All common men

Published October 15, 2020
The writer is an author.
The writer is an author.

A HUMAN BEING may lose weight on a treadmill; striding in the same spot on a political treadmill, a prime minister risks losing credibility.

The speed of the treadmill upon which the prime minister exercises daily has begun to accelerate. Ordinarily, anyone as fit as him should be able to adapt to the faster pace. Unfortunately, its controls are no longer at his fingertips. The latest clamour from the opposition parties voices the mounting disappointment being felt by the public. Discontent seeps like invisible fetid vapours across the provinces.

If the opposition had its way, they would press for mid-term elections. Even diehard supporters of the PTI-led coalition admit that while premature elections may be too risky, a mid-term reassessment is certainly overdue, if not inescapable. The prime minister is being asked to turn the page, possibly by those who once shared it.

Is such a dramatic volte-face possible by a sportsman who throughout his charmed life has been nurtured on a diet of success, but never tasted the herbs of failure? Can he accept that success can be both singular and plural? Will he deign to talk to, not talk down to, his political opponents, even through prison bars? Will he control his multi-mouthed Cerberus which barks over-loudly at them on his behalf? Or will he take obstinate refuge in the retort made by Queen Elizabeth I to a well-meaning adviser: “The word must is not to be used to princes.”

Rulers, whether in civvies or in uniform, above all and below all, are common men.

In Pakistani politics, everything is possible, however unlikely. It helps if you believe in fairy tales. Take, for example, that perennial favourite children’s story The Wizard of Oz. No one who has read L. Frank Baum’s popular book (continuously in print since its first appearance in 1900), or seen the film made in 1939 that launched a 17-year-old Judy Garland on her career, can fail to notice the parallel between Munchkinland and the present state of Pakistan.

In the Land of Oz, the Munchkins lived in fear of the Wicked Witch of the West. She was determined to snatch the heroine Dorothy’s ruby red magic slippers. The Good Witch of the North comes to Dorothy’s rescue. During her journey in search of the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy encounters three characters — each with a crucial deficiency. The Scarecrow needs a brain, the Tin Woodman yearns for a heart, and the Cowardly Lion seeks the courage he lacks. Eventually, after many escapades, Dorothy and her three companions reach the Palace of Oz in the Emerald City.

There, a curtain hiding the Wizard of Oz from public gaze falls accidentally. The dreaded Wizard is exposed to be an old man. “Are you not a Great Wizard?” Dorothy asks him. “Hush, my dear,” he said. “Don’t speak so loud, or you will be overheard--and I should be ruined. I’m supposed to be a Great Wizard.” “And aren’t you?” she asked. “Not a bit of it, my dear; I’m just a common man.”

Rulers, whether in civvies or in uniform, above all and below all, are common men. Like Dorothy’s friends, they too need brains, hearts and courage — not one at a time but all three, at the same time. And never more so than if they wish to govern our country in today’s turbulent times.

Over two years have passed since the PTI-coalition government was tasked to fulfil its electoral promises. At the risk of being declared an arm-chair insurrectionist, would it be heresy to suggest that the cabinet of 31 ministers, five advisers, and 13 special assistants is a body less of collective wisdom than of individual deficiencies? Would one be tarred with the brush of sedition to suggest that the budgets of all organs of the state (including those related to non-security expenditure) should be scrutinised by a more conscientious parliament? Should one expect agencies at the door if one warns those who proclaim they are making history that “the very ink with which history is written is merely fluid prejudice”?

Pakistan’s parliament has been rightly blamed for its torpor and intellectual inadequacy. It can plead the defence used by 19th-century Chinese opium addicts: their stupor was induced, involuntary. That is no longer a condonable excuse. It is a fatuous form of electoral escapism. Now is the time for the leadership of all political parties in parliament to come out of their protected Red Zone of self-indulgent indolence and to show their voters that they can function as responsible custodians of the commonweal and to perform their duties, string-less.

Until then, as the British novelist Joe Abercrombie once wrote: “People like to watch the pretty puppets. Even a glimpse of the puppeteer can be most upsetting for them. Why, they might even suddenly notice the strings around their own wrists.”

The writer is an author.

www.fsaijazuddin.pk

Published in Dawn, October 15th, 2020

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