- Until we incentivise education
It is, factually, for the first time that this nation has witnessed how an actual opposition operates. How an opposition is responsible for keeping a check on those in government, how to drag them on the streets when required, how to hold them accountable before state institutions and the whole nation when necessary, and to show how democracy is supposed to function in case we intend to stick to its definition of being of, by and for the people. The whole dharna episode along with periodic jalsas has exposed an indelible tale of corruption as substantiated by manna from heaven, the Panama Papers. But, despite all the awareness that has been created in this regard, can we expect a change? Can we expect people – the heads of which are counted in elections, the number of which is all that matters, the inherent prerogative of which is to cast vote – to utilise this fundamental right the way it should be, i.e. with responsibility?
With my mind always casting aspersions on the credibility of turnout in elections and the vote bank of our leaders, some questions, in particular, never left it: Who votes for those sitting in the government? Who are these people who flood almost every political assemblage – is it because of Pakistan’s ever-increasing population? An important facet of asking questions buds from the fact that we tend to throw doubt on only those dimensions which are known to us; the other side of the moon remains to be hidden and so do the questions related to it. The true answer to these, however, was discovered only lately when I got to interact with one of such people who constitute the actual vote bank. Yes, it does exist in reality and it is not always rigging that wins elections for our rulers.
I was sitting on a sofa in the lounge of my house while the newly-hired maid and her sister were working. A renowned political analyst on a prime-time talk show was discussing the leaked documents that prove the guilt of former premier and his children and had engaged three panelists in the discourse. He also showed footage of Imran Khan addressing a jalsa in which he could be seen bellowing in a frenzied manner and forewarning the public about the cons of electing corrupt rulers. I could not keep myself from expressing my distress over the whole scenario and expressed how disappointed I was in the whole system because, in the end, nothing is going to change. Same faces over the years… Nothing could wipe off our tears…
I was thinking how the next generation has taken over the not-so-feudal political system in Pakistan when I decided to get into a debate with my maid who was then sweeping the floor. “Whom did you vote in 2013?” I asked. “Baji, we went to different gatherings in our village. All politicians gave us food and clothes. But we voted for [the ruling party],” replied her sister. “Why?” was the only word I could think of. “Baji, [his] representative also gave us conveyance on our way back. This gathering was so big and the arrangements so fantastic that the leftovers were distributed among the villagers. And…” She was interrupted by her younger sister, “And the politician gave us suits”. Again I could think of only one word, but this time it was “So?”. “Baji, they have done a lot for us.” And she rambled on how the heights of piles of garbage and lengths of black-topped roads in their village have decreased and increased, respectively.
These confessions made me even more confused. My initial belief gave the masses a major benefit of doubt because of the bubble of ignorance they were allegedly living in. But the pricking of this very bubble was the reason behind all befuddlement. The picture was getting clearer and so were the solutions of all problems.
“Do you realise that you elect these leaders for five years on the basis of your judgment?” I was compelled to ask. She smirked at me while pressing a corner of her dupatta between her lips. “Are you aware that such impulsive and irrational decision encourages these politicians to do uncontrollable corruption?” I threw another one. “Baji, we are not fools. You are demeaning our wisdom. The one who gives better food and clothes than others before elections will definitely give more after getting elected. And we are right. The ruling party has done corruption but has also spent on the people. Don’t you see the web of roads that he spread all over Lahore? Don’t you see the Metro bus?” My reaction was yet another example of impulsiveness because I was refuting her case with rationality. “Do you really need roads when facilities at a time when tertiary care hospitals are too inadequate to accommodate the increasing number of heads? Have you seen the smog you are breathing in nowadays? Don’t you know why it has become first of its kind on the region?” “Baji, this smog is coming from India. It has and will always remain to be our enemy.” I gave up.
But this dialogue made me realise one thing: All heads are not equal therefore all heads should not be counted. Education brings sanity or, in worst case scenario, reduces the chances of insanity that can be expected from a person. Those who insist on keeping didactics separate from elections need to be asked that if the latter is so needless in this regard and if the uneducated can choose their leaders as well as the educated then why do we gauge any society’s progress and development in terms of its literacy rate?
Those who quote other democratic countries not following this trend must realise that in first-world countries, where this system of government mostly prevails, does not keep its youth away from schools. To illustrate, all children in the United States have access to free public schools with compulsory schooling ending by age 16 in most states and the remaining states requiring students to attend school until they are 17 or 18. This age (surprisingly) coincides with the age that qualifies voters in Pakistan. Why to insist on the figure of 18 if education has nothing to do with it? This number has, in fact, a lot to do with it. An average toddler whose parents have enough means to educate him is admitted to a school usually at the age of two or a few months older. This means that by the age of 18 he must have gained 15 (or even 16) years of education, making him a graduate if not a post-graduate. With this comes the surety of witnessing wise decisions that are not based on short-sighted approach or temporary incentives.
Those who say that such system was never meant to be implemented in the Indian subcontinent have failed to turn the pages of history which has the mention of Regulating Act of 1773 and Pitt’s India Act of 1784 that were the first one intending to refurbish the representation of the East India Company in India and that set the qualification of a voter to graduation. If pedagogy was not important in awakening the Muslims of Indian subcontinent then why did Sir Syed Ahmed Khan struggle in establishing core institutions for Muslims that could raise their and their opinion’s worth in the eyes of their colonisers?
Yes, literacy cannot be confused with education, just as wisdom cannot be equated with knowledge, but the latter always tends to lead towards the former. The latter could be held as the very first step which is, after all, better than nothing at all. Therefore, the actual electoral reforms that are required at grass-roots level are all about educating the masses. I agree that there are high chances that the educated lot will bring the same leaders, but evolution takes time and putting democracy on the track sans this reform will prove to be a futile journey. Setting the criterion to matriculation would drop the turnout percentage from above 30 per cent to below 10 per cent but there will come a time when incentivising education in this manner will yield fruits, just like it did in the case of registering women by issuing identity cards to a large faction for the very first time before 2013 elections, and eventually hike up the turnout to above 80 per cent, like in the Indian-occupied territory of Kashmir.
To quote the 11th President of India, Avul Pakir J. Abdul Kalam: “Let us sacrifice our today so that our children can have a better tomorrow.” China did this early on. Developed countries are way past this stage. Let us finally do it before our children are told the same.