Farrukh Dhondy | As King Charles III crowned, thoughts about democracy and its alternatives

The Asian Age.  | Farrukh Dhondy

Opinion, Columnists

Millions all over the world will watch as the BBC covers hours of march pasts by troops

King Charles (DC File Photo)

“O Bachchoo you were the thief of love

You stole so many hearts…

Even though your aspiration

Dwelt on other parts….”

From Much Urdu About Nothing

Tr. by Bachchoo


It’s coronation week in the United Kingdom, with the great tribal celebrations to which the British are addicted -- anointings with oil, certainly gold and maybe frankincense and myrrh, crowns for the King and Queen, useless officials with obscure medieval titles in silly costumes … and all the rest.

The ceremonial was to be modernised through the presence of priests of most religions, pop music and the invitation of “celebrities” whose claim to fame is not any talent but a presence on television.

Millions all over the world will watch as the BBC covers hours of march pasts by troops, air displays of formation greetings from the Royal Air Force, some gun salutes from ships and the ceremony itself.

And then the BBC, in keeping with its recent reassurance to remain politically neutral in all circumstances, may turn its cameras on the estimated 17,000 republican protestors who are scheduled to gather at Trafalgar Square, half a mile away from Westminster Abbey where the coronation will take place.

These protesters who are in favour of the abolition of the monarchy have been publicly told that they’re free to express their opinions as long as they don’t disrupt any part of the ceremonials. The pomp and ceremony have to live in open co-existence with British democratic guarantee of free speech.

That being said, the Tory government of Hedgie Sunak and Cruella Braverperson has passed a bill through Parliament limiting the rights of protesters who have till this day demonstrated their opposition to anything they passionately believe needs changing. Two protesters against climate change, which they believe is caused by the burning of coal and oil, were jailed this week for climbing on a bridge across the Thames and blocking traffic for several hours.

The bill, now law, specifies that protesters who glue themselves to a public facility, as some have been doing to cause an obstruction, are in breach of the law and can be fined or jailed.

The government insists that this is not an infringement of the right to protest but simply a measure to stop this aspect of freedom of expression getting in the way of other people who are going about their business.

I must confess, gentle reader, that I shall miss the circus of the coronation and the protests against it as I am, for the duration, in the world’s most extravagant ahistorical artifice – the vibrant heights of tax-less Dubai.

No, I am not here to dodge tax or to launder my millions (if only!). I’m here on a mundane task of attempting to instruct screenwriters on how to do it.

This collection of coloured-crayon packs, or cardboard box collections of skyscrapers, acres of barracks-like bungalows, desert patches and artificial lakes and eight-lane, heavily trafficked highways is a monument to the present. By which I mean it manifestly has no history, rising in the last few decades from the desert sands. It’s the flourishing Present --

and repetitively insists, through the testimony of its inhabitants, that it is, like crypto-currency or artificial intelligence, the Future. Yes, with a capital “F” -- all investment and only financial abstractions to sell.

Being in this capital of clean streets, shopping malls as big as small towns, ski-slopes built inside buildings in the desert, the tallest building in the world and other vulgar wonders in the week that Britain holds local elections in which the governing Tory Party is expected to get a severe drubbing and celebrates the coronation of King Charles III and Queen Camilla, stimulates thoughts and arguments about monarchies, republics and democracy.

The arguments are with unlike-minded friends, one of whom has moved from India to Dubai and loves it here. He extols its cleanliness and asserts that one can leave one’s car windows down in the streets with a laptop on the seats with no fear of either the car or the computer being stolen. He compares the real monarchy of the sheikhs of the Middle East with the ceremonial monarchy of Britain. The real monarchy has, he says, brought about the state of spit-and-polish of Dubai, the enforced discipline of its traffic and the scrupulous honesty of its citizens.

The contrast he says is the chaos, injustice and prejudice of democracies that elect parties, presidents and governments who sanction the oppression of the minorities and espouse manifestly irrational policies. He quotes the election of Donald Trump, among others.

Wasn’t it Winston Churchill who said that democracy is the best of all the bad ways of being ruled? I think, gentle reader, I agree with him. No, I don’t like the fact that BoJo, Hedgie Sunak, Jacob Rees-Mogg and other Tories manifestly lied to the British electorate to narrowly win the “democratic” vote for Brexit.

And “no” again to democracies whose majority votes are cast through a falsely motivated “patriotic” nationalism, religiously motivated nationalism or religiously motivated xenophobia. And yet, while one hesitates to say yes to these, in democracies there is the prospect of changing the government peacefully -- if it allows genuine and legitimate elections to take place, as say Kenya and Belarus do not. My argument then is that before one criticises democracy, please take a hard look at Myanmar, Iran, Afghanistan, North Korea, Sudan….