educational degree, lies an interesting paradox: the disconnect between the values ostensibly promoted by the media and what matters to actual voters.
Mr Dasti, a rough-around-the-edges character, has been roughed up by the media lately, excoriated for his sins, some real, many perceived, as a Pakistani politician. But in his constituency he is a hero of sorts. A politician from a humble background, Mr Dasti has taken on the mighty feudal political machinery in Muzaffargarh and defeated them at their own game. Nicknamed ‘15’ for his propensity to turn up everywhere to meet his constituents, the Muzaffargarh politician has shown a rare understanding of what voters want. That he has been able to do it from the PPP platform, the party perceived to be of feudal aristocrats, is an interesting twist. That the PML-N was supporting the feudal status quo in the latest by-election by throwing its support behind the Pakistan Democratic Party candidate, Nawabzada Iftikhar, is yet another irony. (Nominally, the PPP and PML-N have a pact that prevents them from putting up candidates against each other wherever one party won in the February 2008 elections. In practice, they have often ended up supporting ‘independent’ or third-party candidates against each other in by-elections).
Nationally, Mr Dasti has of course become a whipping boy for the media, held up as an example of all that is wrong with politicians. His remarks on the record, aggressive behaviour and the fake degree have not helped his cause. Yet, 50,000-plus voters in Muzaffargarh were unfazed by all the negative press and turned out once again to support their candidate. Some will argue this is yet more proof of all that is wrong with democracy in Pakistan: the people electing as their representatives those who are unfit to hold public office. However, Mr Dasti is anything but a status-quo candidate and has shown a genuine concern for the people of his constituency. Yes, Mr Dasti is definitely no saint. But he, like most politicians, is a complex character and amidst the bad there is some good too.