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Widening schism between elite and public

Why people come out on roads to protest against the system?

Widening schism between elite and public

People ‘come on roads if the (political) system is in danger in other countries,’ observed Senate Chairman, Mian Raza Rabbani, while addressing the Sindhi Literature Festival in Karachi on October 28, 2017. He called upon the civil society to stand against unconstitutional measures to keep the country on the right track.

Resort to unconstitutional measures tantamount to corrupt practices and one must, therefore, condemn and oppose these vehemently. But, at the same time, one must grab this opportunity to remind the country’s elite that people come out on the roads to protect only those systems that are geared towards serving them and whose continuity, they believe, was in their supreme interest. But, in Pakistan democracy has been intermittently hijacked by power-hungry individuals, and it has mostly remained in the clutches of the self-serving elite. Using the label of democracy, the vested interests have remained entrenched in power, ruling sans service to the people.

It may be noted that citizens hold only those democracies dear to them where there is no lordship but service to the nation. President Tayyip Erdogan underlined this hard fact of life — rather universal truth — in a message to the Turkish nation on his country’s recent national day. Guided by this motto, Erdogan has been able to turn Turkey, once the ‘Sick man of Europe’ into an emerging leader of the world. The Turkish nation’s courage and determination to support Erdogan’s administration, foiling a coup attempt on July 15, 2016, indicates that the people of Turkey value the role of the present political dispensation in steering Turkey towards development and prosperity.

Ideally speaking, democracy is about the people and not the upper realm of power or aristocracy. It is about civic engagement and accountability of the corrupt, which is more stringent for the people at the top. But, in Pakistan, the elite, by and large, remains engaged in a game of accumulating wealth by means fair or foul, or increasing their clout, perks and privileges, or safeguarding their family estates.

However, people adore only those leaders who work for ameliorating the lot of the masses and endeavour to maintain harmonious relations between various segments of the society. If one gleans the pages of history, one notices that this has remained a remarkable trait of mankind. Those leaders who could achieve this objective are remembered by the posterity as wise, enlightened and successful rulers. For instance, according to H. G. Rawlinson, author of book Great Men of India, Maharaja Asoka (273-232 BC) “ruled, not by fear but by love…Asoka was one of the wisest and noblest rulers not only of India, but in the history of the world.”

Asoka used his officers as a bridge (vital link) between him and his subjects, advising officers, “it was for you to do your part and to make the people trust me, and realise that the king is even as a father unto us. He loves us as himself. We are to him as his own children!” He had set-up a network to receive reports about the law and order situation in his kingdom, working of the State minions, plight of his subjects and their reaction to his policies on a daily and constant basis. Mindful about the concerns of his subjects, Asoka would plan and execute projects to improve their lot. Carvings on a rock near Mansehra reveal that Asoka would not even feel shy to admit shortcomings in his governance.

Conceding “for a long time past, neither business was being disposed of promptly nor minute-to-minute reports were being received regularly,” Asoka assured his subjects: “This laxity would cease. In future, the King would be accessible for business at all hours of the day or night. Work must be for the public benefit… And many more positive steps have been taken. Healing herbs, useful for men and beasts, have been imported. Trees have been planted and wells dug by the road-sides. Moral Agents/Censors of the Law of Piety have been appointed for inculcating obedience and a spirit of sympathy for each other among the subjects and for avoidance of excess among all classes of the Empire. Even the neighbouring countries shall benefit from this. But, all this good will be combined with efficiency.”

The Muslim rulers of the Indian Sub-Continent had appointed Waqa-i-Nawees (scribes) to keep themselves informed about the day-today affairs and general situation prevailing in their vast empire as well as the conduct of State minions. In his famous book Aain-i-Akbari, Abu al-Fadal writes that the system of Waqa-i-Nawees existed in India even before the arrival of the Mughals, but Emperor Akbar the Great (1558-1605) recognised its lofty objectives and perfected it. The daily feedback prepared by the PR officials of the present era is the improved form of reports sent by those scribes to the rulers.

Pointing out causes for the downfall of the Mughal rule in India, in his book Asbaab-e-Baghawat-e-Hind, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan says that the scribes had become corrupt and their reports misleading; while the later period monarchs also did not care to read the reports sent by these official correspondents.

Founder of the Persian Empire, Cyrus the Great (576-530BC), is credited to have issued “the first human rights charter in history.” At the pinnacle of his power, Cyrus proclaimed: “He would not rein over people if they did not wish it.”

The Holy Prophet of Islam (PBUH), his Caliphs and companions has set golden traditions of public weal and welfare. The Holy Prophet (PBUH) would ask his Companions to convey to him the needs of those who could not convey them in person, saying “whosoever conveys them, God would establish and strengthen him on the Resurrection Day…” The personality of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and his behaviour/dealings with various segments of the public, both Muslims and non-Muslims, are the best examples of developing and fostering human relations, changing their orientation and motivating them to strive for achieving the loftier goals in life. Those people, some of whom were completely devoid of passion before their conversion to Islam, became not only ardent believers and staunch followers of the new faith but also persons captivated by extreme love for the Holy Prophet (PBUH), ever ready to make any sacrifice on his command and considering no sacrifice too great or supreme while following his dictates.

The second rightful caliph of Islam, Hazrat Umar, had appointed correspondents and reporters throughout the areas under Muslim rule. These scribes sent to the Caliph detailed reports regularly on each and every department and walk of life. Through this system of feedback, the Caliph remained abreast of every happening, and its complete details, throughout the Muslim world.

The fourth Caliph of Islam, Hazrat Ali, is on record as having advised, through an epistle, the governor of Egypt Malik Ashtar to “meet the oppressed and the lowly periodically in an open conference…having heart-to-heart talk with them, and let none from your armed guards or civil officers or members of the Police or the Intelligence Department be by your side so that the representative of the poor might state their grievances fearlessly and without reserve… Accept the recommendations made by your officers for the redress of the grievances of the clerical staff. See to it that petitions or applications submitted for your consideration are brought to your notice the very day they are submitted, however much your officers might try to prevent this. Dispose of the day’s work that very day, for the coming day will bring with it its own tasks.”

This shows that throughout the human history, benign rulers assigned great importance to the welfare and well-being of their subjects. This proves that without service to the subjects, no ruler can win over the people or muster their support for his rule.

Experience tells that in Pakistan, unfortunately, after winning elections, most of the politicians start behaving as if they were a breed different from the rest, much superior to the ordinary folks. Some members of the country’s top bureaucracy also harbour similar notions. Resultantly, there develops a schism between the elite and the public.

People believe that the politicians remain in the race merely to safeguard or further their family interests or accumulate more wealth. Unless the system was geared to provide equal opportunities to all citizens, irrespective of their colour, creed or class, nobody should even remotely think that the people would come on the roads to protect a system that tilts grossly towards the elite.


Alauddin Masood

alauddin masood
The writer is a freelance columnist based at Islamabad. He can be reached at [email protected]

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