Leaders need a cautionary whisperer: It's the press' job

PM Imran Khan must be inundated already with advice proffered by his friends, his critics, his wives.

Margaret Thatcher, even when Prime Minister, made breakfast for her husband Dennis, to remind herself that she was also a spouse. Pakistan’s Prime Minister revealed recently that, of an evening, his spouse has to remind him that he is the Prime Minister.

Had PM Imran Khan concentrated in his biology class at Aitchison College, he would have noticed that organisms are like governments. Each has its own gestation period. Lions and tigers take about 108-9 days. Chimpanzees are closer to humans with 240 days. Donkeys need 365 days. Governments need up to four years, and even then, they do not always deliver.

It was masochistic, therefore, for the PTI government to have set itself the target of delivering — even in part — its electoral promises within the first 100 days. It would have been success enough during that time to have mastered the elements of Pakistan’s complicated governance. Instead, the PTI government has expended its green energies castigating its predecessors and in trying to resuscitate a system immobilised by institutional apathy. That is now compounded by fear.

Decision makers at every level of government are in a spasm. They dread the consequences of their actions. Politicians in Opposition are fearful at the cadavers of their past misdeeds being disinterred. Politicians in power bay for an odd-handed accountability — of others, not of themselves.

The PTI’s crusade against corruption is laudable. Corruption is a social cancer that has spread deep, too deep, into Pakistan’s vitals. The malodour of corruption though clings to both hands involved in such sordid transactions. Paraphrasing what Napoleon said: “The hand that gives is as bad to the hand that takes. Money has no fatherland; financiers are without patriotism.” But even the Napoleonic code never envisaged one law for the receiver and no law for the giver.

After 100 days, the Pakistani public has grown weary watching a new government conducting post-mortems on live adversaries, just as the revolutionary Parisian mobs eventually sickened at the slicing sound of the guillotine. Many feel it is time the country moved forward, and not just by looking through the rear-view mirror. Changes without improvement or U-turns without alternative destinations are a poor substitute for policies.

The behaviour of the PTI government since it assumed office this summer has oscillated between nobility of intent and crassness of action, between disguised democracy and faux fascism, between inexperience and incompetence. Ministers still bicker over territorial boundaries. Others battle for space on the front page or for more prime time television coverage. Provinces behave towards each other as if the federation is an unproven myth. The PM has hinted that he might have to govern through presidential ordinances, bypassing the very Parliament that gives him constitutional authority.

PM Imran Khan must be inundated already with advice proffered by his friends, his critics, his wives. He is known to watch television. Should he by chance read this paper, he might care to scan this extract from an anonymous article about Jawaharlal Nehru, published in the Modern Review in November 1937. The author was later revealed to be Nehru himself:

“Men like Jawaharlal, with all their capacity for great and good work, are unsafe in democracy. He calls himself a democrat and a socialist, and no doubt he does so in all earnestness, but every psychologist knows that the mind is ultimately a slave to the heart and logic can always be made to fit in with the desires and irrepressible urges of a person. A little twist and Jawaharlal might turn a dictator sweeping aside the paraphernalia of a slow-moving democracy.”

“And yet he has all the makings of a dictator in him — vast popularity, a strong will directed to a well-defined purpose, energy, pride, organisational capacity, ability, hardness, and, with all his love of the crowd, an intolerance of others and a certain contempt for the weak and the inefficient. His flashes of temper are well known and even when they are controlled, the curling of the lips betrays him. His over-mastering desire to get things done, to sweep away what he dislikes and build anew, will hardly brook for long the slow processes of democracy. He may keep the husk but he will see to it that it bends to his will. In normal times he would be just an efficient and successful executive, but in this revolutionary epoch, Caesarism is always at the door.”

For a politician, Jawaharlal Nehru had an unusual feel for history. He wrote it; he made it; he became it. He understood all too well why in Roman times, a victor on his triumphal march through adoring crowds needed someone beside him on the chariot, murmuring into his ear: Hominem te memento (Remember you are only a man).

Today’s press is that cautionary whisperer.

By arrangement with Dawn

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