The time of monsters - Mir Adnan Aziz - Monday, November 01, 2010

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In his acclaimed work De la Democratie en Amerique (Democracy in America), French historian and political thinker Alexis de Tocqueville, speculated on the future of democracy in the United States. He discussed the possible threats and dangers of democracy. His belief was that democracy had a tendency to degenerate into soft despotism hence developing into a tyranny of the majority. He also wrote that: “Events can move from the impossible to the inevitable without ever stopping at the probable.”

This act of transforming the impossible into the inevitable, a predicament for mere mortals, has been honed to perfection by the leading duo of this hapless land. The two latest confounding acts, among many others, were the appointment of Adnan Khwaja as chairman of OGDCL – he reportedly never went to college (but was Prime Minister Gilani’s jail mate) – and President Zardari’s newfound soul mate’s tete-a-tete with Chaudhry Parwaiz Ilahi.

That Parwaiz Ilahi had been named by Benazir Bhutto as someone who would be responsible for the crime if anything happened to her caused absolutely no concern in her bereaved spouse. Maybe lugging her photos here and abroad, with an occasional slogan of Zindah hai BB, zindah hai, are exertion enough for him. Personally compromised and mired in allegations, he seems beholden to a faction that similarly indulges in the unethical. The adopted maxim which necessitates the making of the impossible inevitable is that changed circumstances are a genuine and moral basis for changing policy.

Elections per se or an elected government are a necessary condition for democracy, but not sufficient evidence to ensure that a functioning democracy is in place. Actual democracy depends on how elected institutions function and on citizens’ involvement in between elections. The interaction between people and their rulers and various means by which a government can help them achieve societal satisfaction and material prosperity are the spirit of democracy. It also means ensuring public participation, transparency, accountability, political legitimacy, fair legal framework, predictability and efficiency. Democracy thrives on transparency; what we have is the transfer of power from one entrenched self-selected group to one acting and being the same.

The much-touted political compromise (“reconciliation”) that we have now is the lowest common denominator of agreement among compromising parties. All it has done is to facilitate perpetuation and sharing of power. In doing so, it has totally understated burning issues like Fata, Balochistan, the Karachi killings, power outages, the perpetual price hike, welfare of the flood victims and corruption. It only speaks with clarity and certainty about issues personally beneficial to the compromisers. The president, the prime minister and their defenders remain in a mode of stark denial. Immersed in self-enrichment, a proposed Accountability Bill waits to be adopted for the last 18 months.

Detailed accounts of corruption scandals, failures and the damning Transparency International report (extensively quoted by parties when they are not in power) result in nothing but a schizoid compartmentalisation allowing them to maintain an all-is-well conviction. Thus the scope of reform becomes impossible. Denial of wrongdoings and failure lead to a bunkered isolation and the subsequent “inevitables” conjured aplenty.

We have a grotesquely bloated administrative machine aloof from the people, answerable to none but the president. Such a body soon becomes answerable to no one at all. It is responsive to its own, however: the people who fill its top offices, its cronies and family connections. The monster we face is the PPP’s kamikaze style of governance, its refusal to face reality, its increasing dependence on allies (disillusioned, yet loath to forsake power), a visionless trek to nowhere and its persistent abetment in all this.

All this has produced a growing popular skepticism about politics and politicians. Italian philosopher and political theorist Gramsci criticised excessive political realism. Nobody expects a utopia from the present dispensation; a negation though by deeds of the last words of another Gramsci quote would do: “The old world is dying and the new world struggles to be born; now is the time of monsters.”

The writer is a freelance contributor.


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