View from US: The public doth protest too much?

We protest too much, it can be safely said. But often it is for reasons that bear no results. We are a politics-soaked nation. Almost every Pakistani man, woman, even a kid, can be called a doctor of philosophy in politics. Many wish for an ‘Arab spring’ but it is not ours to have because we lack staying power. Ever heard of the public seizing  Parliament Square in Islamabad and occupying it for weeks? The single most momentous event in our recent history was the movement to restore the chief justice. It was street power that won the day.

Today street power is but a shadow of its old self. And that’s why other than late night meetings to ‘discuss’ the power crisis, Zardari and his men don’t take the public protests against loadshedding seriously. Secretly, they must laugh at the feeble attempts of a few who demand an end to power cuts.

If it’s any consolation, Indians got a taste of it too. Half a billion left in the lurch when electrical power snapped, bringing to a halt the thrum of life and replacing mobility with blackness. ‘India shining’ turned to ‘India stripped.’ The great grids collapse betrayed the flaws inherent in the hierarchy of governance. Picture the captain of Titanic pinning a medal on his chief helmsman just when the ocean liner has hit an iceberg. The chief helmsman in this instance was the power minister Sushil Kumar Shinde who on that ‘Black Tuesday’ got ‘rewarded’ and made India’s home minister. It was indeed a jaw-dropping moment for the millions left speechless by the promotion.

Is South Asia then the nursery for deformed jokes played by the leaders on their helpless citizens? Leaders who are naked and exposed continue to rule with audacity. An open letter by Hilda Raja on the alleged sins of Prathiba Patel, who was India’s president for five years until recently, has gone viral. It details the woman and her family’s legendary corruption. “What a pity!” writes an Indian commentator, “a handmaid of the Nehru clan becomes president of India and she spends 200 crores to travel to foreign countries, names of which are never heard: with her children, grandchildren, relatives, servants, cooks, neighbours, etc… and grabs prime land meant for war widows. O God, where India has fallen?”

Pakistan has no power, no gas, no water. The power minister responsible for lighting up our homes, like his Indian counterpart, got a double-promotion recently. He now sits in the PM House on the hill. His spacious marble floors and chandeliered ceilings ooze cold frigid air and plenteous bright light; his starched shalwar-kameez never a wrinkle will it see, nor a drop of sweat from his brow. His grin , like the proverbial Cheshire Cat gets broader and bigger. Life is heaven in this Garden of Eden. Raja Pervez Ashraf must pinch himself couple of times a day, cross his heart and ask himself, ‘Do I dream?’

For the correct answer, the prime minister needs to turn his head towards the television (I am sure judging by a plethora of phones sitting on every table cheapening further the gaudy décor, there must be an equal number of idiot boxes scattered around his palace). Raja’s dream will shatter like an atom exploding. The misery, poverty, wretchedness and loathing on the faces of people he claims to raj over is the picture perfect portrait of Pakistan today. While India staggered back to get the power grids on their feet, Pakistan will continue to lose more and more of its megawatts each day.

What then is the remedy? Take to the streets and throw more stones at cars passing by? Burn more tyres and cause more heat and combustion? Smash more windows and break public property? Get lathi-charged by the police and retreat for the umpteenth time? Such protests have no teeth; no staying power. They are obsolete. Darn, this is the 21st century. Many think these sporadic outbursts are the handiwork of political parties. Out-of-power politicos just want to create mischief. Hooligans get rented (mostly teenage boys) and told to go gather stones or tyres or whatever they can grab off the roads. Armed with this ‘arsenal’ they take to the streets to hit, burn, destroy and injure anyone within sight.

We know that many political parties have a militant wing of their own, kept as retainers for the ‘rainy day.’ They are doled out a few rupees for services rendered and then they go home — some beaten, bruised, bloodied while a few nabbed by the police and driven off to a fate we never come to hear about.

This is political thuggery, medieval devilry.

Protests have to be from the grassroots up. When the issue is critical and affects the personal life, security, freedom and well being of an individual, people display dissent in different ways. Pakistan has yet to catch up with the social media phenomenon that has ushered a revolt in the West and in some Arab lands. Thousands are mobilised through exchange of messages on their web and mobile-based communication tools. The recipients in turn interact through dialogue among their own groups, communities, and friends. Messages spread in  cyber space thick and fast, prompting immediate action.

Protests are organised and orderly. The agenda is common and action-centric. Were  social media active in Pakistan, the energy crisis would have received serious attention from the government. Apart from social networking, needed are opinion leaders who have no political affiliations. Citizens with courage, commitment and energy to fight a long battle with the government through peaceful means.

Pakistan has never produced nor will it ever produce men and women of that caliber who will struggle for the common good of the common man.

The power crisis has been sledgehammered by the Zardari regime. Granted Musharraf left it with the ‘gift’ of loadshedding, but instead of fixing the electric shortage, the corrupt leaders tried exploiting the situation by demanding huge commissions and kickbacks from the private power producers. One by one, the producers ran away.

Should the Supreme Court not have stepped in and taken suo moto notice? With their penchant for judicial activism, our honourable lordships had a ripe and ready case in hand. Instead, the Supreme Court turned its guns towards the president, embroiling in a long, embittered and inconclusive struggle to open up Zardari’s Swiss money laundering case. They well knew that the fight will be futile due to presidential immunity. Yet, they persevere till this day.

History will bear witness to how the country got ripped by the executive, legislative and military leaders while the judiciary whiled away actionable moments in mere political posturing and point scoring.

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Comments (4) Closed

Ummer Khan
Aug 18, 2012 03:26pm
Nicely written.
Aug 18, 2012 01:52pm
How Dawn allows such sub-standard writing in its publication is deplorable.
Aug 18, 2012 04:32pm
I believe that the nation ,if we may call it, has completely lost all attributes like integrity, character and self respect. Look around yourself, all you find is multitude of people ready to do anything to plunder , cheat and loot. This is our national character as i observe day in and day out. The whole nation has double standards with hypocracy reigning supreme in every walk of life. I only pity this nation.
Aug 19, 2012 02:46am
The writer, like most Pakistani writers, cannot write without comparing any issue to India - even journalism and politics is India-centric in Pakistan, it seems. In this case, however, she is wrong in drawing an analogy. The reasons for the recent grids failure in India, assuming she is capable of understanding, which she is perhaps beyond her, were a) poor hydro electric power generation due to lack of rains (20% or more in the grid comes typically from hydro-electric means) b) Extreme temperatures this rainy season requiring people to crank up their ACs, c) increased use of powered appliances by relatively well-off middle-class Indians, and d) too many states drawing a lot more power than they are entitled to from the grid. There is little that any minister can do when such events all occur at the same time. The solution is better management and long-term investments & planning. The writer apparently does not understand this, and has made a simplistic comparison between the power issues in Pakistan and India.