“Just smile and wave boys. Smile and wave.”
It seems that the politicians who are ‘just like us’ struggle an awful lot trying to get photographed while behaving like ‘regular’ citizens.
In the American context, it involves handling beer. Hillary Clinton beams as she pours herself half a pint of beer from the tap at some random bar, and Barrack Obama raises his mug for the cameras to generate a classic campaign photo that is now a popular internet meme.
In the UK, it’s rather awe-inspiring to be able to gawk at pictures of successful politicians – from David Cameron to Jeremy Corbyn – slumming in the trains like the rest of Her Majesty’s common-blooded subjects.
Why would Pakistani oligarchs deviate from the globally-cherished tradition of humanising the scarcely humane, by having themselves photographed in situations to which our citizens have become dangerously accustomed? These situations include politicians’ ritualistic wading through knee-deep street water following a monsoon flood. It’s worth noting here that Pakistani floods are so predictable; you can almost mark the next one on your calendar (24th July 2018 – “Wear Waterproof Boots”). Yet pretense takes priority over action every time.
At times, you may come across a politician sitting on the floor and eating rice like the general peasantry, whose images are enthusiastically splashed across Pakistani internet spaces; complete with captions lauding the simplicity and approachability of the photographed leader. On other occasions – in what I consider among the most brazen forms of advertisement – you may find self-promoted imagery of pious political leaders, or other celebrities, positioned upon a prayer mat in a moment of sheer solemnity.
The subtext is the same every time. We’re one of you. Here, look at us riding the Metro! And here we are, sitting cross-legged on the floor like all you ordinary plebs! See my kurta shalwar? It’s almost like the kurta shalwar you wear when you head out on a motorcycle to buy rotis from the tandoor! Look, we even get soaked in the rain sometimes!
Yes, for oligarchal leaders who have their fingers on the nation’s pulse 24/7, there appears to be a lot of work involved in appearing ‘normal’.
And there’s a reason the act involves so much effort: they are simply not one of us.
The ruler is not one of the ruled. It may appear so in a democracy, and indeed, many leader brag about their humble beginnings. Narendra Modi’s campaign, for instance, was powered by the tale of his strenuous rise from a chaiwala to Chief Minister of Gujrat, and now the Prime Minister. Supporters of the new mayor of London, sing odes to his lowly origin as the son of a bus driver, as well as his accomplishment of being the first Muslim mayor of London.
President Barrack Obama’s ascent to the ‘White’ House, was cheered all the way to his second-term re-election, as a major victory against racism. Now Hillary Clinton is ‘ready’ to surf the same wave of liberal enthusiasm all the way the Oval Office as the first woman POTUS.
We, the human factions, are expected to take heart at the sight of ‘one of us’ infiltrating the cockpit, and hopefully, steering the plane in a direction that we’d prefer. The man in a Sindhi topi would surely do more for Sindh than the man in a Punjabi turban. And clearly, the leader with the same gender as me, would have more to offer me than the one of another gender.
This rarely happens. The demographic which helps launch a political figure to power, gets an obligatory nod at some point during the rising star’s career. But this nod often means little in the presence of systemic oppression that takes more away from us than it provides.
Democracy – although the finest system of governance that exists – malfunctions in the presence of massive wealth inequality. It allows the elite unparalleled influence over public opinion, which can then be manipulated in favor of the powerful.
The ruler is never one of us. The ruler, as the head of an inherently prejudicial system, does not exist to pay homage to those who share his skin color, ethnicity, religion, or gender. The ruler transforms into an automaton catering to the needs of the most powerful among us, whatever caste or creed that may be.
The status quo is not hinged on the identity of one man or woman in power. And no symbolic social liberal victory may ever be expected to affect the bottom line.