Saadat Hassan Manto’s character, Ustad Mangu,the tonga wallah, was a brilliant character portraying a peculiar phenomenon, which is set to repeat itself after short intervals in the subcontinent. Ustad Mangu was the aam aadmi of Lahore under British imperialism who, after overhearing some of his British passengers discuss that the Government of India Act, 1935 had been promulgated to ensure equal rights for Indians, picks up a quarrel with a gora soldier who had beaten him up for no reason. While taking revenge from the gora soldier, Ustad Mangu shouts, “new constitution, new constitution”. Nevertheless, he is arrested and lands in a lock-up all set to be presented before a gora Judge saab.
A new Pakistan was expected to emerge from the political reality of the past few years which saw the rise of the aam aadmi or the common man in our polity. But as fate would have it, that was not to be. It was India, and not Pakistan, which was favoured by the goddess of fortune, where, at least, the first phase of sending forth the aam aadmi in the legislatures has been completed. Here in Pakistan, however, the aam aadmi dream was shattered by a ‘shining and rational’ dictum of electability, which in fact, was a euphemism for ‘selectability’. (S)electables, in our political system, are those who have a ‘good’ background. The first rule is that they must belong to the elite class, which after Partition, has served as the most efficient tool of prolonging foreign rule in Pakistan. Second, they must be ‘reliable’ people for those who call the shots in Pakistan and their reliability can be gauged by their past conduct and that of their forefathers in their dealings with British imperialism. Third, they should have a good understanding of Pakistan’s political culture and should have successfully practised it in the past.
Politics in Pakistan will remain a forbidden area for the common man as the right of running the establishment has been reserved for feudal lords, nawabs, sardars and other cronies of the establishment. You may be a son of a junior commissioned officer and later become an army chief, you may hail from a humble background and become the chief justice, you may become the editor of a top-ranking newspaper after having started your career as a street vendor; but you cannot make your mark in politics if you are a common man in Pakistan. For that, you have to be a (s)electable.
We need to question those who have made these rules? Are we bound to follow them perpetually? Is this true for any other field? The common man, if given proper training, guidance and encouragement by the so-called leaders claiming to be champions of the aam aadmi’s cause, could have emerged on the national political landscape and waged a war against the woes of corruption, bad governance and enslavement by foreign powers. Only a leadership that has emerged from the grass roots through a genuine, democratic and merit-based political process can fix the woes that are haunting us. The success of the Aam Aadmi Party in India has tossed into the dustbin the ‘sacred’ rule of (s)electability, taken as gospel truth in Pakistan.
Indeed, the Aam Aadmi phenomenon was actually generated and nurtured in Pakistan but the ill-invented narrative of (s)electability ate it up here, unfortunately.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 29th, 2014.
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