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Not by invective alone

September 21, 2011

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THE thrust and counter-thrust of a rapier-like argument, the occasional exposure of a politician's malfeasance, and a whiff of scandal once in a while are like spices that make politics more delectable.

But no one can escape serious injury if they are made to dine day in and day out, like the Pakistani people, on spices alone. The pantomime that has been staged by our politicians for quite a few weeks never had any entertainment value but now it only causes pain and anger. Besides, it brings forth each day fresh evidence of the country's political bankruptcy. Nikal jati ho jis kay mun say sachi baat masti mein, faqih-i-maslehat-been say woh rind-i-baada khwar achha

First, the electronic media helped Dr Zulfiqar Mirza enthral the people with an Ojhri-like display of fireworks. Some people were reminded of Maulana Zafar Ali Khan's couplet: (the follower of Bacchus who blurts out the truth in a moment of abandon is preferable to an expediency-driven jurisconsult).

The wonder did not last even three days. One of his targets took the escape route offered by the institution of commissions of inquiry and the other one did not consider his charges worthy of reply. Hopes that the Supreme Court would offer its stage for the next act did not materialise.

Then MQM's Mustafa Kamal had his fans in the electronic media swooning over his unrecognised stature and a torrent of invective was released. Finally, Mr Altaf Hussain took the stage and displayed almost every trick in his bag of histrionics in a 200-minute solo performance. He too was not short of spite. Now he has withdrawn his words against the ANP chief regarding the allegation that the latter had been funded by the US, and one does not know who had to be placated — the ANP or the US. In any case, the ANP seemed keen to reciprocate forgiveness with forgiveness.

While some of the eminent politicians have thus been diverting themselves, the people have been battling against one misfortune after another. Several spells of heavy rains have caused havoc in large parts of Sindh. Whole villages have been wiped out and scores of lives lost. Nearly seven million people have become homeless.

Everywhere poor families are complaining of neglect or too little being done too late. At the other end, Lahore is in the grip of dengue fever that is touching epidemic scales and the authorities are covering up their negligence and incompetence by dealing with health issues through ham-handed tactics. gaddis

These matters of life and death for the people have exposed the lack of calibre of not only the occupants of official but also the various challengers. Neither Sindh's rain havoc nor dengue fever has come without a warning and the authorities have no excuse for their aimlessness and sheer mendacity.

But have the parties out of power done any better? True, all of them have not been content with castigating the administration. Some of them have visited the communities affected by floods or disease and made efforts to organise relief. Yet, the emphasis in comments on national calamities is on running down one's political adversaries as if there is nothing more to politics than the unfettered use of venom.

The non-realisation of the consequences of the present antics of the political actors and the low level of their exchanges is simply bewildering. The inevitable result of the present drift will be the people's total alienation from democratic politics. That people throughout the country are frustrated and disenchanted with their rulers is no secret. But they can effectively chase bad rulers only if better alternatives are visible.

The opposition parties do not seem to realise that they have done little to win public trust. They spare no effort at attacking the parties in power for their acts of commission and omission but they have not tried to offer alternative remedies to the causes of the people's concerns, say, energy shortage, inflation, lawlessness, militancy, poverty, unemployment, floods, epidemics, etc. It is not enough to claim possession of talismans that would be used or disclosed only when they come into power. Let all advocates of change bare their wares so that the people can judge their value.

Another blow to democracy has been struck by the wild wave of name-calling. Politicians in office and out of it have been accused of most serious crimes — gun-running, bribery, patronising killers, subverting legal processes, etc. And nothing happens. Naturally, people gradually develop a strong antipathy to a system that harbours such insufferable outlaws. When politicians appear to enjoy unrestricted immunity the system is bound to be the first casualty.

Further, since the exchanges between politicians across the power divide consist solely of accusations of wrongdoing, it is no longer possible to hope for policies and actions based on consensus. For years, democratic opinion has been suggesting that key state appointments should be made through agreement between the ruling party and the opposition. Intense mistrust of one another has made such agreement impossible.

The government has often gone to great lengths to fill a key post with its 'own man' and the opposition retaliates by sticking out for its 'own man'. The administration is completely ruined in this battle over favourites. Such a wasteful farce will continue until personalities become irrelevant in a tightly regulated order that leaves little room for discretion and nobody can benefit by planting favourites in authority.

Even if the country's political leaders cannot make their ambitions subservient to the public good they should at least begin to act in enlightened self-interest, take their calling seriously and begin doing their homework. Politics is much too sacred a game to be played by invective alone.

Tailpiece: Within minutes of the Supreme Court's order allowing the LDA to fell trees along the Lahore canal, over 150 living trees were mercilessly cut down. Never has a judicial order met with such prompt compliance. It was a sad day for the once glorious city of Lahore for it had failed to protect some of the finest feathers in its plumage and the city's seizure by vandals had been judicially legitimised.