A Leopard’s Spots
My right hand is swollen and hurts, bitten by some Islamabad insect. So I repaired to the city I love for a couple of days – Karachi to wit – even though it has insects of its own kind. Whenever I come to Karachi I find that the city I love is no longer there, replaced by a horrific chaotic cauldron indescribable, undecipherable, a veritable madhouse without functioning government or authority, where every man is a law unto himself, corruption rife. Not that the rest of the country is much better, but Karachi has become the essence of anarchy, a symbol of a dysfunctional system where little works. Yet the people of Karachi remain vibrant and optimistic, many in their own bubble of denial. One has to remain hopeful, though. Anyway, I have promises to keep, so I keep writing.
See how little the fast-changing world is understood. While everyone worried about the nuclear arsenal of undemocratic Pakistan “falling into the hands” of Islamic extremists, it is ‘democratic’ India and its nuclear arsenal that has fallen into the hands of Hindu extremists first. Three cheers for G. K. Chesterton’s democracy. In the Third World Chesterton’s reasoning doesn’t apply beyond window dressing. Come to think of it, they don’t sometimes apply even in the First World, as recall George W. Bush’s first election and the global destruction that followed, most of all of America. Bush and his junta singlehandedly managed to bankrupt America in eight short years., kept alive today by China’s self interest. Wait till the Yuan is floated backed by gold.
India’s new Prime Minister Modi’s cuteness is transparent, inviting all leaders of South Asia to his inaugural, emulating the new British viceroys of yore who would invite every Indian prince and satrap to his durbar to demonstrate their loyalty to the crown. Nawaz Sharif invited Modi’s predecessor to his swearing in but he didn’t come. Sharif is caught in another bind: go, and emulate the loyal satraps of old; don’t go, and be accused of spurning a ‘friendly’ gesture.
Praiseworthy is the successful holding of the most logistically complex, largest and most expensive election ever in a country of hungry-downtrodden. While their fairness is unchallenged, is this all there is to democracy, a periodic electoral exercise while two-thirds of the populace remains wretched with no deliverance in sight? Said India’s Salman Rushdie: “…a democratic society is not simply one in which such a ballot takes place every four or five years. Democracy is more than mere majoritarianism. In a truly free democratic society, all citizens must feel free all the time, whether they end up on the winning or losing side in an election – free to express themselves as they choose, free to worship or not worship as they please, free from danger and fear. If freedom of expression is under attack, if religious freedom is threatened, and if substantial parts of society live in physical fear for their safety, then such a society cannot be said to be a true democracy.” Diplomat turned politician Mani Shankar Ayer likened the non-secular Modi’s election to “the dying light of freedom”. Jinnah stands vindicated: what Pakistan has made of itself is another matter.
Goodbye Nehru and your secularism, never really rooted in the Hindu psyche. Only minorities and the majority untouchables embraced it for safety. Goodbye Gandhi’s non-violence, which never took off really except in the fables that are woven around fathers of countries. The children of Gandhi’s assassins have come to power again, this time with a vengeance. Hello India’s reality, the land of Hindus where peoples of other religions are tolerated only as second-class citizens. Hindustan is the proper name for India. One wishes it well.
Surprising that the name ‘Narendra’ wasn’t in my computer’s dictionary, considering he is known as the Butcher of Muslims, one of the main destroyers of the Babri Mosque where Muslim rulers had razed a temple that marked the birthplace of the Hindu god Ram, an act contrary to Islam that forbids the destruction and desecration of the places of worship of any religion. But that is Islam the Faith given by God and this was political Islam crafted by clerics and implemented by conquerors, raiders and looters.
What attracted most voters to Modi was the abject economic failure of 10 years of a deformed Congress government led by a proxy prime minister. Despite his awful record of genocide, Modi gave a facelift to Gujarat’s economy with crony capitalism, which will now be India’s lot. Crony capitalism may have helped America’s incredible economic progress in the early 20th Century, but today’s world is different, with vigilant global media breathing down the necks of the powerful while people hpw have found voice and protest with sticks and stones. If India does not start reducing poverty and delivering, things could go awry soon, as they have in Pakistan. In Europe there is people protest. The wretched of the earth have risen and are breaking their chains of economic slavery. They will not be stilled any longer, not without delivery.
