“If men were angels,” James Madison famously wrote, “no government would be necessary.” Its simple corollary in the current political scenario would be: If men are not angels, government is worse! The fateful day of June 17, 2014 in Lahore and the subsequent events have brought nothing but an unflattering light upon democracy and democratic ideals. People saw on television a ruthlessly pre-planned attack by the Punjab government on the Minhajul Quran (MUQ)/Pakistani Awami Tehreek (PAT) offices. Police higher-ups, accompanied by hundreds of policemen, brutally beat up innocent men and women of the MUQ and then shot them, killing at least 14 and injuring around 100. These images were seen by people sitting at home repeatedly and are deeply etched in their memories through social and print media.
Means, motive and opportunity were firmly established against the government and its officials. However, protests and vociferous demands by the families of the deceased to bring the accused to justice were met with cynical indifference by the government. It brazenly refused to take action and instead, filed several cases against the MUQ and its workers.
Under the democratic ideals so dearly held by the masses, the hoi polloi, one would have thought such brutal acts of aggression by the state to threaten and crush opposition would not have happened in the first place. However, through the use of Fabian tactics, the government has sent both the PTI and the PAT reeling between Scylla and Charybdis.
This hopeless scenario presents a perfect picture of classic tyranny. Democracy grew against this mindset as a protest and a rebellion. Democratic ideals hold the rule of law, equality of persons, and freedom of association and speech in great esteem. It is commonly believed, though falsely, that ‘we the people’ are the sovereign and once we vote, all will be hunky dory. We will be treated equally and fairly. The reality is, however, different from this.
Look at the following political scenario: the Punjab chief minister rarely goes to the Punjab Assembly. In the last eight years, the number of days he attended the assembly can be counted on fingers. He has held over 21 ministries himself. There is hardly a cabinet worth its name. Not a leave moves without his permission or approval. The health sector has seen the dengue crisis, the PIC drug scandal and the ruthless victimisation of doctors by the chief minister himself. Imagine criminal cases being filed against doctors in order to pressurise them into not protesting against the prevalent salary structure.
The prime minister is the Punjab chief minister’s brother. At the centre, close family relations and friends are either ministers or heads of important organisations. There is scant interest in providing basic necessities of life. Instead, mega projects, in which the public have no real interest, are undertaken as showpieces to serve as eye candy before elections. Campaign slogans of ending crippling power load-shedding have turned out to be hollow promises. Shahbaz Sharif is shown on television to have said hysterically, “agar chay maheenay mai load-shedding khatam na ki tau mera naam badal dena”. It has been almost 18 months and he continues with the same name. On top of that, the public has been hit by a multifold increase in electricity bills. The point is that people are now helpless. What you essentially see is one-man rule disguised as democracy. Rousseau perhaps, rightly claimed that “a true democracy has never existed and never will exist; for it is against the natural order of things that the majority should govern the minority”.
The politicians’ hubris makes it sound as if they consider democracy to be nothing more than the act of holding elections. Sadly, what we see, not just in Pakistan, but elsewhere also, is Machiavellian governance. Once in power, the rulers’ only concern seems to be self-aggrandisement, accumulation of more power and lack of accountability. The poor voters, once done voting, are subjected to psychic management and manipulation in order to further the interests of those in power. Political decisions usually reflect the concerns of the elite rather than the wishes of the people. The attack in Model Town is one such example. Containerising the entire city of Lahore, only to harass the PAT workers, is another.
World over, there is a consensus that elections alone are not enough to make a democracy. They may be the sine qua non of a democracy, but are not its only attribute. In fact, in Pakistan, they have been used only to mask undemocratic governments that are not willing to share power with the electorate. Elections are held only to give an impression that people have a choice between different parties and policies. In reality, this is an illusion. Having elections maintains the impression that political conflict continues to exist. The charter of democracy signed between the PPP and the PML-N only proves that power will be continually shared between these parties of the same mindset and elections are only used to perpetuate the undemocratic process, thus reducing them to being only a chimera of legitimacy and totems of democracy.
Pakistani politicians seemingly have learnt to use the political legitimacy provided by a popular vote to abuse power, enrich allies and annihilate the opposition. The public has witnessed the expansion of state control (alleged illegal appointments in Pemra, PTV, NADRA), the systematic erosion of the private sphere (awarding of contracts against rules), the erasure of checks and balances (the joint parliamentary session), the cult of personality, corruption, collapsing productivity and stupendous waste (metro bus project). As a result, the rising middle class is leading demonstrations to topple elected leaders, who don’t always look out for their economic, social and political interests. Voters are appalled by how these so-called elected rulers have amassed personal power. Elected tyrants seem to be the unfortunate outcome of popular vote, teaching us an important lesson: democracy isn’t enough.
John F Kennedy had warned against governments having such an attitude a long time ago when he said, “People who make peaceful revolution impossible, make violent revolution inevitable.”
Published in The Express Tribune, October 3rd, 2014.