‘The people’ are pitted against the “elite” in populism, which is seen as an adversarial worldview. In contrast to elites who may be classed as political, economic, or bureaucratic elites who control the system, the definition of the people relies on the characteristics and historical setting of a society in which populist ideology originates.
Populism is a political philosophy that is created and implemented by a charismatic leader in opposition to the established framework, concepts, and values with the help or consent of the populace. This suggests that charismatic leadership is a must for being a populist in order to win over the populace. Populist leaders are skilled orators who can manipulate public opinion for political ends. They put on the act of speaking out for the people, but in reality, they put their own interests ahead of that of the general population. The ‘have nots’ (common people) are placed against ‘the haves’ (governing elites), creating a dichotomy among the populace that is a prime illustration of Marx’s ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’.
The postmodern era and democratic governments have seen a significant growth in populism on a worldwide scale. Right-wing populism is blatantly evident in Europe (Tayyab Erdogan, Emanuel Macron, Victor Orbán, and Georgia Meloni), South Asia (Modi and Khan), and America (Trump). Where the current system is already in disarray, populism tends to flourish because “some degree of crisis is a pre-condition.” The rise of populist leaders in democratic governments highlights the reality that such states’ democracies are under threat from a variety of political, economic, and social crises. The populist leaders used these crises as an opportunity to set up hostile homogeneous factions against one another. The historical setting of the society where populism emerges determines the type and morphology of that movement. Western populism For instance, European populism often has strong nationalist impulses, which results in the adoption of xenophobic and anti-immigration policies. On the other hand, white supremacy and racism, which are historically linked to the history of slavery, are the foundations of American populism.
The dominating paradigm in South Asia has always been religion and nationalism, with its frontiers extending from culture to political ideology. Khan’s populist religious politics in Pakistan and Modi’s in India are a reflection of the people’s culture and history. The failure of past administrations to confront social injustice and inequality in society may be blamed for the growth of populism in Pakistan. These were utilized as a trump card by Imran Khan, the former prime of Pakistan, to win the support of the common people against the ruling class. Imran Khan is often described as a charismatic leader who succeeds at constructing stories and language that appeals to the general populace. He is a genius at crafting tales and framing speech, which is why the general populace finds him to be such a captivating leader. His appeal to the populist movement came from the way he packaged his anti-establishment message in a religious context to elicit support from the general public.
Khan preached an exclusive political doctrine against dynastic parties and corrupt mafias. He turned his pistol against the military establishment after being removed from the premiership. His catchphrase for progress, “Naya Pakistan,” turned out to be a pipe fantasy that simply drove people further into hopelessness. When his call for reform fell on deaf ears, he switched to an anti-American and anti-military narrative to keep the public on his side. Because he is also quite outspoken about allowing the marginalized sections of society and the provincial peripheries to be a part of mainstream politics, his political worldview cannot be primarily described as exclusionary. Again, being realistic, one wonders what he accomplished throughout his 42-month reign to warrant their inclusion.
Khan’s charm and fan base helped his cultist politics flourish. People believe that the reason for his personality cult is because he is remembered for being the only cricket captain to have won the World Cup and for being a humanitarian who founded a nonprofit cancer center. Khan has increased cultism by utilizing social media platforms skillfully to spread his political speech, therefore this is insufficient. By positioning himself as the only “messiah” who would save the populace from the grip of an evil elite, Khan has carefully built a politics of cultism. His supporters have internalized this story, which strengthens their conviction that he is beyond the law and not answerable to government agencies. The events that followed his arrest on May 9th are a direct result of cult politics. This suggests that cult politics undermine the rule of law and undermine state institutions, endangering the democratic system.
Everyone is concerned about the long-term risks that populists offer to the current system and society. It permanently separates the society along ethnic and religious lines. Later, radical groups use these fractures to destabilize a nation. Additionally, it fosters a culture of intolerance among the populace, which desecrates the democratic ideals of tolerance, peace, and freedom. The democratic system is not changed by populism; rather, it becomes weakened and dysfunctional, which is more deadly than tyranny. For instance, there is a centralized authority to uphold the rule of law in an authoritarian system; yet, there is no such authority in a dysfunctional democratic regime. The Khan cult has accelerated the gradual but steady erosion of democratic ideals in Pakistan, which has become an example of a dysfunctional democracy.
The function of populists in democracies is a complicated and contentious issue. Depending on how they approach government and interact with the system, populists may either advance democratic norms or constitute a danger to them. Populists advocate for direct democracy and want to eliminate the checks and balances system. A populist leader represents a small group of people based on socioeconomic disparities or membership in an ethnoreligious group, as opposed to a leader who represents all factions and groups in a democratic state. A populist leader is a one-man show who advocates authoritarianism in an effort to seize total control. The positive aspect of a populist leader, on the other hand, is that he raises the justifiable complaints of the populace and discusses social equality and rights. They expose the exploitative and deceptive powers while bringing up societal concerns. Unless they are in opposition, they generate public support, which is seen to be renewing for democracy.
Last but not least, everyone wonders how to cope with a populist leader. The charm and personality cult they have built over the years is difficult to overcome. It is more challenging to dissuade adherents who have uncritically accepted the framed narratives and language of dramatic transformation. It is necessary to create strong and appealing counter-narratives that directly address the issues of the populace in order to refute their incomplete narratives. A reasonable strategy must be chosen to deal with populist leaders since excluding them from politics is not a long-term answer and merely enrages their followers.
Similar to this, Khan’s populism may be overcome by introducing him to a democratic process based on discussion and agreement. To salvage Pakistan’s sinking political and economic ship, the government and establishment should organize roundtable discussions under the aegis of the philosophy of necessity. Political polarization is reaching its worst-case level in Pakistan. More than ever, the nation needs general elections to bring about political stability. Without bringing PTI to the table, this would not have been possible since, in the current situation, conversation is not only necessary but also a requirement. Finding lasting solutions and establishing a course for political stability in Pakistan are more likely when conversation and consensus-building are encouraged.