How to save democracy



Many of my liberal friends are losing much sleep over the fate of democracy in the country. Personally, I don’t see what the fuss is about; but if saving democracy is indeed such a life-or-death matter (like my friends assure me it is), I believe I have a fool-proof recipe for it.

But let’s look at the scorecard first: Pakistan has had military dictators ruling the roost for slightly less than half of its existence, while the balance is accounted for by what we lovingly refer to as ‘democracy’. The military dictators and their cronies kept getting rich while the masses suffered. The ‘democrats’, disapproving of the arrangement, decided to compete internationally in the stakes of riches, absolutely impoverishing the public. The former arrested judges that didn’t play ball, while the latter took the democratic approach of requesting judges for ‘desirable’ decisions over the telephone, reserving measures like storming the courts only for extreme circumstances. The former held sham elections and referendums, while the latter only ‘managed’ them. The former reduced parliaments and cabinets to little more than rubber-stamps. The latter did the same, although it was for strengthening democracy, of course.

Constitutional amendments and laws were passed just for one man – during military as well as democratic rules. Where the rulers were not corrupt, they proved to be incompetent. Promises were broken with impunity. Favouritism, cronyism and nepotism remained the order of the day. The courts of law remained for the most part beyond the reach of the ordinary man. ‘VIP’ traffic movements and protocols prospered; while education, health, and sanitary conditions worsened steadily – regardless of who was at the helm. Witch hunts were carried out in the name of accountability, during military and democratic set-ups alike.

In short, the democrats did everything except abrogating the constitution – something that was physically not possible. But they did their best to make up for it by converting political parties into family enterprises, the law-enforcement agencies into their personal security force, and civil bureaucracy into a pawn for their personal gains. The rest was achieved by rampant horse-trading. Luck was on their side too: building after building holding records of mega-projects caught fire, destroying all documentation.

There is little to suggest then, that democracy needs to be saved, or any sleep lost over it. My liberal friends claim that democracy would have fared much better had the establishment left it alone to work in peace. This is little more than an admission of the politician’s failure. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Democracy is not a goal in itself: it’s a means to achieve happiness and fulfilment on the part of the masses. If that is not achieved, then there’s little use of the theory behind it, however beautiful. Romanticising democracy or anything else for that matter, at my age, is a tough ask any way. In my charitable moods (which prevail most of the times) I am a neutral. In my nastier moods, I confess to enjoying the spectacle of two aging boxers beating the daylights out of each other.

Apologists for democracy these days are claiming that Nawaz Sharif is the only anti-establishment politician we have – being at the helm of a big party, the only one that matters anyway; while Imran Khan is an establishment pawn who is working against democracy. I don’t believe any of our politicians is pro- or anti-establishment – they are all pro-establishment when in opposition and anti-establishment when in power. Sharif is a changed man who is genuinely anti-establishment and his one goal now is democracy and civilian supremacy, liberals and PML-N enthusiasts keep claiming. I don’t believe anybody ever changes after forty. Besides, expecting good from Sharif requires a level of saintliness which a sinner like me can never dream of attaining.

But I could be wrong of course, and my liberal friends could be right. And if that is so, then saving democracy ought to be a piece of cake. I am stepping in, so to speak, because I am afraid if I don’t, keeping the nation’s learning abilities in mind it is obvious that the next fifty years and more could be ‘critical’ for project democracy.

My solution: Just make Imran Khan the prime minister, and democracy will be safe from all dangers. Being in power, Khan will of course resent any meddling from the establishment (who doesn’t when in power?). Nawaz Sharif, of course, will be anti-establishment even in opposition, and hence democracy will be under no threat from anywhere. If the project of strengthening democracy is above personalities and individuals, then I am sure Sharif and his party will have no objection to the arrangement, will they?

What will I come up with next? Sometimes I frighten myself with my own brilliance.