The tragic lynching of Mr. Priyantha Kumara by an incited mob is a painful episode for Pakistan and Sri Lanka alike, since they enjoy warm fraternal relations and a great deal of common understanding. But this tragedy also provides an occasion to reflect on the paradigm of “geoeconomics” that Pakistan propounds. Geoeconomics is the centerpiece of Pakistan’s new security strategy, and in what I have termed the sober society, Pakistan has sought to signal to the world that it is a mature actor on the world stage that is ready to drive economic cointegration that can be a win-win for all. Although the government has made great strides in this regard, and has deftly managed a series of crises that have erupted over the years, the Achilles’ heel in the geoeconomic pivot remains Pakistan’s ignorant lumpenproletariat, which is unready for the facilitation of economic projects of any scale, and which is now actively hindering national development as never before.
Marx defined the lumpenproletariat as the lowest stratum of the working masses, who lacked any consciousness of their conditions, and thus served as an unwanted, druding, and potentially rabid force of violence in society. Gramsci argued that the lumpenproletariat (which he called “subalterns”) would be vulnerable to frenzied energies, but were unaware of the forces that shaped their conditions, and would thus engage in extreme behaviors and disingenuous actions that ultimately damaged society without improving any of their conditions. In the lamentable context of Mr. Priyantha Kumara, who was by all accounts a highly-respected manager renowned for excellent productivity and professionalism, it is the lumpenproletariat which turned on him based on uncorroborated accusations for an act that Mr. Kumara would likely not even have understood.
It is too early to comment on the details as they emerge, but what seems to be hinted towards at this time is that a personal vendetta, which is to say, a petty personification of class violence, took on the holier-than-thou garb to brutalize a guest in our society. What Marx decried as an “opium” of right-wing fanaticism was deeply entrenched in the factory labor, and it was coupled with what Gramsci described as the unchanneled rage of subaltern groups, to bring nothing but dishonor to a society that is scrambling to grapple with social forces it does not even categorize correctly. Mr. Kumara moved to Sialkot in 2010 to look for work as an industrial engineer, but later rose to the position of factory manager based on the merits of his work. Although he had spent 10 years here, he had not glimpsed behind the veil of toxicity that wove extremism with ignorance: Gramsci’s critique of subaltern rage mixed with Marx’s critique of an opium for the masses.
Yet Mr. Kumara’s daily preoccupations with productivity would have left him with little time to understand the concoction of class violence and ignorance that his host society was brewing, since this is a problem which Pakistanis themselves have not come to understand – or do not wish to understand. So many politicians are hedging their bets on Twitter and equivocating on their condemnation of this incident, because they gain more from siding with the lumpenproletariat for votes than from the national interest which lies in a sober society’s peaceful geoeconomic integration. Who in their right minds would think of Sialkot, a city with an otherwise pragmatic and business-oriented attitude, as emblematic of geoeconomic integration, when it is struck by lumpenproletariat mob violence? The political figures who barter in fanaticism are as condemnable as the petty workers who tortured a hard working and upright man.
PM Imran Khan has expressed both solidarity with Sri Lanka and collective shame at this tragic incident, one which the bereaved mother of Kumara still cannot be told about given her high blood pressure and advanced age. What she cannot be told because of anguish, we fail to see because of the contradictions we collectively impose on ourselves. We yearn for a cosmopolitan geoeconomic worldview on one hand, and yet sink into ghetto-minded petty feuds that boil over into extreme violence on the other hand. This is because the masses are both an asset and a liability. On the one hand, our youth bulge can be a guarantor of geoeconomic potential because, at least in theory, a large cohort of working youth would make the country a surefire investment destination. On the other hand, the shamelessly reproducing excess population of ignorant lumpenproletariat make them ticking time-bombs – one of which blew up Sialkot.
The foremost consideration in realizing geoeconomic success, then, must be the reassertion of sobriety in society, and that too at the level of the jealous and deranged lumpenproletariat, in the stupor of a certain opium which polite society does not even acknowledge. The government has tried both carrots and sticks with these ticking time-bombs, and carrots aren’t the best tool for a bomb squad, especially when many politicians are equivocating in their condemnation of a grotesque and heinous act that has damaged relations with a fraternal country. For all the hopes, and also sincere efforts, being made to divert our national energies towards geoeconomic development, one must ask if the burden of a useless lumpenproletariat: petty, mean-spirited, intolerant, and basically unproductive; can be overcome for geoeconomic realization.
Sialkot has always been a model for the country, in that its business community has channeled the spirit of enterprise to sidestep all of the encumbrances that both inefficient bureaucracies and impoverished civil society would present. They built their own airport, airline, and factories themselves; unwilling to relent to broader national constraints. But today, sadly, the pragmatism of their managerial class is being unabashedly charred by illiterate labor-class murderers taking selfies beside a burning corpse. It is a strong recommendation for the Sialkot business community that they consider the nature of labor-relations and security provision that is required to maintain business activity, and take such oversight into their own hands, irrespective of the law enforcement conditions made available to them by the state.
Ultimately, however, no country can build enough factories to keep up with the incessant reproduction of subalterns that we exceedingly breed, especially if we are ready to murder all the factory managers who would run the factories in the end.
Dr. Usman W. Chohan is the Director for Economics and National Affairs at the Centre for Aerospace and Security Studies (CASS), Islamabad, Pakistan. The article was first published in the Pakistan Observer. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Image Source: Mubashir Ehsan