With his face contorting with rage — for once I thought the man was about to have a stroke — a priggish analyst yelled at me, “You call this… this circus, this monstrosity, democracy? No sir, it is kleptocracy. These self-serving politicians are nothing but petty thieves, rogues and thugs of the worst order.” This happened recently in a show that I had to host on the Senate elections. The man in question, a senior analyst, was claiming that politicians were being bought and sold like cattle. In the interest of democracy and the objective truth, I reminded the gentleman that it was critical that we produce some evidence while levelling such accusations. Ergo this tirade.
When you move among our elite, you marvel how a concept as beautiful and simple as democracy is demonised and thoroughly ridiculed. The story goes like this. Pakistani politicians are scions of the country’s landed aristocracy and the corrupt mafia. They are disloyal, greedy, self-righteous, manipulative, benighted, opportunistic and immoral. Since political parties are personality cults, family fiefdoms or worse still criminal gangs, which lack internal democracy and transparency, the political order they participate in cannot be termed a democracy.
If these accusations were not enough, we were given a refresher course by the four-month-long theatre of the absurd in Islamabad, as well as on some national news networks, where pontificating continues day in, day out. Let us take a look at the symbolism of Tahirul Qadri and Imran Khan’s sit-ins on the Constitution Avenue. For four months, they brought hordes to Shahrah-e-Jamhooriat. Upon this road, the nerve centre of the country, its democracy and constitutionalism, they installed their containers, tents, tandoors and latrines. As a matter of routine, dirty and washed clothes were left hanging to dry on the apex Court’s signboard. The peripheral fence around the parliament building was taken down. Symbolism of such hate can hardly be forgotten. But in the fast ever-changing realities of Islamabad, this is old news.
Now let’s take a look at the new symbols, shall we? For weeks before the Senate elections, friends from my community have been found shouting hoarse about the injustices of the allegedly planned horse-trading with their spittle flying in the air. When it was enough, an outraged Chaudhry Shujaat called it ‘dunkey’ trading. A journalist close to the Maulana of the JUI-F even wrote a column in Urdu titled “Gadha trading” (donkey trading). When the day of the election arrived, we witnessed the television coverage of the process repeatedly being interrupted by the ongoing sideshow in Lahore, the Horse and Cattle Show, an event which has been held periodically throughout my life. The holding of the event is not in question here. The question is of the timing of the event. All this talk of horse-trading gels well with the title of this event. I know such events are planned much ahead of their time, but so is the Senate election. Mind you, the Senate is the territorial house of the country, an affirmative action to ensure all provinces regardless of their population size get equal representation, hence it is a true symbol of the federation. Insulting it is tantamount to undermining the federation. But our hatred of all things political knows no bounds and hence we don’t care who comes in the way.
The way election after election is made controversial, it doesn’t seem like a coincidence. But this is akin to a Catch-22 situation: what alternative do we have? Our state, at times through the bureaucracy, at times with the help of the military, and almost always vetted by the judiciary, froze democracy in its tracks and took control of its destiny. But this doesn’t work. It never does. And these ‘loathsome’ politicians were all groomed by the very state during other similar episodes of democratic breakdown. After this process of grooming, there is another process that we usually miss out on. That of alienation. Our state needs to ask itself why it fails to sustain its little triumphs. If you realise, this question is deeper than you might think it is. Want a reminder? Take a look at the state’s other old allies. Religious militants for instance and what are they doing today. Narrow-minded myopia can only take you so far.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 9th, 2015.