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Patronage with impudence

Yaran da yar — a symptom of social pathology

Patronage with impudence

Corruption is a mantra chanted like chorus to condemn the party in power by political dissidents. In fact, both words ‘corrupt’ and ‘corruption’ have become an inalienable part of our political lexicon. Ironical as it may seem, its deployment is confined only to politics and politicians. The ‘corrupt’ and ‘politician’ have virtually become synonymous.

However, dig it socially and the bane of corruption has permeated to the very core of our social fabric. In simple terms, certain notions and practices have attained social acceptability in Pakistan that undercut probity, fair dealing and meritocracy. Do we consider them a variant of corruption is a question that is unasked and unexplored. How these notions and practices reflect on our social behaviour, notions and practices has not been thoroughly investigated either.

Lamentably, the social analysis of its alarming spread is starkly missing from our general discourse. Underdeveloped discipline(s) of sociology/socio-anthropology are partly responsible for that omission. One such notion that is hailed as a great symbol of masculinity and prestige, and is also the central theme of today’s column, is yaran da yar or yaron ka yar in Urdu (that literally translates as “a friend of friends”). It’s undoubtedly an anathema for Pakistani state as well as society.

This social affliction has its roots in antiquity. The British perfected the art of political patronage. They hit over that strategy to govern a sprawling area, inhabited by indigenous people.

Designating somebody as yaran da yar is a big complement. Asif Ali Zardari is widely believed to be a yaran da yar. In that social capacity, he may have surpassed any limits, largely because of his familial background that is steeped in feudal values. Despite taking to business (that requires a different set of ethical rules), he is believed to relish lording over others.

Sharifs, on the other hand, accept nothing less than an absolute obsequiousness. If they are sure about somebody’s loyalty, they tend to open the floodgates of unlimited favours for him or her. They operate like owners of the business firm in which all ‘rights’ are theirs whereas others have nothing but obligations, which they must perform diligently and with utmost loyalty. In either case, anyone exercising even a semblance of freedom or attempting them to instruct them any lesson in legality of anything tends to invite their

Thus, to accommodate a friend, going to any length is deemed valid. That is a social malaise that has gone pathological. Obviously, helping out a friend in need through fair means is an act of benevolence and must be applauded. Extending help to a friend in building his capacity, so that he becomes a better professional, is of course a worthy cause. While doing so, one must observe rules, legal formalities and moral scruples. But what is evident in our social formation is something quite the opposite. Rules are flouted and regulations are blithely bent to favour a friend.

True yaran da yar has no regard for merit, rules and regulations, observing which betray a meekness of sorts. Brave is one who cares a hoot for rules while facilitating a friend. That is the mindset which has rendered the whole system of our governance hollow.

I call those as yaran da yar who tend to oblige their friends by misusing their public office. The public office or the institution (in many cases) are run as personal fiefdoms where patronage is extended to some at the expense of the rest. In these fiefdoms, personal favouritism is what holds the key. Thus the biggest merit for any one aspiring for a job in a public sector organisation is not his capability or competence but a personal reference. That practice, unfortunately is followed with impunity in most of these organisations. I personally came across several individuals with foreign degree from reputable institutions having been turned away just because they did not have that ‘personal reference’ from some yaran da yar.

In the lines above, I have made an allusion to ‘patronage’ extended usually to tail-wagging protégé that needs to be treated diachronically. To my reckoning, extending patronage to the loyalist and the typical mindset signifying yaran da yar have umbilical connection. Both significations are remnants of feudalism, which although has markedly weakened over the years, some of its characteristics are squarely entrenched and conspicuously visible. The feudal in his fiefdom feels no obligation towards anybody except the ones he takes fancy to or whose unflinching loyalty he is sure of. He is not bound by any law, constitution or regulatory framework.

This social affliction has its roots in antiquity. However, the British perfected the art of political patronage particularly in the Punjab and Sindh. They hit over that strategy in order to govern a sprawling area, inhabited by large number of indigenous people. Therefore, they thought of exercising the option of political patronage by allotting chunks of land to their allies who had demonstrated absolute loyalty. Many of them were rewarded with lucrative jobs like Extra-Assistant Commissioners or Honorary Magistrates.

We inherited their lingering legacy and failed to produce any alternative to that abominable practice (of political patronage) which blatantly defies merit and rule of law. The most woeful aspect of such a social structure is the deep-seated and immutable hierarchy that anchors it. Given the rigidity in the structural layout, social mobility does not happen. Thus, social evolution gets stunted. Class difference expands exponentially. Thereby rich sections become richer and poor people do not have any respite.

The only way to unravel this dispensation is introduction of equal opportunity for all and supremacy of law. Unfortunately, one does not see all this happening in this country. Only those will thrive who have yaran da yar who can contravene law and regulatory framework with utmost impudence.

Tahir Kamran

tahir kamran
The author is a historian and teacher based in Lahore.

One comment

  • A very perceptive column. This indeed is a bane to institutional development.

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