As a nation we like democracy, it suits our psyche. We like variety because we get bored easily; we love yapping and the opportunity democracy provides is endless and we excel in criticism which is also what democracy jealousy guards.
However, there are attributes of democracy that do not gibe with our outlook. For example, there is the notion in democracy that all men are created equal, which is manifestly untrue. Take a look around any room and you will see that it is not so, and attempts to fly in the face of this fact has led to all sorts of absurdities. And, anyway, even if they are born equal quite a few eventually get over it.
Then again, in a democracy the people are supposed to be the repository of wisdom. In the last century literate electorates have chosen the biggest mass murderer in modern history, Adolf Hitler, to lead them and so too the founder of fascism, Mussolini. Indeed, had Stalin stood for re election in 1945, one is confident that he too would have been returned to office, by a worshipful electorate, notwithstanding his genocidal antics. Even Churchill, who presided over the British Empire during the great Bengal famine of 1942, and was responsible for several million Bengalis starving to death on account of neglect, was re elected in 1951.
Pakistan too is reverberating from the consequences of the people’s choice of leaders. Proponents of democracy today were rewarded for the faith reposed in the wisdom of the people by their selection of Mr Zardari and, lest some feel that that was a one off aberration and won’t be repeated, the people ensured that the Sharif and Chaudhry brothers gave him a close run for his money, thereby, suggesting that when it comes to a choice between the jackass and the jackals, it is a toss up. Of course, that is not to say that the dictators were any better but at least no proponent of dictatorship has ever claimed that it is the best system of government, barring none.
Some feel that we must give democracy a chance and that a few more elections will wash away the slime and thereafter democracy will emerge in its full lustre. They, therefore, counsel patience and hope. They say hope is a good thing and that it “springs eternal.” But Benjamin Franklin, picking up the metaphor from Pope two centuries later, felt the opposite saying that ‘he that lives on hope will die fasting’. For in the end hope must be satisfied otherwise hope is worthless. ‘In fact, it already is,’ said a friend the other day, announcing for all to hear, ‘since I gave up hope I feel much better.’
What the people want of any system, democracy, autocracy, or what have you, is that it should ‘deliver’. And delivery is basically a question of management. It is a skill that can be found in an unexpected source and in an elected as much as an unelected leader; nor does one need to be a boffin. Lenin, for example felt that ‘Any cook should be able to run the country.’ Presumably the cook Lenin had in mind had a lot of practical abilities that he could bring to bear on the business of government. Politicians on the other hand are less versed in the practical skills of management and administration; drama and dramatics are their forte, hence they prefer masquerading as over promoted managers with a delusional view of their own effectiveness. Instead of motivating people one of them, often pictured in water which never magically exceeds the top of his ‘wellingtons,’ makes it difficult for them to work.
Bureaucrats are no better. Mostly products of an abysmal public educational system their purpose in office is to find a problem for every solution. Their talent for creativity and innovation is confined to evolving measures to enrich themselves. They can count schools which do not exist and claim maintenance costs for bridges that were never built. They keep ‘minutes’ and waste hours; ‘defend the status quo long past the time that the status quo has lost its status’; write memos not of what was said but what should have been said and generally are excellent in communicating how NOT to do things. Of course, democracy is not responsible for their malfeasance, not by any means, but that they flourish in democracy understandably gives democracy a bad name.
So glaringly obvious has been the lack of delivery of a democratic government in almost every sphere of life that we have reached a pass today that the public will willingly forego all their democratic rights in return for someone, anyone and any system that will deliver.
One had thought that the Flood would be the game changer, given the enormity of the challenge and, what will certainly be, the matching inability of the government to meet it. Alas, that does not seem likely anymore and the reason is not that the anticipated failure of the government does not warrant a convulsive change of the system and the way things are done but because those mostly affected happen to be the poorest of the poor.
One can see it on the screens, millions of the hitherto invisible and unwashed emerging from the waters bedraggled, bereft and lost. It is that segment of the population, referred to as our ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’ in the speeches of politicians, who are rarely seen, seldom heard and who never count. These millions of unwanted exist only in statistics. Moreover, to be poor and influential in Pakistan is impossible; to be simple and politically savvy even more so, hence, their pitiable condition won’t be addressed. They will return, in due course, to their hovels, still unwanted, still unheard, a confused, miscellaneous rabble still clutching little more than their soiled vestments and half worthless notes given by the State, if they are lucky. Their crime is to be poor.
CUSINS: Do you call poverty a crime?
UNDERSHAFT: The worst of all crimes. All the other crimes are virtues behind it. (Shaw: Major Barbara)
Without equality of opportunity, an acceptable standard of living and work for those who can and, above all, a modicum of security and justice-- all missing in today’s Pakistan--- no system is safe, democracy most of all.
(The writor is former Ambassador of Pakistan)