Autocratic democracies

The idealism of the political leaders is in fact a game plan to maintain the status quo.

Farzana Versey August 16, 2010
Autocratic democracies

One year, during Independence Day – yours and mine – I happened to be in Pakistan. There were people applauding Indian democracy. Nice people in nice homes were telling me how fortunate I was. I faked elation. I have never felt so different, yet so Indian. Pakistanis have had to deal with military dictators and are therefore understandably enamoured of the ability of Indians to throw out governments every five years.

What no one bothers to look into is that for those five years democracy lets people decide and agree upon certain freedoms autocratically designed for them. The idealism of the leaders is in fact a game plan to maintain the status quo. Democracy does not do away with hierarchy; it adds several layers to it.

There are three factors that confuse Indians and Pakistanis in different ways.

Secularism: It started way before 1947, which is the reason we are still fighting over the leftover manifestos of Partition. Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s secularism could not translate naturally into democracy for the very idea of creating a ghetto nation is anti-democracy. Pakistan was created for Muslims and secularism was meant to be the icing on the cake. India did not have that choice; it was busy dividing the pie. Secularism and religion are not at odds with each other. If we call India a secular nation, then we have several religions screaming out from different directions. We confuse multiculturalism for secularism. Incidentally, religion and parochialism have played an equally damaging role in India despite this rainbow nationhood or, perhaps, because of it.

Modern monarchies: Dynastic politics in contemporary times is an insult to the democratic idea. We often justify it as: “Oh, we are an emotional people and get attached to these families.” Indeed. We are the ones who torture and kill our own, sometimes even before they are born. Our subcontinent is a sad case of slavery passing off as human bonding.

Asif Ali Zardari, when he took over from his assassinated wife, said he wanted to be like Sonia Gandhi. This initially meant pulling the strings and slowly coming into the limelight as a shadow figure. Sonia Gandhi forced Rahul into the fray to save her position and act as her frontman and although now 40 he is still ambling across the grassroots terrain.

Speaking about Bilawal Bhutto, Imran Khan had said then: “You can inherit a house, jewellery... but how can you inherit other people's wishes, dreams? A democratic political party, being inherited — it is mockery of democracy.” It amused me that he wanted Benazir’s son to be like the son of India and it would be wonderful if he “gets educated, and is starting from below — like Rahul Gandhi in India”.

While he seemed to have a legitimate problem with home-grown inheritance, he was using the same legacy in India as an inspiration.

TINA: There Is No Alternative. Why? Because no second rung leadership is created; no one is given an opportunity. People of stature holding important portfolios look like minions in the boudoirs of the ones born with the country in their mouths. But TINA is a coquettish concept. Strangely, it promotes fidelity even as it is poised for a pole dance. It is a riveting sight and prevents the citizens, bonded with herd instinct, from looking elsewhere.

There will be several little people doing big things, but come floods and poverty photo-ops and it will be the sons of the spoils who will be promoted, returning home from exile or slumming it in Dalit shanties. Look, we say, this is what we need. No, this is what we get. Some call it democracy when it really is manufactured consent.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 17th, 2010.


Arshi Saleem Hashmi | 13 years ago | Reply A good article, Indian democracy may have faults but the very fact that the process continues without interventions is commendable. I like the phrase " manufactured consent" but then India is not the only one , US and European democratic states all have manufactured consent in the form of " Public Opinion" surveys that " demand" and " endorse" militarization and interventions in the developing world some times in the of " exporting democracy" and at times in the name of war against terrorism.
SKChadha | 13 years ago | Reply Farzana – It is true that Rajiv Gandhi rode on sympathy wave, but don’t you feel difference between him and others like PVNarsimharao, SitaRamKesri (aspirant for post) etc. in congress. Do PVN or SitaRam were having more mass appeal? OK if you have to choose between Rahul and Priyanka to whom you will prefer and why? India’s progression to 21st Century may not be attributed to Rajiv but can we attribute it to either PVN or IKGujral or Atalji for that matter? Is Rajiv Gandhi’s contribution to Indian Politics is anywhere near to Atalji? OK for you who is a better PM between MMSingh and Rahul Gandhi and think if they both fight election against each other, than who will win? If on one hand we have Nehru-Gandhi family than on other hand we have Mayawati, Mamta, Lalu, Atalji etc. also in politics and this is the beauty of Indian democratic set up. Think tomorrow in Pakistan if Zardari is pitched against Bilawal? Or if Bhuttos, Zardaries, Sharifs etc. are not at all on the scene as critics want? OK, if that be so what is grate in Ambani Brothers, Ratan Tata, Nusli Wadia or for that matter even in Vijaya Mallaya in their business acumen? On the other hand we also have Narayan Moorthy, Sunil Mittal etc. as successful businessman. Compare the business acumen and empires build over time. Similar is the case with all professions whether it is Doctors, Engineers, Lawyers etc. Abrasions apart, the beauty of democracy is that even a downtrodden with his wits and guts can rise on top. Is media not part of creation of such abrasions in democracy? Politics is not for Sadhus, Sants and Peers. It is a field to fight for place in competition. A UK minister if he resigns, it is either his fate or losing the race. A leader is not a leader if he resigns and even your expectations are erroneous when you expect this from any Indian or Pakistani leader? Such resignations only lead to deterioration in society unless some more competitive leader is in sight. The democracies mature with time along with thinking of masses. We are not living in ‘Ram Rajya’ and our expectation in a short time of 63 years is too high. Remember even ‘Ram Rajya’ or ‘Shariat’ form of government is also criticized. Think and analyze the combination of all factors in all walks of society to rise as I mentioned in my comments? The rise take decades and fall comes in days.
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