Some Perspective Please!

The following editorial in today’s Daily Times is a MUST READ. It has become quite the fashion to sit on verandas and in tea stalls complaining about politicians. Actually, some of this is very natural for people to do. But there has begun to be a common theme popping up which is not to difficult to trace to its origins. This theme looks back to dictators as some better times. We have fought too hard, suffered too much to give up, to quit our struggle for democracy and self rule and give up all control to some dictator. We are stronger than that!

A sense of gloom and all-pervasive disillusionment and despair seems to have overtaken the country. Since a civilian elected government is at the head of affairs, the anger and frustration of wide sections of the people is turning on the politicians as a class. Things have reached a point where some voices, admittedly still weak, have started comparing the military rule of General Musharraf favourably with the present dispensation. How to explain this phenomenon in the midst of arguably the greatest crisis faced by the country in its turbulent 63-year history? Is it really the case that everything wrong can so glibly be dumped into the basket of the political class and the authoritarian and dictatorial dispensations of military coup-makers rehabilitated as ‘better’?

Some perspective needs to be restored to this impassioned impatience creeping into the national discourse. The results and fallout of military rule do not always become visible until some time after they have departed. This arguably, is the case with the Musharraf dispensation. The energy crisis, food inflation and disrupted supply, unemployment and other such problems impacting the daily lives of ordinary citizens are undeniable in their ferocious erosion of the people’s ability to keep their heads above water. The effects of terrorism, now nestling in our very bosom, have reduced the country to penury. This is both because of the high cost of operations against the terrorists, their ability to inflict damage indiscriminately on lives and property, and the subsequent instability and uncertainty that keeps capital investment shy, further exacerbating, in a vicious circle, the unemployment conundrum. The diehard critics of the present dispensation are satisfied with the superficial answer that everything has gone wrong under this government, and if only it and the president are changed, all will be hunky-dory. Those with a sharpened axe to further grind go so far as to paint a doomsday scenario for the country until and unless the present leadership is removed. As far as this school of thought is concerned, it does not matter how this is done, so long as it transpires.

The national discourse, like much else in our lives, has deteriorated considerably to the level of impassioned irrationality. Admittedly, the repetition of the argument about the culpability of the Musharraf dispensation in leaving behind a legacy of huge problems can only be stretched so far and no further. This is because the weight of the people’s expectations from an elected government is inherently greater than from a dictatorship. And when the elected government seems not to be delivering, or even making serious efforts to do so (which may be more perception than reality), the cup of impatience runneth over and the ‘two-and-a-half year itch’ to get rid of incumbent elected governments mid-term sets in. Cooler reflection may yield the truth that the plethora of inherited problems is daunting. Terrorism, the state of the economy, constitutional reform issues, any one of these would be sufficient to test the best of governments in the best of all possible worlds, let alone a government not famous for good governance or vision. Should this become ammunition for unconstitutional or undemocratic intervention and the removal of a government whose mandate still has more than two years to run? That way lies a repetition of unlearnt lessons from the past.

The government’s space for manouevre is indeed limited. The struggle against terrorism has entered a critical phase, progress is being made in rolling back the tide of extremism, and the losses and setbacks being suffered by innocent victims unfortunately are the price to be paid for past follies. The economy is battered by the global economic crisis and arguably less than brilliant policies at home. The neo-liberal paradigm we have blindly accepted has exposed its limitations in a developing country such as ours. Reliance purely on the private sector as the engine of growth is unlikely to fulfill the needs of such a country for development that brings some cheer to the deprived masses. Lavish government expenditure needs to be ruthlessly cut and whatever fiscal space is made available used for schemes that usher in some welfare for the poor. Blind adherence to privatisation of national assets needs revisiting before the disastrous results of past privatisations are once again heaped on our heads. A people-oriented political, foreign, strategic, economic and social set of policies is what we, and the present government, need if the looming shadows of democracy’s antithesis are to be warded off.

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