“How can we live, without our lives?” -John Steinbeck: The Grapes of Wrath
I have borrowed the title of this column from a recent article by Uttam Sengupta, Consulting Editor of the National Herald, India. It is fascinating to understand why Sengupta has symbolically compared Lalu Yadav, a popular Indian politician, to King Lear.
King Lear is William Shakespeare’s 1605/06 play set in England. The King wants to retire from duty as king, and decides to divide his kingdom among his three daughters, but the biggest share to the one who loves him most. The two older daughters flatter the king, but the youngest doesn’t know how to express her love. So, the king gives the flatterers half the kingdom each, and in anger disowns the younger daughter. In due course, the king goes mad because of the mistreatment he receives from his two elder daughters, and finally dies of sadness and depression.
Lalu Yadav’s eldest daughter is a member of the Rajya Sabha, the Upper House of the Indian Parliament, and two of his sons are legislators in Bihar. Lalu Yadav, himself, is in jail now, sentenced by an anti-corruption court on corruption charges. What will become of Lalu Yadav in the end is the drop scene of this real-life play – one can only guess.
Coming back to Uttam Sengupta’s unique perspective on contemporary politics, he writes: “The glee with which urban, middle-class India greeted the conviction of Lalu Yadav, a former Chief Minister of the Indian State of Bihar, in the fodder scam comes as no surprise. In a country where convictions of the rich and powerful are few, the conviction of a powerful leader like Lalu is cathartic. It sends out the message that there is rule of law, that ‘be you ever so high, the law is always above you.’ It reinforces the impression that justice has been done and that for once, a corrupt politician in a land full of corrupt politicians has got his comeuppance.”
Common folks and some honest legislators all over the world are recently rallying against the corruption of vested interest-based leaderships. For example, in South Africa, the ruling party is pressuring President Jacob Zuma to step down so that his deputy, Cyril Ramaposa, can take charge of national affairs management to stamp out corruption and restore investor confidence in the economy. And last Saturday, tens of thousands of Romanians protested against legislation enacted by Parliament to make it harder to prosecute crime and high-level corruption. In Bucharest’s University Square, the protestors shouted: “Thieves, thieves!” and “Resign!”
In the context of contemporary Pakistan, the pertinent question is: Will the common people of this country, the “awam,” the poverty-stricken majority and the middle class horribly hard-pressed by the dismal economic ground realities thereby losing socio-economic status, react with the same glee and gratification of which Sengupta has so authoritatively written about in the case of Lalu Yadav? Will the Pakistani “awam” decisively support and readily accept the consequential outcome of the ongoing process of accountability and the “state auto-correcting” itself, even if it ends up with strict administrative and legal sanctions and judicial convictions against all of the accused national affairs managers, irrespective of their personal loyalties and political affiliations? That is the Big Question. Can the Pakistani “awam” conceptualize the idea that we are “one nation” and the interests of Pakistan, the State, are higher than our own personal loyalties, political affiliations and vested interests? That is what will decide our fate as a nation.
However, before we, as a nation, come to this decisive moment, it is imperative at this point to ascertain what the common folks, the “awam,” want to happen in this country. Is the political leadership going in that direction? Is the present political discourse headed towards that goal? Is there clear, visible, authentic and verifiable evidence to suggest that the “awam’s” expectations will be met by an all-party or particular party leadership?
How many of Pakistan’s ruling elite, fatly paid TV talk show hosts, influential journalists or wealthy media group owners, public policy managers or crafty public-opinion maker “gurus” or “pundits” ever ask the common citizens what they expect of the holy-cow called democracy in this country?
The frightfully deprived masses of this nation would say that they want “quick fix” solutions to their daily problematics. They would say that they want reasonably priced food on their dining tables so that they can feed their children. They would say that they want unadulterated food and medicine and readily accessible health services. They would say that they want electricity in their homes, gas, petrol and transport services available to run their daily lives. They would say that they want to give their children education that is affordable. They would say that they want “justice” dispensed to local communities. They would say that they want honest and God-fearing judicial and police officers to provide safety and solidarity to community life all over the country. They would say that they want healthy communities, clean and beautiful villages and spirited, creative and vivacious urban centers. They would say that they want an end to rampant corruption and social oppression, and they want national emancipation from a traditionally corrupt and dysfunctional political culture and its manifested political-economic structure. They would say that they want to be treated as human-beings and not as “objects” dispensable at the whim of a power-structure that exploits and decimates human spirit.
They would tell you that they want a vibrant nation taking a leadership role in creative arts, technological innovation, scientific development, medical research and human resources development. They would tell you that they want a moral-ethical society and a tolerance for each other with socio-economic equilibrium and respect for human dignity compatible with their social values, faith and cultural heritage. They would tell you that they are a nation of poets, “fakirs,” saints and “qalandars,” and they want their heritage given back to them.
They would tell you that they are tired of political charades conducted on a daily basis by their ruling so-called democratic leadership and the media. They would tell you that they abhor the visibly observable national disintegration and failing national solidarity. They would tell you that they hate the lying, hypocrisy, and double-talk of their elected representatives. They would tell you that they have lost trust in the prevailing system of public representation, and their confidence in existing public representatives is close to “zero.”
They would tell you that they are hopelessly dismayed at the continuing and ever-expanding incompetence, inefficiency and organizational incapability of their national political managers: their non-performance and non-execution in setting appropriate national political-economic and foreign policy discourse to put this nation on a roadmap of gradual and continuing progress, development and self-reliance. They would tell you that they want a change – a virtual transformation of the existing political-economic system and culture into a system compatible with the modern-day needs of a progressive nation.
Indeed, a democracy cannot be wedded to orthodox ideas and worthless doctrines. A democracy ought to be a vibrant, self-correcting, self-adjusting, optimal force of an inherent political organism that determines its own directions of political-economic innovations, systemic changes and overall socio-political transformations on a national scale. It ought to change its foreign policy directions on pragmatic national parameters and regularly adjust its domestic policy planning accordingly.
It needs to be pointed out clearly that the massive poverty at the “awam” level is directly the result of corruption on an immense scale and usurpation of national resources by the political-economic elite, bureaucracy, state institutions and so on.
So, “can we live, without our lives?” That is the question the Pakistani “awam” are asking the entire political leadership of this country.
Who will be King Lear in the 21st century Pakistan? Your guess is as good as mine.