Most Indians perceive Modi as charismatic, his chauvinist rants notwithstanding. They have actually propelled him to the top. He is a demagogue, not rightwing but a religious fascist bordering on terrorist given that he has shown no contrition over the killings of Muslims under his watch, likening it to a puppy coming under a car, his absolution by the courts forsooth.
Whether Modi is a wild card or not we will know soon. One shouldn’t take campaign rhetoric too seriously. Wait and see and don’t get apprehensive. If he gets rowdy, he will get an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth. We have to remain vigilant, service our trouble-sensing and bullshit radars and strengthen our military and diplomatic defenses. Any adventurism by Modi will bring in China, waiting and watchful. It’s not going to be easy for Modi to bully his neighbourhood.
For us the positive is that it is easier to deal with reality than a facade, as President Musharraf found with Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee but not with proxy Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Another positive is that India may perhaps be emerging from the “government of the family, for the family by the family” syndrome that Pakistan is still trapped in. If Modi fails, India could be back to dynasticism. Historically, it is rightwing leaders that find solutions to difficult disputes for their patriotism is not questioned.
People grow into their jobs: it is too early to tell whether Modi will or not. Instead, he could pull the job down to his level. Reality will dawn soon when Modi is briefed by his intelligence agencies about his domestic and external problems, that 40 percent of India is under insurgency and war with Pakistan is an option only for a madman. Hitler was elected too as a national socialist, a man who could take Germany’s economy places. In power this leopard’s spots appeared and we had a fascist madman who nearly destroyed the world. It can be the opposite with Modi: starting out as a fascist he could mellow with reality and the leopards spots could start fading though never disappear because people hardly ever lose their essence. If not, whatever destruction he causes his neighbourhood it will not hold a candle to the destruction he would cause to unwieldy India. As prime minister, Modi will have to improve his CV if India is to remain a serious upcoming player on the world stage. Politics being the art of the possible, a political leopard’s spots can fade somewhat. Nawaz Sharif changed from being the army’s pussycat to its ardent opponent in democrat’s clothing, but at heart remains a dictator like his mentor.
Narratives are changing quickly as the world changes fast and Pakistan even faster. Now India and Afghanistan are joining us in the race of change: which changes faster. What was exercising the people’s minds a short while ago has gone to the backburner and new issues have come to the fore. The real narrative is all but forgotten: corruption, government’s ineptitude and deviation from its mandate, dysfunctional state institutions clashing with one another, raging terrorism and criminality… The list is long, too long.
Forgotten in the din is the forthcoming budget, talks with the Taliban, hyperinflation, tax to GDP ratio declining, exports declining (obviously, with the dollar weakening) and the trade gap widening with no decrease in inelastic imports, breakdown in policing causing total lawlessness, the demented and contradictory chatter of ministers. Instead, we are talking about protest rallies, souring relations between the civilian government and the army, Geo TV’s suicidal shenanigans (a trait that it shares with Nawaz Sharif), the probable election of anti-Pakistan Abdullah Abdullah as President of Afghanistan hot on the heels of Modi…Nawaz Sharif could become the meat in the sandwich, with Modi one slice and A. Abdullah the other either side of him. He shouldn’t get nervous and into appeasement mode from which it is difficult for future governments to come out of. The best way to meet this challenge is keeping relations with the US and China on track, bringing peace and stability in the land, not talking with but eliminating terrorists, working for people-based economic growth and removing tensions with the army. Sharif has enough challenges; he shouldn’t create more, making enemies where there are none. That is the best way.
‘May you live in interesting times’ is a Chinese curse. Curious, but think about it. Things are getting ‘curiouser and curiouser’.