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Saeed Minhas-Rich man’s election, poor man’s farce

Saeed Minhas-Rich man’s election, poor man’s farce

Scores of conspiracy theories are currently making the rounds prior to the elections because, historically, politics has remained a hallmark of the oligarchy and slogans of change are generally raised by the same people to ensure that a system convenient to them remains intact. 
That is what a hari sitting in the Katcha area of Sindh is thinking and that is what a majority of peasants, labourers, villagers, young people and even housewives told me when I was transiting through cities, towns, and villages from Khyber to Gawadar in recent weeks. Elections are in the air but only in urban or, at the most, in semi urban areas. 
Despite all my efforts, I could not get the feel of it in most parts of Sindh, southern Punjab, Balochistan and even in certain parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and FATA where gloom persists among large swathes of people who don’t see these elections as any different from previous ones. ‘It’s just another effort at changing the faces but not the system,’ was a voice that resonated across Pakistan. If imams have transferred the political baton to their next generation in Southern Punjab, it is the same with the Mehar or Sherazi or even with the Bhutto in Sindh. 
Orakzai or Afridi continue to swell in KP and FATA, and in Balochistan the nawabs and sardars are holding on to their respective fortresses. ‘The objective remains the same for all of them’, commented one young Baloch in Khuzdar, ‘to muzzle the real voices and guzzle the state’.  This young man was seriously contemplating joining an armed group because that is the only way he believes is left for him to earn a living for his family of ten people. The return of the old guard, the announcement of manifestos, alliances or court marriages of convenience amongst various political groups, and even the “big bangs” of our judiciary and the caretaker governments barely matter to this young man or to anyone in a these parts.
Yet they agree that they are the ones who have to sit in political gatherings of the wadera, the sardar, the malik, the nawab and so on. ‘This is just an opportunity for us to earn some money since they pay us to be there, either in cash or in kind. They protect us from local police or their own militias throughout the year,’ said one man, explaining the logic of these forgotten masses who are only called upon like numbers at the time of elections. 
But does that mean that they are the disenfranchised part of our population? Quite the contrary. Their votes are not cast on information, ideology or manifestos but for their survival. A majority of people - men and women - don’t even know how to cast their vote because all they know is that they get a black mark on the thumb and receive a paper from the polling staff. They never stamp it; never know what is written on it, what various pictures on the ballot papers represent. ‘I have cast my vote in every single election since the 1970s, but not once did I know who I am voting for because either the wadera or his gunman accompanied me and he took over my role,’ remarked an aged hari in Sukkur. ‘All I cared for was the 50 Rupees I got for it in the last elections. It used to be 5 Rupees back in the 1970s,’ he added. 
Does this mean that people vote irresponsibly? I don’t think so. When a state fails to act independently and responsibly and it seems quite clear that there are other actors and factors running the affairs of state, especially the armed institutions, people tend to become skeptical of elections. And no one is fooled by the media that supports different power lobbies and helps maintain the status quo.
In contrast, one can feel the change in attitudes, approaches and even voices when we approach urban and semi urban areas across the country. The reason is not only the active media but also levels of literacy where urbanites can differentiate between the opinion and agenda setting of the media. They can see how transparent is the transfer of power at the federal and provincial levels and how open-ended the Election Commission of Pakistan has remained throughout this process. 
The difference education makes in creating a responsible citizen and even a knowledgeable voter is quite visible in these areas. I heard angry remarks against Returning Officers who put obnoxious questions to the contesting candidates. ‘These Returning Officers have started behaving like they were the Chief Justice of Pakistan instead of carrying out their obligation of scrutinising data presented by contesting candidates,’ said a man in a group I met at a local dhaba or  tea stall in one city. But then it makes one wonder: is democracy really meant for us?  We have seen nothing but monarchies, autocracies and even delusional leadership. We have seen a majority of alternatives crumbling and shaking just because they were not inclusive, responsive or accountable to the people. So should we continue to bear these oligarchs and seek solace in pointing fingers at imperialist powers that chose our rulers for us? To my mind, this way of thinking is an escape from reality and responsibility. 
While sitting in Islamabad, Lahore or Karachi it is very easy to devise a theory or even dozens of them, by talking to the same opinion leaders, agenda setters, spin doctors and what not. But by sitting on a dirt road under a village tree and assessing the role of the state with people of the area, one can understand things far more clearly and also see some clear solutions. It is not that our bureaucrats, judges and politicians don’t belong to this part of the country. Many of them have risen to prominence from the same dirt roads but, instead of feeling for the vulnerable people they once belonged to, they chose to forget them and focus instead on amassing fortunes that would distance them from the poor.
 One thing which amazes me when I meet people from remote, rural areas is that wisdom has nothing to do with education. I have met people in isolated desert villages where even the poorest of the poor possess wisdom which can outclass our know-all anchors, foreign educated analysts, retired bureaucrats or even retired generals and judges. It is not that the people of this country don’t know what is best for them and what they need, but the rulers and aspiring rulers who do not have the democratic spirit in them to accept this. We have often heard talk about democracy being a system of the people, by the people and for the people, but have we ever seen it in practice here? Is there any respect for the people politicians claim to represent?  
We have heard many claims of “Pakistan First” or “Naya Pakistan”, “Roti, Kapra aur Makan” or “Khadam-e-Aala” and what not. But is anyone listening to the voice of the people? And then is this voice being represented in their manifestos? It is not the majority of the people of Pakistan who behave irresponsibly or undemocratically but the few who monopolise the power to represent them. It is time those contending to rule the country became more responsible and respectful of the people who bring them to power.
The writer is resident editor 
at the spokesman

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