Mistaking democracy for governance

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Who let this happen?

So often in politics it is not what the incumbent does that matters so much as what he says. Political correctness is, after all, at the heart of politics. But centre the spin once too often on gimmickry alone and the façade will disappear rather quickly. The people will need to see things now and then. Sometimes their needs are more subtle, and far more serious, than roads and bridges. Then there is that other feature of leadership – the terrible burden of responsibility in the face of disaster, defeat, tragedy, and the like. And there needs to be a degree of justice – some form of promise that the wronged shall be attended to. And here what is seen, not what is said, matters.

So who’s responsible for the Tharparkar deaths? Surely if there are no answers there can be no action. How could it be that hundreds of our children starved to death, as food lay rotting in government warehouses, and anybody who could do anything did everything in their power to brush this under the carpet till it exploded on its own? And where are those heads, hanging in shame, forced to admit the truth that those children died because of these leaders’ inadequacy, and inhumanity? And where is that axe that the political masters – the people’s servants – swing and send some of these heads rolling?

Yet there have been no answers. And there has been little action, not much beyond the rush-the-supplies and don’t-let-me-see-another-famine types. This is not the first time innocent parents have had to bury innocent children in our Islamic Republic. And this is surely not the first time there have been neither answers nor retribution. Democracy is about governance only when the elected are able to erect institutions that serve and protect the people. Perhaps it is because of our inability to nurture democratic traditions in our fractured political history that we have come to celebrate mere elections and vote-counting as democracy itself. From national security to the economy to the people’s most basic rights, what the government proclaims hardly reflects facts on ground. News bulletins feature official spokesmen trumpeting peace as violence and militancy continues. An exogenous donation stemming from an ill-advised international political embrace braces the rupee for a while and the finance ministry claims having rescued the economy. A bloated and ineffective civil bureaucracy remains paralysed whenever an emergency presents itself, and often enough the military has to intervene. And any question is treated as an attack on democracy itself. Maybe it is with good reason that democracy never strengthened in Pakistan. And rather than treat this suggestion as an insult, our politicians, especially those in government at this pressing hour, are advised to seriously consider the people and country as their real concerns, and stop mistaking democracy for governance.

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