Democracy farce without tangible participation
The Quaid thought that the Muslim League leaders around him were ‘base coins’ and the ‘legal tender’ was in the pockets of his adversaries. Chaudhry Ghulam Abbas corroborated this view. He remembered that once Quaid-i-Azam had said, “What is Muslim League? It essentially comprises three of us; me, my sister, and typewriter.” Historian Mubarak Also confirmed this view. ‘In one of his articles, Dr Mubarak Ali mentioned in passing that Mr. Jinnah used to claim that he had founded Pakistan with the help of his typewriter and stenographer.’
Today, Pakistan has no leader, like Quaid-e-Azam, with a ‘world view’, and no ‘storyline’ of sustained committed struggle. M.J. Akber rightly observes ‘The [Pakistani] political leaders act like sand dunes. They move in the direction the wind blows’ (Akber, In Pakistan Today, Mittal Publications, New Delhi, p. 216). John R. Schmidt agrees, ‘The mainstream political parties in Pakistan can best be viewed as patronage networks, whose primary goal is seeking political offices to gain access to state resources, which can then be used to distribute patronage among their members’ (Schmidt, The Unravelling, Paki-stan in the Age of jihad).
Why it is so? Stanley A. Kochanek nuzzles the conundrum by pointing out ‘Parties in Pakistan are built from the top-down and are identified with their founders. The leader appoints the officeholders. Membership rolls are largely bogus and organizational structure exists only on paper. ‘Most political parties are non-democratic in their structure, character, and outlook. The process for leadership selection is not by election, but by nomination. Political parties have no links with policy process as personalities rather than issues matter’ writes Saeed Shafqat.
William A. Welsh says, ‘The rise of democracy has signaled the decline of elites’ (Leaders and Elites) but a bitter lesson of history is that demokratia (power of the people) had always been an ideal. History reminds us no system, not even ochlocracy (mobocracy) could ever bulldoze governing elites. Delhi Sultanate, the Moghul, and the Englishman ruled through handpicked elites. Because of their influence, many political philosophers, including Plato, Aristotle, and Tacitus studied the nature of societies and the elites that they popped up.
The ‘equal citizen’ enshrined in the golden words of our constitution remained a myth. Many modern thinkers like Moska, Michel, Marx, Pareto, and C Wright Mill, also tried to make head or tail of the elites. The crux of the leadership crisis is that post-partition ‘leadership’ fell like windfall fruit into laps of dynasties or elites. Even American democracy is run by a handful of specialized people. The majority of the population is a silent spectator, a ‘bewildered herd’ (Chomsky).
Demokratia (power of the people) could never equalize citizens. However, all democracies envisioned ‘opportunities for political participation to larger proportions of the population’ and across-the-board accountability. Democracy is a progressive effort to equalize citizens before the law, rather than legalizing elites and mafias.
A key element of election manifestos is ‘change’. The details or nitty-gritty of the ‘change’ however always remains a strictly guarded mumbo jumbo. Tall claims are made about millions of jobs, planting billions of trees, ending gas-and-energy, and load shedding. Sure of the short memory of the populace, the parties refrain from spelling out their policies with regard to various factors of production, i.e. land, natural resources, the socio-economic milieu, labor, capital, and organization. The opposition enjoys the incapacity of rulers to deliver the goods. While criticizing rulers, the opposition presents no alternative proposals. Parties without alternative budgets are minds without ideas.
There is no tradition of political parties having shadow cabinets with a bagful of alternative policies. The political empty-mindedness is obvious from the successive vision-less federal budgets. This stereotyped budget is heavily loaded with taxes. The budgets dish out whatever is cooked up by ministerial babus (bureaucrats) to the people.
In their hearts, the leaders, on both sides of the aisle, know that the voters have little choice. They would vote either for the charisma of one leader or against the hatred of another. The bulk of the expected revenue lines the pockets of the revenue collectors. The taxation proposals did little to squeeze the haves. Nothing is done to reduce the inequitable distribution of wealth and economic power.
No heed is paid to the structure of our society. How did the filthy rich, the feudal lords, and the industrial robber barons come into being? If accumulated wealth in a few hands is rooted in wrongdoing, a considerable chunk of it should be mopped up. Peep into the pre-partition gazetteers and you would know the patrilineage of many of today’s Tiwanas, Nawabs, Pirs, Syeds, Faqirs, Qizilbashs, Kharrals, Gakkhars, and their ilk.
The British created a class of chieftains to suit their need for loyalists, war fundraisers, and recruiters in the ‘post-mutiny’ period and during the Second World War.
History reminds us no system, not even ochlocracy (mobocracy) could ever bulldoze governing elites. Delhi Sultanate, the Mogul, and the Englishman ruled through handpicked elites.
Some Pirs and Mashaikh (religious leaders) even quoted verses from the Holy Quran to justify allegiance to the Englishman (amir), after loyalty to Allah and the Messenger (PBUH). They pointed out that the Quran ordained that ehsan (favour) be returned with favour. The ehsan were British favours like titles (khan bahadur, nabob, etc), honorary medals, khilat (royal gift of dress) with attached money rewards, life pensions, the office of honorary magistrate, assistant commissioner, courtier, etc. The government could at least impose some kind of capital levy or inheritance tax on the wealth holders to pay off the public debt. About 460 scions of the pre-partition chiefs along with industrial barons created in the Ayub era and afterwards are returned again and again to the Assemblies. They do not allow agricultural incomes, industrial profits, or real estate to be adequately taxed. If only one tax, that is capital levy or inheritance tax could be imposed, there would be no need to impose any other tax. This tax would have no burden on the poor, already crushed people of Pakistan.
A capital levy is a one-time tax on all wealth holders with the goal of retiring public debt. In theory, the imposition of this levy can improve welfare when adopted to redress debt problems created by special circumstances like ours. There is no fear of flight of capital. There is little profit in keeping money in foreign vaults. Foreign powers devoured even the billions stashed in foreign accounts by the Shah of Iran and Moammar al Gaddafi.
Our parliament should examine this proposal. Islam does not approve of unearned wealth. We know of the decision by Hazrat Omar (May Allah be pleased with him) in regard to Fei lands. He disapproved of land as maal-e-ghaneemat because it would create generations upon generations of wealthy landowners.
The voters do not force the leaders to give a dispassionate perception of the country’s problems along with an inventory of prioritized solutions. Intellectual apathy has been the hallmark of elections. Today, Pakistan has no leader, like Quaid-e-Azam, with a ‘world view’, and no ‘storyline’ of sustained committed struggle. Our problem is demokratia sans demos. Why do civilians remain silent spectators to the overthrow of their ‘elected’ governments? So it is as the civilian autocrats do nothing by way of the welfare of the common man. No welfare, no universal healthcare, education, shelter, and other basic facilities for the common man.