Policy usually comes from the elegant fountain pens of babus and the typewriters of their stenographers
When I was a child, birthday parties for toddlers featured two very simple yet challenging games: ‘musical chairs’ and ‘pass the parcel’. Both games are obviously very apt for political analogy, because the former term has been used by many a budding copywriter in the script for many a TV news bulletin. The latter is not too oft used, but is equally relevant to our current state of governmental indigestion. Only our game of political ‘pass the parcel’ begins with the voter.
Everything comes down to the voter. The nameless, faceless, everyman who decides the fate and the ideological direction of the country for the next five years. In theory at least. It is speculated that voters vote along two distinct lines, party and personality. The political narrative of Pakistan, as it has become shaped over the years, tells us that voters are non-rational beings, voting to secure short-term gains in sacrifice of broader, more sustained growth. Therefore, pundits (mostly foreign) argue that the Pakistan Tabdeeli Institute (PTI for short) can and must sweep the next general elections. Yet the same pundits predict a rout for the PML-N and a valiant-yet-weak-willed return to power for the ruling PPP, based on the opposite assumption i.e., voters who are satisfied/disillusioned with the performance of any particular party will necessarily vote according to their electoral wishes, never mind the trappings of party or person.
Obviously, the way in which the electorate votes determines the way the government is going to form. These votes usually represent a small, yet broad spectrum of the Pakistani mainstream. Hence, populist right-wingers and hardline clerics are seated in the assembly in similar (if not greater) numbers than the left-leaning progressives or the centrists (who are a dying breed anyway). It is this House which shapes policy that makes the wheels of the country go round and round.
Policy drives the engines of government. It is the coal that fuels the big, hungry boiler that is the military; it powers the elephantine bureaucracy; it shapes the face of legislation: past, present and future; and, it is responsible for the well-being of the people of the state i.e., the mandate. These tasks take up most of the government’s time. In the few minutes it has left to dispense with other, more important business – such as the receiving of state guests, the jetting off on tours of foreign countries, the hosting of iftaar-cum-dinner-cum-press-conferences so nighttime TV news has something to show it’s grub and politics-starved viewers – there is usually no time left for their chief function i.e., reviewing, debating and passing (or blocking) the passage of legislation. But this has never stopped any government from trying, nor should it.
Policy, then, comes from the elegant fountain pens of babus and the typewriters of their stenographers, clack-clackity-clacking away in the corridors of power. Whitehall, or the Pakistan Secretariat in Islamabad, is the silent driver slowly but surely driving our Titanic into an iceberg. Only, right at the very end, just when the iceberg is about to hit, the crew of affluent civil ‘servants’ sound the general alarm just in time for everybody to make it out of the ship before tragedy strikes. At least everybody who matters. Those on the lower decks are sucked into the maelstrom and end up becoming statistics published by the Census Bureau or the Bureau of Statistics.
Once a rescue has been mounted and fresh elections held, pretty much the same crew as the one that sunk it the last time board the newly-built vessel of governance. New ministers and parliamentarians mean new guests to ferry into the abyss. There are always a few more mouths to feed below deck, but the scraps from the galley more than quench their needs. Either that or the corrupt, inefficient, brutal and multifarious security agencies that have been hired to maintain the peace below decks, are called upon to do their jobs. And the ship of life sails on, into the iceberg infested waters of the Arctic.
The problem with this hierarchy of responsibility is that change becomes dependent on Whitehall’s willingness to change. Their interests do vary from election to election; but the objective remains the same: to ensure a better lifestyle for themselves and their peers. Everybody else must pay cash. It’s very Sherriff of Nottingham-type stuff.
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