February Issue 2005
We have recently found a section of our society in the grip of an euphoria generated by the release of a man who, obviously by arrangement, was under detention in a five-star hospital where he enjoyed far more comfort and care than in his premarital home. It did not matter that he was being held on multiple murder and corruption charges, and that in the UK and Switzerland he had been found guilty of using black money. It also did not matter that he is a politician only by virtue of marriage and was the most disliked man in the country for his corrupt practices, which twice led to the dismissal of his wife’s government. His release on bail, although a victory against a highly questionable judiciary and prosecution, which could only conclude one of the many cases against him in eight years, does not in any way amount to a sacrifice for democracy. While it is not surprising that the rank and file of the PPP, which is now tuned only into the practice of getting into power by any means, sensed blood and celebrated, it is however astonishing that the information media enthusiastically undertook the task of inflating a balloon which could only burst. It has already become abundantly clear from his press statements, interviews and speeches that this is a man who has no calibre of any sort and will never fit the role that he is being projected into.
These events are significant only in so far as to identify our political parameters and show that there is no place in them for honesty, integrity and dignity. Things have gone steadily and terribly wrong. General Zia broke his promise, made on oath to hold elections in 90 days on the grounds firstly, that accountability was not complete, and secondly, that he had to impose ‘nizam-e-mustafa.’ Having failed to convince on both these counts, he resorted to massive corruption of all institutions so that there would be no challenge to his dictatorship. In the process, politics became his special target and he spent a huge amount of public funds on buying the loyalties of politicians, including pirs, mirs, sardars, waderas, Khans, Chaudharies, etc., all of whom had been collected in a bogus Majlis-e-Shoora.
The Benazir government that followed lacked the ability to impress with its performance and clean up politics. It therefore could only operate in the same groove as Zia. Benazir had to coerce, isolate and even bribe the parliamentarians of her own party to prevent them from selling her out in the vote of no-confidence against her. The practice of politics for personal gain had become well entrenched by the time Nawaz Sharif became Prime Minister. Being an instrument of the Zia modus operandi, he saw nothing wrong with the corruption of politics and made his contribution to the practice. Thus blackmail, betrayal and a total lack of honesty, principles and beliefs has become the norm that is being resorted to without any qualms in politics, and individuals who are not only under trial for malpractices but have been absconding or found guilty and imprisoned, hold cabinet posts.
We have a military government again (when have we not had one?) , which as usual came to put things right but has sunk in the quagmire of malpractices that it inherited. It has adorned a tattered mantle of democracy that hides nothing. It stumbles and blunders along a rocky road, surviving on appeasement and by turning a blind eye to all the evils that flourish under its umbrella. The aim clearly is to stay on in power by any means rather than to lay down parameters of politics and governance based on transparency and the will to serve the people. The President has admitted that his referendum was rigged and that 80 per cent of the parliamentarians are corrupt. The Prime Minister is still unknown in the constituencies from where he got elected by a landslide. Indeed, they even tried to blow him up there. As for the opposition, it is insipid and exhausted, surviving on secret deals with the government and watering at the mouth for a piece of the cake before it is all gobbled up.
This has led to the collapse of standards all around and degeneration in the thought process of the people. Those active in the political field are motivated only by greed and self-interest. From top to bottom, participants are only looking for a buck. To them, success means getting into power by any means and then making hay. Thus, all flock to those political leaders and parties that are experts at somehow manoeuvering themselves into power. It does not matter that they have no ideology or any plans for serving the people as long as they are on the side of the rulers, whoever they may be. We find even those politicians who are absconding abroad and hiding from imprisonment in criminal cases enjoying popularity simply because they hold out the promise of power. This has given a new meaning to the word leadership, which absolves them from being in the field and in front. It allows them to be safe and secure in luxury across the oceans while their followers face all the hazards on their own. All they need to do is to convince their followers, through purchased publicity, that they shall return in triumph to rule the country and all shall then have a ball. It has become impossible to have legislatures worth the name and governments that are clean, capable and effective.
The days of manifestoes, ideology, loyalty and commitment to the people are now a remote memory. Dignity and honour have become handicaps in the present political dispensation and those displaying any trace thereof are considered to be outdated and out of touch. Ghalib perhaps had the current political scenario in mind when he said something to the effect that even infamy brings fame.
The more disgraced a politician today, the greater his stock in trade and the more the people flock to him in the hope of feeding off the crumbs that spill over from his bowl. A thick skin is the basic prerequisite of a politician today. He must have no guilty conscience despite being corrupt to the core and be able to ignore all scandals and accusations of wrongdoing. The practice of resigning, even in the face of serious charges, must be unknown to him. David Blunket, the former British Home Secretary and second most powerful man in British politics after the Prime Minister, recently resigned after being accused of misusing his powers by recommending a visa application. Senator Gary Hart withdrew from the American Presidential contest after the exposure of his illicit relationship with a woman. British Foreign Secretary Lord Profumo resigned due to the disclosure of his relationship with Christine Keeler, of Ayub Khan fame. And so it goes in the profession of politics tempered with honour. These lessons have no more effect on our politicians than water on a duck’s back. They choose to wallow in the filth they themselves create, rather than go home. One has to hang his head in shame when identified as a politician these days.
In this clearly hopeless state of affairs, there is a distinct ray of hope, albeit remote. The turnout figures of recent elections indicate that no more than 20 per cent of the voters cast their votes or show any interest in the current brand of politics and mode of governance. Twenty percent of the registered voters amounts to roughly 10 per cent of the entire population. It must, therefore, be assumed that 90 per cent of the people are unhappy about the liberties being taken with their lives and future. We have seen this happen in the Ukraine recently and before that in Georgia. Will those holding the reins take note?