The culture of flattery


It continues to flourish

Democratic culture is taking roots in Pakistan albeit at a snail’s pace. Unlike the 1990s political rivals no more treat each other as sworn enemies. Politicians have by and large learnt to bury the hatchet and work together, forgiving and forgetting the blood feuds. But there is one thing that remains unchanged: culture of flattery. Flattery was a part of the courtly tradition, where it had been developed into an art form. Despite the British coming from a modern industrial society they failed to eradicate the tradition. There is in fact a perception that they consciously promoted it. Remember the verbiage and style of the leave application that was taught in schools as part of Urdu composition, beginning with ‘Ba Khidmat Janab’ and ‘Janab e aali’. The application to the deputy commissioner began with much more obsequiously complementary terms. The address on the postcard began with adulatory expressions. The cat has disappeared but the grin remains.

Sycophancy at times becomes a material need for a particular category of persons, be they in politics, media or business. For instance, when one has invested heavily in a political party to the extent of annoying its rival who turns out to be the winner, one tends to resorts to the art of flattery. One fears that the party coming to power might harm one’s material interests. One turns to fawning at the victor with the hope that this would soften the heart of the new ruler and make him forgive the sins. Sycophancy also becomes the need when one has opposed, slandered and ridiculed a politician who was facing the wrath of a dictator only to find him making a comeback to power a few years down the road. Flattery is also the need of those who are not used to fair competition and want to get things done through political patronage. The problem with all these people is that they are likely to change loyalties abruptly with the change of government.

There were interesting scenes on the day when Mian Nawaz Sharif was elected the leader of the house. A former PML-N leader who had changed political affiliations amid acrimony claimed brazenly that Nawaz was his leader before and remains his leader now. Later he rushed to give Nawaz a bear hug. Another turncoat who was never tired of finding fault with Nawaz tried to embrace him. The MQM chief who had only recently delivered a virulently anti PML-N speech and had said, “No to Sharif” suddenly directed his party MNAs to vote for Nawaz. One can understand the relevance of welcoming advertisements by the Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Pakistan Dairy Association or Pak Banaspati Manufacturers Association as Nawaz has been a supporter of the business community. But when the government controlled entities also join the competition, at the taxpayers’ expense, one is bound to suspect that the drive is inspired by individual self-interest of those heading it.