A sham democracy is not democracy at all.

Published in the Express Tribune Blogs on the 9th of August, 2014

 

In light of recent events, the government has said that it has a firm resolve to ‘safeguard’ democracy at any cost. I am not entirely sure what the government thinks democracy really is. So far, whatever steps they have taken to ‘safeguard’ it, have been in direct opposition to basic human rights – the same rights that democracy is supposed to protect. I can’t help but find the government’s ‘defence strategy’ heavily laden with panic and idiocy.

Their response reminds me of a story I once read in which a man was entrusted with the duty to protect food reserves for a village and he ended up eating all the food. When the villagers returned to the cave where the food was stored, they found the fat-bellied idiot flat on the floor by the empty cave. Shocked and furious, the village people put him on trial. The accused defended himself by claiming that the animals were too strong and too many, and they were after the food,

“So it was best if I ate it all and left nothing for the animals to steal”.

The fat idiot’s defence has an uncanny similarity with that provided by our government.

Two political parties of Pakistan are engaged in a protest drive against the government. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) cites massive rigging in the 2013 elections as their main grievance, while the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT), led by Dr Tahirul Qadri, is basically against the entire political system and has had its anger fuelled by the Punjab government’s mishandling of the Model Town incident last month.

In the wake of these protests, the government responds yet again with seemingly poor planning and lack of decision making.

Apparently Article 245 has been invoked to call in the army to protect Islamabad and to save the people of Pakistan… but from whom?

Oh right, the ‘other’ people of Pakistan.

Not terrorists or a foreign enemy, just other Pakistanis who think differently.

The army is basically supposed to protect pro-government angels from anti-government demons.

Those who are unaware of this, along with calling in the army, Article 245 suspends many fundamental rights of citizens, which includes the point that no matter what the government does under this law, the Supreme Court has no right to question it. Which means that, for the average person, wherever this law is imposed, there is no concept of justice.

The government has asked transporters not to provide vehicles to the workers of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) for their long march scheduled on August 14, 2014. It has also recently banned the sale and renting out of amplifiers and loud speakers. Allegedly, some followers of the PTI are also being arrested. The GT road and motorway are going to be shut down on Independence Day. Islamabad will definitely be cordoned off and entry therein will be restricted. The purpose for all these “democratic measures” is to restrain the public from marching or protesting against the government.

While families of several victims of the Model Town incident still run pillar to post for registration of an FIR against the culprits who killed their family members, an FIR has been lodged against Qadri for inciting civil disobedience by the government.
While Qadri prepares for a protest against the death of his followers who died in a police operation to remove barricades from his residence citing ‘public inconvenience’, the government prepares itself by barricading a much larger area in Model Town causing inconvenience to a much larger populace. The irony of the situation is painfully ridiculous.

Last night, on August 8, Lahore became the centre of riots and yet another clash between the Punjab Police and the PAT workers ensued. The clash started when PAT workers tried to remove the barricades that were put in place by the government to ensure that these workers do not reach the PAT headquarters for the mourning ceremony scheduled for August 10. The police confronted the workers, and chaos began. What followed was truly horrifying.

According to Qadri, a worker also died in these clashes. I saw civilian citizens and a handful of policemen suffering the wrath of another poor decision made by the government. One needs to question the way the government is thinking. What exactly made them feel that the barriers installed by Qadri at his residence were illegal? And, similarly, what made them think that confiscation of private property – by using containers and barricading public ways without just cause – was legal?

For our parliamentarians and politicians, democracy has dual meanings. The definition of this system changes, depending on where the politician stands. If he is in the government, then democracy means to protect his seat, his ministry and his interest. If he is in opposition, then democracy means to get rid of the present government so that he may rule and have all the opportunity to wreak havoc. For these people, democracy does not mean freedom of speech, assembly and life of the people; it is instead commonly perceived as “my rights” and “my freedom” – to hell with the public.

Apparently the criterion to differentiate between a democratic step and an anti-democratic step depends on whether the right is being exercised by one’s own party or by some other person. If “I” get to enjoy the freedom that democracy promises, then it is fine, but when “you” demand the same, you will be perceived as an enemy of, and a threat to, the state.

I may believe that a bad democracy is better than a good dictatorship but a sham democracy is not democracy at all. If a government can curtail your right to trade – by confiscating your vehicles and goods – anytime without notice, if it can restrict your freedom of movement without any just cause by suspending supply of fuel and physically stopping citizens just out of sheer panic, if it can cause an FIR to be registered against you for using your freedom to speak, I don’t think you can call it a democracy. In fact, it’s a dictatorship in democracy’s guise.

In its attempt to save democracy, the government is striking nails in its own coffin. I fear that last night’s barricading, suspension of fuel and riots with PAT workers may well be one the last few. Staying on that course will not only harm democracy but the ruling party’s own interests. If the government actually wants to save democracy and its own skin, the only reasonable recourse available to it is being democratic for a change. But am afraid they are bent on guarding democracy the way the fat idiot was guarding food for the villagers.

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