The Dawn: Jan 16, 2015

Punjab Notes: Emergence of new heroes: politician-I

Mushtaq Soofi 

Social belly of the Punjab has undergone a sea change during the last three decades. Older generation here remembers that people preferred to take what it thought was safe and wholesome. Being an ancient society born of a long historical process, it knew to take what it could chew and chewed only what it could digest with a subconscious concern to keep its system clean and functional notwithstanding its lingering primitive instincts. It had no stomach for anything that could upset its social metabolism.

We were a society which was politically less conscious but not directionless, proud of its faith but not intolerant, poor but not disillusioned. It moved with a natural pace expecting to explore the uncharted territories in a gradual manner with no craving for a serendipitous gift.

Things began to change and change rapidly in the wake of brutal dictatorship of Gen Ziaul Haq in 1980s which was supported to the hilt by the politico-religious right and imperialist powers in a climax to the Cold War after the erstwhile Soviet Union’s self-destructive invasion and occupation of Afghanistan.

In order to strengthen his grip over power the dictator tried successfully to crush the resistance put up by the democratic forces with absolute ruthlessness by detaining, flogging, incarcerating and physically eliminating thousands of political workers and leaders. His was literally a reign of terror that smashed anything and everything that stood its way.

The tyranny created a political vacuum. The vacuum being against the law of nature had to be filled and was filled by the dictator with a whole lot of new type of politicians spoon-fed by his henchmen, civvies and khakis. The new entrants hand-picked from the local government bodies who mounted the remote-controlled political stage were altogether a new breed; the partyless politicians.

Fathered by the monolith, they owed irrevocable allegiance to him. For them it was a giant leap forward in their lackluster career and for the dictator it was a fresh brigade of foot-soldiers ready to sacrifice themselves at his political altar. Ideologically laundered and intellectually sanitised, they were heralded into echelons of power not to exercise but to serve the power that in search of a revivalist dream wanted to impose a new politico-religious order of fascistic bearings at the cost of a diverse society, stable and tolerant by virtue of its historical traditions.

Big powers like the USA and its allies not only tolerated the absolute denial of people’s democratic rights but also rationalised it in the name of a sacred war to fight the menace of infidel and undemocratic communism that had shown unmistakable signs of prowling out of its defined and grudgingly accepted boundaries. The free world lorded over by corporate executives with immeasurable fortunes had to be defended against the ‘brutes’ out to abolish the so-called inviolable private property rights.

The Muslim world attached to its faith, ruled by monarchs, dictators and autocrats with medieval mindset had to be saved from coming under the evil influence of an earthly creed; materialistic and atheistic. So a multi-pronged grand strategy was evolved to fight the seemingly advancing enemy with the war slogan of ‘now or never’.

So a political pygmy, fresh from the military incubator, in the robes of a giant, was ceremoniously installed at the domestic politic stage as the leader of the masses. Clownishly novice though he initially appeared to be one of the people in terms of optics. His level of intellect, cultural mannerism and way of dressing and addressing showed his non-aristocratic origins. But soon his master introduced him to secrets of power. To look and behave like an ordinary mortal was not sufficiently enough to be an apparent lynchpin of the ruling machine.

In order to be accepted as a leader he had to be distinct from the led. Being distinct and distant creates an aura of authority. What is a king sans his royal robe and jeweled crown? Symbols of authority make it easier for the people at subconscious level to acquiesce to it. What could be a handier symbol than bank note when the whole country was awash with glittering US Dollar; sent openly to recruit, train and arm the Mujahideen, the holy Muslim warriors in the final battle against the Soviet Union.

The dictator prodded the newly manufactured politician, not secretly, to make money; through political means of course if he wished to replace the traditional politico of democratic leanings who due to his feudal and aristocratic origins was man of resources. A short-cut was devised; the new politician was allocated a certain portion of government’s annual development budget for his area and was given free hand to spend it on the project of his liking. He took his ‘commission’ (kickbacks) as they say in the lingo and the development project was left to the whims of the contractors. The politician amassed millions and millions within years and became richer than his opponents; the democrats who stood battered and bruised. From rags to riches story owes its origins to the institutionalized corruption initiated by the dictatorial regime in 1980s. Look around and you will find this politician, the recipient of the dictator’s largesse, left, right and centre with his fleet of luxury vehicles and army of guards. He has the money; he has the muscle and can get ‘things done’. How this new hero gets things done, doable and undoable, is what awes the people who hate him and look up to him. —

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