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The system is changing

July 17, 2012

“Log becharay kya karen? Inhhen samajh nahin hay…”

(What can these poor people do? They do not understand).

“Hamm system ko theek karna chahtay hain, naey chehray lana chahtay hain, magar awaam phir inhi choron ko assemblion main pohncha detay hain.”

(We want to correct the system, want to bring in new faces, but the masses keep sending the same thieves to the assemblies).

These are but two selections from the ‘informed’ chorus that cannot be escaped and cannot be differed with. It goes around with the tagline of ‘final verdict’.

It can only be challenged at the peril of the dissenter being labelled as a sell-out to the elite politicians who are accused of knocking the stuffing out of the wayward masses and then re-stuffing their heads with false hopes.

The condemnation of the popular tastes in politics is not at all a new refrain. It was always there, as the defence of the losers, the justification for autocrats both elected and unelected, the slogan for those who preferred a select shura of the wise over an assembly brought about by groups of lesser human beings.

It was there as the first — and routinely the last — line from the aspiring revolutionaries whose sensitive disposition was forever hurt by the lack of popular understanding of their idea of emancipation. It was the standard argument of the maulvi sahib who liked his religion with a bit of politics.

What we have today is a magnified image of the old Pakistan — a Pakistan beset with the so-called reformers’ hatred for its people. These reformers use this contempt for the others to rampage through the very grey land democracy seeks to create.

Given the contempt and anger that defines the current condemnation of the choices the masses are guilty of repeatedly making, the people’s judgment as the supreme arbiter is severely in doubt. In the charged environment, this distrust finds ever impatient manifestations — in groups that are not committed to democracy and who must bomb as many rallies as ANP wants to hold, but in the so-called democrats whose political birth has been a result of a marriage between their superiority complex and their disillusionment with the existing system. In their dismissal of the counter-argument they are ideologically not very far from those who bomb the ANP.

In another, formalised manifestation of just how the system is changing in Pakistan, a new set of election rules portray the voters as hapless sheep that are herded toward the polling booth for the ritualistic sacrifice. The ridiculing of the parliament this undignified herd brings about is but an obvious conclusion.

But much before that and much below the exalted positions where rules are defined and austere limits set and edicts issued by the likes of Maulana Imran Ahmed Khan Niazi, the contempt for the people reflects with unprecedented force in the ‘privileged’ city dwellers’ own little brushes with what they know beyond a doubt is superior.

Just count how many visitors to your offices in recent times have lamented the stupidity of the people — less educated, less exposed, less civilised people — who keep imposing the same old corrupt, inept rulers on themselves and their much more refined and pro-change cousins. When there is no anger in the tone of these knowledgeable ‘citi-zens’ there is quite often pity, exactly the kind which is reserved for a thoughtless herd of sheep who can be befooled and sacrificed over and over again.

The ‘citi-zens’ sympathise with the erring village folks and with the less up-to-date inhabitants of the small and large towns. Their instinct informed by their own estimates about their learning and their truth, they feel no urge whatsoever to listen to the others’ viewpoint for amending their own and making it more comprehensive and more universally applicable.

What these pro-change citizens have already done is that in their thrust for system change they have managed to significantly modify the rules of debate. Actually, there is no point in debating when the truth — final and absolute truth that seeks to, hopes to, threatens to overwhelm the ill-informed masses and their ill-advised choices — has already been identified.

This baton of truth and reform in hand, the soldiers for a new order spread out, even though there are some areas where they are more visible than others. The lawyers who have found the truth do not hesitate to argue with fists and taunts when the legal word is not effective enough. In their flight for new heights they realise they can do without the very branch they had long been perched on.

So out come the sharp axes and loaded pronouncements about the impending death of reason that thrives on disagreement. The counter-argument is about to be hacked and buried and those who dare to offer legal help to the condemned among the guilty are liable to be stigmatised, isolated and banished.

The doctors agitate for demands which may by and large be just, but then, like other superior professionals and other superior groups, they also let it be known what great contempt they hold the very people they are demanding from in.

The protesting doctors are fed up, and not just with the undeserving, unrefined rulers who are imposed on their heads. As one office-bearer of a doctors’ association told a Dawn reporter recently, the doctors, the superior beings as they are, are quite aghast at their service matter being decided by a mere grade-16 section officer of the health department.

No, the powerful doctors are not asking for the promotion of the officer to a higher grade where his post can justify all the decision-making he is blamed for. They are simply pointing to the times and the debate which have already changed in anticipation of a grand change of system.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.