Are you kidding me?
These marathon cabinet meetings and supposed accountability of the ministers is going to strengthen democracy? This hypocritical rhetoric spewing forth from fountains of pseudo liberty will cement the cliched and hackneyed democratic project?
Like seriously? Are you kidding me?
It’s a politico-tragedy unfolding out there. Men and women, fed fat on a diet of pomposity have erected an electoral facade over the smouldering ruins of constitutional liberties. And like zombies, we shuffle along with our eyes open and minds shut.
Something is going horribly wrong in this country.
Ask yourself this: Does democracy equal freedom? Does democracy equal fundamental rights? Does democracy equal constitutional liberty? In a fascinating book titled Future of Freedom, American journalist Fareed Zakaria raised these questions and attempted to answer them a decade ago. One of his conclusions was that we need more liberty and perhaps, a little less democracy as defined by electoral exercises.
One look at the House Sharif, and Zakaria’s thesis begins to take on an ominous shape. This disenchantment with the affairs of the state; this disillusionment with the way this system works; and this revulsion at the elitist model of democracy — all this actually has a fairly simple explanation:
Individual liberty is being slaughtered at the altar of the electoral temple.
Complicated? Not really. Let’s apply this to our lives. You the student, do you have a problem getting admission on merit? You the victim, do you find it impossible to find help from the police and justice from the courts? You the common citizen, do you face inequality before law when faced with powerful people?
Short answer: yes, yes, and you’re damn right, yes.
Don’t blame democracy or dictatorship or even the system that remains the same regardless of who is at the top. Blame the fact that we are missing the fundamental element of a representative system: the individual is the foundation.
Yes, the individual. You. Not elections, not parliaments, not cabinets and prime ministers and oppositions and generals and bureaucrats and state institutions and superior judges — but you. Get it? You, the one man; you, the one woman; you, the one child — you and your well-being is more important than all these fat cats rolled into one. This is what differentiates true democracies from the quasi-fraud that we have.
Think about it. You look at these VIPs grown obese on your tax money and whizzing past you in shiny black limousines and their screaming squad cars. You feel a bile of loathing welling up inside you. Why? Because at that moment, you realise this system is not for you, but for them.
You get abused and beaten in the thana, while these fat cats rape the law and are saluted for it. You look at this elected criminal from behind your swollen black eyes, and at that moment you realise this system is not for you, but for them.
Your kids do not have schools to go to, and your wife can die in childbirth because the hospitals you have access to are crawling with rats and cockroaches and ill-trained, ill-tempered doctors. Then you see your elected grandees going abroad for treatment because they are entitled to this privilege, which they granted themselves. This sickening duality slaps you across the face, and at that moment, you realise this system is not for you, but for them.
England had the rule of law before it had electoral democracy and universal suffrage. A century ago, a common citizen of England had more individual rights and more basic privileges than a common citizen of Pakistan today. A century ago, a common citizen of the US enjoyed greater equality before law and greater access to justice than a common citizen of Pakistan today. A century ago, women in England and the US did not have a right to vote — that came a bit later — but they had ironclad rights bestowed on them by a system built on the premise that all were equal in the eyes of the law.
What do you want more in Pakistan: complete equality of everyone before the law, or a morally bankrupt parliament? Your constitutional protection against any type of abuse, or elation over the fact that you have something called a Senate? The reign of pure merit, or the privilege to cast your vote every five years and dance with joy like a Roman citizen in the Colosseum?
Yes, you should not have to make this choice, but you are now forced to. Because you are only being given half of what you deserve — and the lesser important half. The narrative here is skewed. Forget democracy versus dictatorship: this argument is the last refuge of the scoundrel. The narrative now should be: “Keep your elections, give us our rights.”
But these fat cats won’t. They have no idea what human progress actually means, and entails. Damn these buses and bridges if the citizens who sit in them can be persecuted by the law that should be serving them. Damn these laptops and other harebrained schemes if those receiving them cannot ever challenge the rulers on merit. And damn these concrete monsters on Islamabad’s Constitution Avenue if they cannot legislate and implement a steel web of individual rights for every single man, woman and child in Pakistan.
The virus is not in the air we breathe, but in the minds of those who rule us. They are where they are because they have enjoyed the privileges and advantages this system has accorded them. Can you expect them to cut the branch they sit on? Can you expect them to reform away the very ills that have catapulted them into these positions of power? Can you believe medicine — any medicine — can cure the virus that infects their mind and their thinking?
If you wait for this manipulative system to reform itself, you are in for a long wait. If you think these rulers — all of them — will suddenly grow a revolutionary brain, you need to see a shrink. This, my friends, ain’t happening. The increasingly aware citizenry — yes you — will have to make a collective heave to push the fat cats out, and reclaim this glorious nation that the Quaid gave to you — not to them.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 2nd, 2014.