Friday, October 04, 2013
From Print Edition
What was the election slogan of our straw lions? "Kaun aya, kaun aya, Sher aya, Sher aya"…who is coming? the lion is coming, (lion being the election symbol of the winning PML-N). And Punjab swooned to the sound of this slogan and voted the straw lions into power, convinced salvation was at hand.
In barely three and a half months the national landscape seems transformed. The same voting public awaiting miracles has begun not just to squeal but to howl. The rupee was slipping vis-à-vis the dollar, making everything more expensive, and prices of common necessities were shooting into the sky. As if this was not enough to sour the public mood we have had the two mighty kicks just delivered, sharp rises in the prices of electricity and petrol. Punjabi wit can be devastating and jokes these days are about the strength and hunting prowess of the lion.
We are not seeing street violence, at least not yet. It is still early in the government’s tenure. This is one reason. The other is that there is no opposition party worth the name. The political landscape is virtually dead. There is just the media making some noises, and the Supreme Court exercising its suo motu powers, as it has done in the case of the electricity tariffs, thereby putting the government on the defensive.
That is all, beyond these two checks nothing. Military dictators, the most powerful, have faced stronger opposition. That we have a clueless government is beside the point. What is disturbing is the fact that there is no counter-narrative to it, except, just think of this, what is coming from the Taliban. Thus at a time when we could have done with some ideas, we seem to have run out of them completely. Punjabi intellectualism and nothing to oppose it…not a very inspiring state of affairs.
No point in hammering the obvious but anyone gifted with normal eyesight would have noticed that not only is the government clueless, its leading faces look it. When top meetings are held you can see the blank expressions on display. That the truth would come out sooner or later some of us had always suspected. But that this would happen so soon must come as a surprise even to the PML-N’s detractors.
So for want of anything better we are getting to see some funny things: family members and close tycoon friends accompanying the prime minister on his foreign trips and sitting in on important meetings, and no one batting an eyelid. And a notification issued in Punjab making the chief minister’s son, Hamza Shahbaz, he of the bright looks, virtually the province’s deputy chief minister.
We’ve known dynasty politics before, power passed from one generation to the next. Now we are seeing family democracy, power concentrated in an extended family. The Nehrus and the Kennedys at least looked the part. And they were into power and politics, not business and bank loans. In Pakistan we are seeing the coming together of big business and politics, conflict of interest something we just don’t seem to understand. To add insult to injury, the same people who are at the centre of this nexus – dominating the business field and politics – are also giving us lessons in patriotism and morality.
But, Allah be praised, if the political class is confused about some things, about others it is very clear. Look at the dithering over the next chairman of the National Accountability Bureau (a constitutional provision making it mandatory for “meaningful consultations” between ruling party and leader of the opposition in this matter). Both parties have rattling skeletons in their cupboards, that’s why they are being so careful although my guess is they’ll settle on a name that mutually suits them.
Few words elicit more mirth in Pakistan than accountability. The bigger the scoundrel, the louder his protestations of innocence. Those who said that elections would be meaningless without a proper screening of candidates had a point. If only defaulted bank loans had been taken into account, half the present leaders would have been out of the race. This is all documented stuff, proof in writing and in bank ledgers. But who would have done the accounting?
Allama Tahirul Qadri voiced this demand and also led a march on Islamabad. But the media and the political class made fun of him and he made the mistake of going to the Supreme Court where he was subjected to more ridicule.
And the Allama called on Imran Khan to join him. Was he under the illusion that a revolutionary spark lay hidden in the PTI? The PTI rank and file was for joining the Allama but the party’s bigwigs, cut-and-dried conservatives all of them, were dead against the idea. And so the moment was lost. And the nation raced towards elections and elections were held and a democratic transition took place and we all said what a great moment it was and history was being made. Now we are stuck with the fruits of that historic moment. As that Punjabi saying goes, we can now go cut some sugarcane and suck it.
To dispel all this cynicism all that the ruling party had to do was to show some competence. But it’s the vacuity that is coming through which instead of dispelling anything is heightening the cynicism. People are feeling more frustrated because there is no one to lead them, no one to give vent to their pent-up feelings.
Given this mood, it’s a bit thick expecting anyone to get serious about terrorism. Small wonder, the national mood is so defeatist, everyone for talks, and no stomach for tough decisions.
This is the difference between the PPP dispensation and now. The PPP made people angry. Everyone considered them to be corrupt and no good. The PML-N was all about hope and turning things around. What’s more, Nawaz Sharif exuded an aura of statesmanship. People had something to look forward to. Forgetting the PML-N’s past, forgetting that it was a tried and tested commodity, people, especially in Punjab, saw it as a beacon of light and hope.
All that has vanished in less than a hundred days. This was supposed to be the PML-N’s honeymoon period. Instead, so swift has been the comedown that the lion, symbol of victory just a short while ago, has become the leading object of fun.
If all this was academic satire it wouldn’t have mattered. People would have laughed and gone about their business. But it’s deadly serious because Pakistan’s future is at stake. There is nothing academic about three things: terrorism, the economy and the situation in Balochistan. This triad of problems required some leadership and, if not a call to arms, at least a sense of direction. What Pakistan is getting is a sense of total drift.
Even PML-N partisans have been reduced to silence. No, they even look slightly embarrassed. The cockiness has gone, even from the media orchestra which was so good at trumpeting the praises of the PML-N leadership. All in near record time, rise and fall in public estimation seldom occurring so swiftly.
But again the troubling question: what are we to do? The luxury of denunciation is fine while it lasts but does it solve anything? This much is clear: the country’s problems are too much for the present lot, their capacities just not up to the mark and each passing day exposing them a bit more.
Whence then the rescue? Do we sacrifice a black ram and divine the future from its entrails? No country on earth has more pirs (holy men) and mazars, places of holy pilgrimage. Is there no help from anywhere, no one to show us the way, or at least give the nation a taweez (a talisman) to lighten the burden of its sorrows?