Undertakings of an Undertaker

Seventy-five million people believed in a leader when he undertook the task of building this nation


Dr Muhammad Ali Ehsan September 04, 2022
The writer is associated with International Relations Department of DHA Suffa University, Karachi. He tweets @Dr M Ali Ehsan

A complete generation has grown up in Pakistan waiting for the country to become a modern welfare democratic state. That hasn’t happened and now this generation has grown old and spends much of its leisure time asking this one simple question — what went wrong?

Unless there is an undertaking there cannot be an achievement and to comprehend an undertaking and, in this context, a political undertaking one must understand the individual or groups that make decisions. So, understanding the undertaker, the decision, and the policymaker is important as they influence and shape a country’s outlook. And from a leader’s and a political party’s point of view undertakings are but ideologies.

Seventy-five million people believed in a leader when he undertook the task of building this nation. The religious ideology that held the 37 million people in West Pakistan glued with 42 million people of East Pakistan was blown in the air when, to the liberation movement of East Pakistanis, different languages, culture and customs mattered more to them than the religion. I define ‘undertaker’ as a leader who takes this great responsibility and risk of managing the state. The question that bothers my mind is: could we have thought differently about our East Pakistani brothers if we were more human than religious? The worst thing that any ideology does is that it enslaves a mind and it doesn’t matter if there are 37 million or 220 million minds because when people become mentally enslaved, they no more remain pragmatic and stop thinking and are influenced and affected by the ideological convictions being generated by their undertakers.

History tells us about many such undertakings and Hitler’s ideology of racism and expansionism was the worst of them all that sowed the seeds of the great rivalry between communism and capitalism and eventually made the Third World the battleground of the simmering ideological and military conflicts. But let’s restrict ourselves to Pakistan and as to why we couldn’t become a modern, democratic welfare state.

We were supposed to become a constitutional state but we ended up first becoming security and a garrison state and later a religious state. We are the least democratic, and democracy in this country is a façade, utilised by the undertakers to buttress their power. More Machiavellian in their conduct who believe in his advice in The Prince (1513) that “religion is a very useful tool for the ruler and helps a great deal in getting and keeping the power”. No wonder the PDM chose Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman to lead it and the TTP today seems more a party not guided by an ideological motivation but picks and chooses when and when not to protest. The people, 220 million of them, are expected to shut their minds, not think and look at everything as self-generating and self-cultivating, and not driven by the ideological preferences of our undertakers.

Democracy should have liberated us. Instead, it has made us more consumers of religion than humanism and liberalism. In this religious Pakistan and not a democratic and constitutional Pakistan it has taken 26 years for the Supreme Court of Pakistan to advise the state functionaries to exercise utmost care while dealing with blasphemy cases. Even the advice to act with utmost care is being termed a landmark judgment. I don’t know how the utmost care exercised by the state functionaries will prevent the next Priyantha Kumara Diyawadna from being lynched over false accusations of blasphemy. I just can’t figure this out.

History teaches us that ideologies arise out of particular social circumstances. When the circumstances change, can the ideology guiding a nation remain the same? Can the same horse that has been pulling a loaded cart over plain ground pull the same loaded cart over a steep climb? If an ideology has not acted as an ideology of renewal and progress in the best of times, how can it do that at the worst of times?

Would our Machiavellian elite, our great undertakers do this nation a great favour and stop looking at this country only through an ideological lens and start looking at it with a greater sense of purpose and a more common-sense lens? Today this country is clearly divided into the forces of the status quo and those that oppose it. The status quo is what has brought us to our present condition. So, what resonates with the people is not what has brought us down but what can lift us up — a political undertaking, a promising enterprise that promises; across the board accountability, a level-playing political field, independent foreign policy, elimination of poverty, geo-economics before geopolitics and above all creation of a just and rewarding political system that can create equal opportunities for all.

The Machiavellian elite cannot allow this but they cannot prevent it either, as it rises from the fast-changing social circumstances and is an undertaking of an undertaker who is very trustworthy and credible with the people. How is it that an undertaker who is not held in contempt by the people is held in contempt by the court of law? Are there any limits to contempt of court and have those limits not been crossed before? Why does law seek to punish this undertaker irrespective of his undertakings — the specific undertakings that are so popular with the people? Why doesn’t the law of the country consider the odds surrounding this undertaker?

Is this solitary law-breaking, which is meaningless in the view of many, so bad that it will bring down the entire legal structure? Maybe the law needs to understand that this undertaking is against the forces of the existing status quo — those that have been purchasing and destroying laws and flouting the system’s authority and consistently setting bad examples. How can the law punish one undertaking and not the other? Only the setter and composer of bad examples should be punished and the majority of people in this country don’t think that he belongs to the category.

Forty-two million people didn’t care about any ideology and separated because they found a leader in whose higher sense of purpose, they believed more than any other ideology. Yet again, in this very country, another leader is once again talking about a sense of purpose, a different and higher sense of purpose that is resonating with the people.

One has to be out of his mind to block his way with contempt proceedings, technical disqualifications, or terrorism charges. The only solution is to hold free and fair elections and let the people have their say. We have been there once before — coercion, bullying even military operations failed. I hope for the good of this country sanity prevails and we don’t commit the same mistake.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 4th, 2022.

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