One of my favorite cousins who studies at the Lahore University of Managerial Sciences (LUMS), called me on the evening of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudary’s “historic” procession in Lahore. She said she was joining many of her colleagues from LUMS who were already at the event and asked me what I thought about it?
Knowing my past as a student activist against the Zia-ul-Haq dictatorship, she was taken aback when I told her I’m not all that enthusiastic about this colorful commotion.
Responding to my lukewarm reception to her youthful idea of “bringing a revolution,” she said even though she was not all that crazy about the CJ herself, it is the principal behind the tumult that matters.
What principal, I asked her.
“Justice and democracy,” she said.
“But you don’t even vote!” I smirked. “90 percent of the well-to-do middle-class people I’ve heard passionately supporting the cause of the CJ and democracy, have never bothered to vote. What democracy are you talking about?” I inquired. But before she could respond I added that I think she should go to the rally and that since such an event was something very new to her generation, she should go there to learn.
“What do you mean go there to learn?” She asked.
“Learn how politicians are better at hijacking movements than they are at initiating revolutions.” I replied.
“But Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was a politician!”
“Exactly,” I said. “And thus no Socialist revolution that he initially promised. Just a lot of populist hog-wash.”
“So why were you guys so gung-ho about Benazir Bhutto in the 80s?” She asked, rather condescendingly.
“Because she inherently represented so many sides that were a natural anathema to whatever Zia’s dictatorship stood for. First of all, in an era of Hudood Laws, chauvinistic conservatism and mullah politicians, she was a woman; an educated and outspoken woman; she was also a daughter of an assassinated Prime Minister. And also in a period in which Zia’s “non-party democracy” would’ve made Musharraf’s manufactured democracy look like the real thing, Benazir shone brightly like the country’s finest hope for a democratic system.”
“So you guys weren’t expecting a revolution then?”
“Absolutely not!” said I. “We learned a long time ago that a revolution in Pakistan can only achieve two things, and both negative. One, it will most probably end in breaking up the country and second, even if initiated by so-called liberal, democratic and secular forces, it is bound to be hijacked by the religious right. Just like this CJ movement of yours.”
Thinking that her once “revolutionary” cousin had tumbled onto the “other side,” she complained that apathy such as the one being demonstrated by me is no solution.
“Apathy?” I asked. “I think compared to your CJ lot, I am still the real revolutionary!”
“Really?” Came a cold, ridiculing voice from my mobile phone.
“Yes, I am!” I announced. “In a country where religion is a destructive weapon in the hands of everyone ranging from the mullahs, jihadis, feudal lords, politicians to paranoid husbands, office colleagues and ones own grandparents, it is a revolutionary act to advocate and work for the complete separation of religion and politics. It is a revolutionary act to decide to hold back ones emotions and refuse to jump on bandwagons driven and ridden by so-called democratic politicians most of whom were the Machiavellian back-bone of Zia’s disparaging social and political maneuvers. It is a revolutionary act of deciding not to chase herds and mobs followed by television cameras and excitable reporters who fall just short of joining in all the sloganeering instead of merely reporting!”
After an awkward little silence, my asked: “So is that what you think my generation is doing … following a mob?”
“All I am saying is that one has to be careful about who is shouting for Democracy and for what?”
“So,” my cousin sighed. “You’ve decided to support Mursharraf instead?”
“Musharraf to me is a great catalyst.” I said. “An unwitting catalyst to some much needed change. This change in a society like ours cannot come from politicians and heroic CJs. It can only come from a person belonging to the establishment because all which is to be changed was created by the establishment. I believe that rather unknowingly Musharraf is playing the role of this catalyst. Stopping him at this point in time is like playing into the hands of those who would like to drag the country’s political and social status quo back to the one we had in the 80s and a good part of the 90s. And this is also the kind of status quo which benefits the politicians. This CJ movement to me is not about the future. It’s about rekindling a dreadful past. And Pakistanis are usually very attached to romanticized versions of the past. That’s what they vote for. For what things were like and not how they ought to be. So you can forget about politicians going for any revolutionary changes because that wont bag them any votes.”
“That’s just your point of view,” my cousin shot back.
“It sure is,” said I. “But it is a point of view constructed after talking to my plumber, a small T-shirt seller on Zainab Market, my neighbor’s driver and the guy my wife buy’s flowers from. Had I just been talking to people of my class, most probably I too would have been shouting slogans at that rally, if you know what I mean?”
“You know,” said my cousin. “You used to be fun.”
“Fun? Why should I be fun when I can have fun watching a tremendously slapstick black comedy unfolding on my television!”
“Oh, so now you’re also against the freedom of the media?” My cousin groaned.
I laughed: “You really believe all this extensive coverage about the CJ rallies has a noble motive on part of the media?”
She was to the point: “Yes!”
“This coverage has little to do with noble causes like freedom of the media or democracy.” I said. “It is about the channels being driven by market forces. Market forces now populated by a bludgeoning urban middle-class with the ever growing powers of consumption. It is these middle-classes who seem to be the most excited about this event. So how can the media ignore an event that is so dear to an important section of the market? It’s all about economics and business, because believe me the so-called masses have nothing to do with this tamasha!”
“Is this what happens to revolutionaries? My cousin asked. “Do they eventually become skeptical like you?”
“Not skeptical,” I said. “Most of them just stop becoming disposable fodder for scrupulous ideologues and cynical politicians anymore; or worse, mere entertainment for a bored generation.”
Disappointed, my cousin took leave. The next morning she SMSed me saying she finally did go to the rally. I asked her how the experience was.
She was to the point: “It was fun.”
My point too.