The perks of power

Published May 30, 2020

OF late, women have featured on social media flexing their muscles while bullying and assaulting cops doing their duty.

This meme began with the ‘colonel’s wife’ who is shown abusing a policeman trying to impose the rules. But the wives of colonels haven’t changed much for over a century, as Ernst Fandorin, an observant Russian diplomat, describes in Boris Akunin’s wonderful detective novel Leviathan, set in the 1870s:

“It is clear from her determined and domineering expression that she is a woman used to command. This is the look of the first lady of a garrison or a regiment. They are usually regarded as a level of command senior to the commanding officer himself.…”

Earlier, we had a certain Uzma Kardar, a PTI MPA, who was seen pushing back road barriers meant to direct traffic, and then tur­ning on the unfortunate cops who tried to restrain her. Shireen Mazari, this government’s minister for human rights, has also appeared on social media scattering security staff at the National Assembly out of her way.

It is the men who propagate violence and threats.

But by highlighting this sense of entitlement that these ladies seem to share, those pushing these images on social media are being unfair to women in general. After all, the women I have mentioned, and ones like them, constitute a tiny fraction of the men who regularly throw their weight around as though they were masters of the universe.

A better example of Pakistani womanhood would be Uzma Khan, the actor, whose house was broken into recently and who was subjected to violence by the goons accompanying the well-connected women leading the attack. Women in Pakistan are usually the victims and not the perpetrators.

It is the men who propagate violence and threats. How often have we heard expressions such as, ‘Don’t you know who I am?’ and ‘I’ll report you to the inspector general!’? And if you are wearing an army uniform, people automatically make way as you stride past, looking straight ahead.

Senior bureaucrats copy this swagger. I am ashamed to admit that when I was a relatively senior civil servant, I, too, abused my authority on occasion. Indeed, the mannerisms of the wadera lording it over his lowly tenants has become the role model for the country.

The sense of entitlement that comes from being born in a certain family, clan, ethnicity, caste or religious sect is deeply entrenched. Anybody outside this circle is automatically relegated to second class or lower. The only way to overcome the disadvantage of a lowly status is to acquire a lot of money or power.

Established democracies, where the sense of entitlement has gradually been eroded and the rule of law ingrained, rarely tolerate the open flouting of the rules by the rich and the powerful. In England, Dominic Cummings, the prime minister’s most senior adviser — and according to some, the most powerful man in the country — has been in the media limelight for a week now.

Cummings, who wrote much of the lockdown rules, violated them by driving to his parent’s home over 400 kilometres to the north. His excuse was that he and his wife were both displaying Covid-19 symptoms, and he had to make childcare arrangements for their young son with his parents.

But neither the public nor the opposition were buying this defence. Many have stepped forward to detail their own sacrifices, and pointed out that despite dying parents, or newborn grandchildren, they followed the rules about staying at home. So how come, they demanded to know, could Cummings get away with flouting the same rules. It all boiled down to the old adage of ‘one rule for the elite, another for the common people’.

Despite Boris Johnson’s stout defence of his seemingly indispensable senior adviser, there has been a revolt of over 50 of his Conservative Party MPs. They are refusing to support Cummings as their constituents are furious at this blatant example of elitism.

Cummings had made himself extremely unpopular with his abrasiveness and arrogance. Sneering at both bureaucrats and politicians during his rise to power, he now finds himself friendless. Johnson needs Cummings as he is hopeless at details, and is desperate for help sorting out policy and the nitty-gritty of delivering good governance. Also, Cummings was the architect behind the Brexit victory, as well as having designed the campaign in the recent elections that put Johnson in Downing Street.

All in all, Cummings is a talented man who got caught breaking the rules, and is now under tremendous pressure to resign. All this for an offence that would have long ago been brushed under the carpet in entitlement-ridden countries like Pakistan.

Indeed, the whole edifice of the rule of law has gradually imploded since independence. When the ruling class don’t obey the rules, why should the masses? The chaos we have today is the result of the elite setting such a poor example to common people who say: “If they can get away with it, why can’t we?”

Published in Dawn, May 30th, 2020


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