“I don’t know if politics makes one dishonest or dishonesty makes one a politician”—Unknown
Pompousness, ostentation, gaudy display of riches, bloated egos, vanity and false expressions are what makes human beings artificial in all respects. Conversely, humility with all its features raises a person from ordinary to special but when it interacts with those who are blessed with wealth and power it converts them into extraordinary people—real people who are respected by one and all. These can easily be found in the common population in the form of modest professionals, traders, teachers, friends and relatives but they are most rarely seen when it comes to power and politics. Once those who have pretentious leanings achieve a high position they become susceptible to enjoying the splendours that accompany high offices and are quick to grab preferential opportunities denied to the common folk.
Consequently we see monarchs, presidents, prime ministers and even their surrounding courtiers taking full advantage of protocols, privileges and facilities. In fact, many look forward to and boast about accessibility to things that are unimaginable for ordinary citizens. While some may envy this disposition, many would just ignore this as something usual for such high statures meaning thereby that over time people have learnt to accept these customs as standard norms. They are neither in awe nor do they resent. In other words, they have come to terms with the prevailing state of affairs. If one says that any other form might not be acceptable to them, may not be wrong.
The image of royalty is so fixed in our minds that anything different is seen with unbelievable astonishment. Thus, objects like thrones, crowns, flowing garments, expensive jewellery, coaches, banquets, decent language and overall grandeur are parts of the picture one perceives about kings, queens, princes and princesses. Although these ideas of royalty still persist, yet many popular monarchs of yester years disguised themselves and mixed with the commoners in order to know the pulse of the public about their governance.
Similarly, in the modern democratic world, these features have been replaced to some extent by high security, bullet-proof vehicles, branded clothes and accessories, a know-it-all arrogance, foul language (for opponents of course) and distance from the public especially in the case of the Third World countries which, despite being poor and dependent upon international donor agencies for running their economies, have rulers that defy the richer countries’ leaders in their lifestyles and conceit. But the most surprising thing is that they continue to elect them in office only to grumble about their policies and their governance including their plastic artificiality showing concern about people’s miseries but acting against their interests especially those of the down-trodden who they rate as least significant and hold lowest on their priority list.
Where the humility of developed nations’ rulers is enviously looked upon with awe by the developing countries’ people, ostentation displayed by their own is now creating disgruntlement as the recent political turmoil in Pakistan has shown. There appears to be a political awakening but is still in its teething stage as earlier voting trends were towards personal gratification, exercising power, religious exploitation, false promises, slogan-mongering, regionalism, and worse of all, family kinships—in utter disregard for character and competence.
Politicians get drawn out of a system that favours the rich and mighty who aspire to secure power in order to safe-guard their vital interests. People who have no stakes are hardly inclined to join politics and even if they do, they lack the requisite support of masses to earn a nominal victory what to talk of a sweeping one. Presently there is no system in place to educate voters inculcating in them an understanding of their national responsibility to cast their votes intelligently, consciously, without fear or favour and listening to their conscience rather than be overwhelmed with prejudices that prevents them from seeing reality. As it is, there is very poor general awareness in the public because while the current education system may make them literate, it fails to develop consciousness.
Under these circumstances, electronic media can play a pivotal role in grooming the nation by introducing programmes which can enable the public to distinguish between truth and fiction. Scholars and writers having the ability to talk and to portray serious messages through plays, skits and light-hearted comedy should be engaged to help voters get a clear picture of the type of politicians they would like to elect. Campaigns could be initiated about clean, fair, balanced, ethical politics geared towards the voters, not politicians, so that they can decide who among them is best suited for the job. Debates between prospective candidates can be highly informative about their policies and mindset. Voters need to know that dishonesty acts as a disguise for reality. Affected mannerism does not sustain for long and when the actors’ real face is unveiled it totally discolours their image. Being real is being human.
These are some of the ways in which voters’ training can be made possible but would the media, the twenty first century public mentor, take on this responsibility, is the million dollar question.
Why? Because the media also harps the tune of the ones feeding them who are obviously endowed with wealth and power, so why would they give air time to penniless politicians? They too have a lot to capitalise from by having favourable people in power. The present divide in media groups amply points towards this tendency. Whereas one side highlights weaknesses, the other talks about strengths that automatically imbibe biases giving birth to like-minded groups of voters who go to polls wearing coloured spectacles.
For the Pakistani voters the forthcoming elections is a great opportunity to set aside their pride and prejudice and honestly vote for those who have the requisite competence to steer the country out of its multiple crises and help the people of this great country restore their self-respect. Unless this is done, there can be no end to the miseries suffered by the masses, particularly the helpless and the needy.
The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), member Advisory Board and Senior Visiting Fellow of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE)