Archive for the ‘Democracy’ Category

Health and sports go hand in hand. What makes us so proud as a nation is our indulgence in games traditionally. Talking of traditional games, we have come a long way from historical bouts like kabbadi and gulli danda in our backyards giving in to modern versions. Nevertheless, tug of war (during these days of war) remains very much in vogue and continues to dominate our domestic and international playing fields.

Game playing is so popular in our environment that everyone loves to play games indeed. An art we have mastered to perfection over the sixty odd years. A nudge here, a push there, a bit of pulling and tugging at the right strings and bingo! There you go. Right to the very top at the helm!

Speaking in collective terms, there has always been a mention of a national game. Just like our identity, an entity that faded and fizzled into obscurity many moons ago. However, when probed ferociously, the evidence of its one time existence still figures somewhere in the annuls of history. Before it was all upstaged by the glamour and match fixing miracle of cricket, the game once played with sticks and a ball was called hockey. Not surprisingly, it met the same fate that it deserved much like squash and the glorious Mughal era. To put it simply, the game died its own death.  

Advent of democracy harboured a fresh lot of popular games in our playgrounds. Being a sportsman himself and a plump and healthy one too, a former prime minister introduced one of the most spectacular games of the current era. It involves direct or indirect trading of one of the exclusive species found in our legislative bodies adorably recognized as a horse. Some, however, insist that they are downright asses. Although there is no consensus but the assertion cannot be dismissed mildly.

Reverting to our discussion, the game was introduced at the healthy environs of Changa Manga. For convenience and security, the venue was later shifted to the palaces of Raiwind. But not before, benefiting from its popularity, the game was duly appreciated and patronized by the arch rivals during the no confidence motion against the then prime minister. Thus, serving such wide range of common interests, thanks to the auspicious democratic galore, the sport flourishes and nurtures to this day.

While some games have lost their luster and have been swallowed by merciless currents of time, there have been others that have just begun to ride the crest of a popular tide. It would be outright insulting with malafide intent not to mention an upcoming sport having a sweeping global appeal on the occasion. Its mesmerising simplicity and freaking spontaneity earned it a blind and loyal following from US to UK to Pakistan overnight, not to mention the heaps of praise.

Perched high on the charts, the sport is commonly recognized as shoe hurling. Talking of rules, there are hardly any rules known. The only rule that prevails is to target those who flaunt the rule of law.

To acquaint you with the mechanics of the popular game here is a glimpse. The level playing field comprises a highly well guarded security cordon encompassing our prized victim and high value target. Somehow, our gallant player manages to sneak in and advances within the striking  distance. Emotionally charged, he (yes I am resorting to gender discrimination for  the sport has featured just the valiant male volunteers so far) unlaces his shoe, picks it up deftly and hurls it upon our man just like a baseball ball all in one go. Our awe stricken president, current or former, being at obvious disadvantage for not holding a club or wearing a helmet for that matter has to duck or twist to dodge the face seeking projectile. Unfortunately, there are no miss and run options nor is there any second chance. Soon the striker is carried away by the authorities and the game is over.

With the kind of craze and awe the game is inspiring worldwide; it doesn’t take an Einstein to predict the prospective future of the sport. While the targets have been smart and reflexive ensuring a zero success rate, the world eagerly awaits the victorious moment when the first exclusive scalp is acclaimed.  

My personal take is chances are much brighter if the weaponry constitutes rotten eggs and tomatoes instead of a heavy shoe. What do you say!?

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With all due apology to late BB, whose soul rests peacefully as I safely assume, what follows is a remark that erupted on one of the pages of “The Express Tribune.”

Just reprinting my comment that ensued during a course of a discussion upon democracy, theocracy and blasphemy.

“We have to accept the ground realities and must take into account the dominant socio-political factors typically pertinent to our environment before going all out for a buzz or a slogan.

The fact remains that we are living in a society where the religion cannot be separated from the state. If the recent spate of events still cast any doubt in the minds, I am surprised!

From our experiences we have learnt, over and over again, that owing to sensitivity, there are subjects and topics that cannot even be brought up for discussion or debate. What’s the point in blindly following the tenets of western democracy if that cannot be applied to Pakistan in spirit?

We are still debating on the Jinnah’s perception of Pakistan and the (so called) ideology of Pakistan and whether or not it revolves around Islam?

I know democracy has never been allowed to take roots. Lets not talk about the effects or the results but lets just touch the basics. How far has it challenged the status quo or the exploitation upon which our entire social structure is built and weaved? In what way has it harmed the interests of the vicious circle comprising the feudal, elites, industrialists and religious/sectarian elements or loosened their grip on the system? Has it contributed anything in reducing the communal tension, sheer divide, polarity and fissures and stratification in a highly class ridden society?

If not, how do I believe that it is the best form of governance!?

Unless we are able to revolutionize our education sector and evolve a strong middle class as a result, we cannot expect much of a change. And how are we going to bring that about_ that’s a gross challenge!?”

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A splendid piece of writing!

The book is gripping right from the word go. Laced with relentless scintillating humour and satire, Aravind Adiga pierces through the glossy crust and scum of democratic and shining India with ruthless impartiality and lethal audacity to bring to light the rotten core and bitter facade of an ailing third world society threadbare. The filth and garbage, sewage and waste, poverty and hunger, grime and smoke, corruption and pretence coupled with the irony of conventional belief systems and gods that engulf a typical third world nation have been emphatically unveiled. In a nutshell, a place where a water buffalo being productive ‘member’ of a family is far more valuable then a liability of an unwanted feeding mouth.

The story revolves around and covers the shrewd but cunning journey and transition of a downtrodden rural child to a successful entrepreneur from Munna to Balram Halwai and ultimately to Ashok Sharma.

During the course of this discovery and narrative, the author exposes what the democracy brings to and how is it interpretated by a common living man in India _ The contradictions that suffuse every pore of a class ridden and stratified social structure that lend all the inertia against any prospective change. Not just the gulf that divides the society in various castes and segments but the multiple religious, belief systems and creed silos that are prevalent.

Drawing an indirect comparison and alluding to it, on more than one occasion, the writer blames parliamentary democracy as a principal determinant that forces India to lag behind China. At the same time the mockery of socialist forces and Communist China are evident. He sees the parliamentary democracy system and the nexus that it invariably develops between the elite, feudals, landlords and the politicians and the police as the vice and protective barrier that shields and guards the status quo. As he goes


I am not a politician or a parliamentarian. Not one of those extraordinary men who can kill and move on, as if nothing had happened. It took me four weeks in Bangalore to calm my nerves.”


”I gather you yellow skinned men, despite your triumphs in sewage, drinking water, and Olympic gold medals, still don’t have democracy. Some politician on the radio was saying that’s why we Indians are going to beat you: we may not have sewage, drinking water, and Olympic gold medals, but we do have democracy.

If I were making a country, I’d get the sewage pipes first then the democracy, then I’d go about giving pamphlets and statues of Gandhi to other people, but what do I know? I’m just a murderer!”

While the line that hits the nail on the head follows

….parliamentary democracy, Father. We will never catch up with China for this single reason.”

The scribe uses an interesting analogy of the Rooster Coop to describe the element of the servitude and dichotomy of the system that divides the society into the elites and the masses. He compares a common man to a rooster who is being knocked around in a cramped space jostling and pecking for his survival in all that shit and stench. Watching his mates being slaughtered and their blood and innards lying here and there, he knows exactly what is in store for him but still does not rise to rebellion to question his ultimate fate. The following passage highlites the phenomenon thereby:

”A handful of men in this country have trained the remaining 99.9 percent – as strong, as talented, as intelligent in every way – to exist in perpetual servitude; a servitude so strong that you can put the key of his emancipation in a man’s hands and he will throw it back at you with a curse”

But not our white tiger, Balram Halwai. On the contrary, he accepts the key gratefully from his tender hearted master Ashok Sharma to mask his identity. As does his role model the bus conductor Vijay, who coming from a family of pig herds, illiterate and low caste, instinctively knows how to carve his way right to the top into the power echelons.
America returned Ashok is a misfit in the society. He cannot reconcile and come to terms with prevailing moral values, sprawling exploitation and filthy corruption that is rampant. Ashok finds himself at odds with the system. But relishing the intrinsic luxury of being a born landlord, that he is naturally entitled to, he prefers India as a living place. Oscillating between the rigid demands of his role in his family and social setup and the voice of his conscious, he is recognized as a weak link and a soft target by the observant and probing Balram standing on the far side of the abyss. Thus he is earmarked as a victim to unleash the simmering rage and angst, brewing for years, amidst all the communal tension and class disparity. Recognizing the possibility as perhaps his only opportunity to liberation and escape from the entrapment and rut that he is destined for, he murders his master and adopts his identity and makes away with a large sum of bribe money that was supposed to be paid to settle a case of tax evasion. The quantum leap lands Balram in the world of opportunity and entrepreneurship far from the grip and jaws of the vicious circle that had swallowed him for years. Nevertheless, there is a heavy price to be paid; A reality that is not lost on Balram turned Ashok. He knows what his family must’ve been through and chances of anyone’s survival even in the extended family are far-fetched.

While the story illuminates the stark and bare bone realities, nearly every heave and furrow along the contours of an ailing and diseased social setup, that is fast assuming the form of a dead corpse_ A fact predominantly true for most developing and underdeveloped economies across the global spectrum, there is a typical philosophical perspective to the whole episode. And that is…..

”Mr. Premier, I won’t be saying anything new if anything I say that the history of the world is the history of a ten-thousand-year war of brains between the rich and the poor. Each side is eternally trying to hoodwink the other side: and it has been this way since the start of time. The poor win a few battles (the peeing in the potted plants, the kicking of the pet dogs, etc.) but of course the rich have won the war for ten thousand years. That’s why, one day, some wise men, out of compassion for the poor, left them signs and symbols in poems, which appear to be about roses and pretty girls and things like that, but when understood correctly spill out secrets that allow the poorest man on earth to conclude the ten-thousand-year old brain-war on terms favourable to himself. Now, the four greatest of these wise poets were Rumi, Iqbal, Mirza Ghalib, and another fellow whose name I was told but have forgotten.”

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A twenty six years old young computer science graduate roams about in hunt of employment. There are no job openings and the inflation is sky rocketing. The young man is forced to sell fruits and vegetables in the streets to make his both ends meet. He doesn’t have the licence and one fine day the police intervenes and confiscates his cart. The young man is incensed and sets himself on fire. Sounds familiar?

This is not Pakistan. But this may well be Pakistan……!

There are obvious parallels to be drawn from the circumstances leading to revolt in Tunisia. Corruption, nepotism and unemployment were rampant. The society was said to be virtually divided in two classes. First, the elites and a closely knitted network and clan of top brass comprising relatives of the president or first lady (second lady in case of his second wife) having complete control over and exploiting the national resources and second the rest of the exploited nation.  Credibility of the government had virtually ceased. Food inflation had soared to the point of intolerance.

The violent sensation and overwhelming reaction sparked by the incident triggered everything ablaze. Masses took to the streets and brought the government to the knees within a matter of days. Head of the state who was elected by a landslide majority of almost 90% votes only a couple of years ago had to flee and seek refuge in Saudi Arabia to escape the wrath of the nation.

The vibes and tremors have been felt in the region. A ripple effect has been created that transcends nationalities and geographical boundaries inducing a chain reaction. People have set themselves ablaze attempting self immolation in Egypt, Algeria and Mauritania sending clear signals to the respective regimes. There has even been reported demonstration in prosperous and growth oriented Oman.

The emerging pattern potentially signifies a brewing unrest and upheaval against the totalitarian and autocratic, in some cases dynastic, regimes that have been imposed and linger on as a tradition. Whether the waves of change that have been triggered and initiated shake the foundations of these rules is anybody’s guess!?

University of Michigan History Professor Juan Cole in his interview with Amy Goodman on ‘Democracy Now’ describes the development as the first popular revolution since 1979’s Islamic revolution in Iran. Nevertheless, it varies widely in nature and dimensions. Juan Cole terms it a populist revolution spearheaded by labour movements, internet activists and rural workers. It has a tendency to evolve as a democratic movement much to the resentment and galvanization of Arab regimes having minimal entrenchment and roots in the populace where societies are marred by limited employment opportunities and economic stagnation. Ironically, a concern that is even shared by their worst adversary, Israel as any prospective development leading to more democratic formations in the region does not augur well for Israel.

Shibli Telhami, Professor for Peace and Development, University of Maryland interprets the revolution in a different light. According to him what is unique about this uprising is not just that it is the first one in the Arab world but also that it happens without any leadership. Apparently, it is inspired by a new empowerment and mobilization medium i.e the Internet, twitter and information revolution. As per Shibley, what we witness is possibly a delayed impact of the information revolution.

Uncharacteristic of Arab behaviour though, what has been surprising is the flurry of events and toppling of government in such a short span of time. While the rest of the Arab world may well resonate as the spillover effect is created lending greater impetus to the movement, the implications are far reaching. Poverty, hunger, disease and deprivation are prevalent in third world countries. People are resorting to extremes like suicides, killings and extortion in countries like Pakistan. Spiraling inflation, poor standard and quality of living, rising unemployment, towering debt, corruption and nepotism are the distinctive features and elements of our economy. With all those fundamentals and indicators yielding to limits how far off are we from impending flash point amidst those winds of change?

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