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Slapping in public, apologising in private

February 03, 2012


PM Gilani is a simple man from Multan and his politics is based on rural principles in which the first slap matters the most. - File Photo.

The rural life has a code of its own that may not make much sense to the urban dwellers.

And in village life, there is a commonly agreed wisdom to slapping or hitting your opponent hard in a big public gathering and then apologising to him in the dark of night.

This may not make much sense to urban dwellers; perhaps the phrase that comes close to capturing the sense of this strategy is the English saying that attack is the best defence.

The logic of the village dwellers is simple – an enmity is an enmity; there is no point hoping for a resolution or peace.

Hence, you might as well land a blow when and where you can (especially if others are watching) and worry about the consequences later.

If the situation gets really bad you always have the option of bowing and scraping in front of the rival and seek forgiveness from him. But what the rest of the village will always remember is the slap in daylight.

The prime minister is a simple man from Multan and his politics is based on rural principles in which the first slap matters the most.

What else can explain his behaviour in the recent past?

Hemmed in by the military, the judiciary and the PML-N (that took memogate to the Supreme Court), a nervous and irritated Prime Minister Gilani used most of January to land the first blow – in public – again and again.

On Jan 9, Prime Minister Gilani, first at an exhibition and then on the floor of the house, said that he would not allow “state within a state” in the country. In the same speech he even pointed fingers at the security establishment for Osama bin Laden’s presence in the country.

His rhetoric took everyone by surprise. Stunned, analysts felt that the end was near and Gilani’s days were numbered. He had crossed the red line.

But the man himself was like a bull in a China shop. Within weeks, in an interview with a Chinese online magazine, he declared that the answers submitted by the COAS and DG ISI to the apex court, which had been submitted in the wake of memogate scandal, were “unconstitutional and illegal”.

In the same vein, during a media interaction in Lahore in later part of January, when asked if the military leadership was pushing him to retract his statements on COAS and DG ISI, he said: “I am only answerable to the parliament not an individual”.

Along the way, he also sacked the defence secretary, who was a man chosen by the generals, and replaced him with his trusted bureaucrat, Nargis Sethi.

Everyone was convinced that Gilani was on his way out.

Those whose claim to fame is their closeness to the politicians insisted that the prime minister was ready to embrace martyrdom.

Like Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, he would defy the generals and the courts (the present establishment) and go down fighting – which admittedly in the prime minister’s case would have just meant imprisonment and a loss of his position as the head of government.

In fact, one journalist, who claims to be very close to everyone including the military and the civilian leadership, said Gilani was to be sent packing on Jan 19, the day of his appearance in the court to face contempt charges.

But come D-Day and Gilani, the lion took a lamb with him to court. Aitzaz Ahsan, whose stated position was not to seek a confrontation with the court, and he tried his best to defuse the situation with the judges. That Ahsan is still far from his goal is a story for another day especially as its end is still to be written.

Anyway, to get back to the Gilani-military story, after having huffed and puffed and stunned the military as well as his own detractors, Gilani met the generals away from the media glare and thrashed out the matters.

It then appeared that all was hunky dory in the world of Gilani and the generals – the prime minister took his words back and absolved the COAS and ISI head of any legal hanky panky.

But that first slap that he landed in public. Will people ever forget that even if his detractors assail him yet again for backtracking? Not those who understand how life in a village works.