A billionaire member of ruling Tehrik-e-Insaf of Pakistan is currently embroiled in a web of accusations. He, and his business coterie, allegedly obtained financial benefits to the billions through political influence. In public explanations, he inter alia disclosed that the PTI could not have won elections without acting upon his advice_ nominate and support rich political elites (mafias), not vulgar people, at hustings. What, in essence, is democracy?
Democracy: his study of political systems (oligarchy, monarchy, etc.), Aristotle concluded demokratia was probably the best system. The problem that bothered him was that the majority of free people (then excluding women and slaves) would use their brute voting power to introduce pro-poor legislation like taking away property from the rich. During Aristotelian age there was only one house, a unicameral legislature. Aristotle too was a man of means. His household had slaves.
Aristotle suggested that we reduce income inequalities so that have-not representatives of the poor people were not tempted to prowl upon haves’ property.
Like Aristotle, American founding fathers were unnerved by spectre of `rule of the proletariat’. James Maddison harboured similar concerns. He feared `if freemen had democracy, then the poor farmers would insist on taking property from the rich’ via land reforms (Noam Chomsky, Power Systems, p 84). The fear was addressed by creating a senate (US) or a house of lords (Britain) as antidotes against legislative vulgarities of house of representative or a house of commons., a house of peoples (lok sabha) vs. council of states (rajya sabha) in India, and so on.
Mafias: William A. Welsh says, `The rise of democracy has signaled the decline of elites (Leaders and Elites, p.1). Not true of Pakistan? Here talent rusts and mafias prevail. We see mafias all around, in media, politics, justice, education and health-care.
Pak democracy flawed: Democracy in Pakistan failed to deliver the goods as it ignored ‘sine qua nons’ of Aristotelian demokratia. The SQNs were honesty, merit, nationalism, spirit of sacrifice, corruption-free public services, across-the-board military-civil accountability, truthfulness and welfare of the masses. History shows that the demokratia (the power of the people) has always been an ideal. No system, including ochlocracy (mobocracy), could ever diminish the power of the governing elites. Although the goal of democracy was to equalise citizens, the ‘equal citizen’, as enshrined in the golden words of our constitution, remains a myth.
The demokratia envisioned opportunities of political participation for larger proportions of the population and across-the-board accountability. But, Michel’s Law of Oligarchies precluded popular participation in democracy. A handful of legislators exercised brute power forcing Noam Chomsky call even American public a `bewildered herd’.
Aristotle would rejoice in the grave to see both, Pakistan’s National Assembly and the Senate, being populated by the rich. One member defiantly wears Louis Moinet `Meteoris’ wrist-watch, worth about Rs. 460m. Another, with a capacity to shut down the whole country, lives in a 30-kanal house (his divorced wife denies having gifted it). They never took any legislative steps to equalise citizens in access to education, medicare, housing and jobs. In short, in all realms of life.
They never looked into the origin of landed aristocracy, chiefs and chieftains in the subcontinent during the Mughal and British periods.
Iron law of technocratic oligarchy: A German sociologist Robert Michels in his 1911 book, Political Parties postulated Iron Law of Oligarchy. Michels stated that the raison detre of representative democracy is eliminating elite rule. It is an impossible goal. The representative democracy is a façade legitimizing the rule of particular elite, and that elite rule, which he refers to as oligarchy, is inevitable.
According to the “iron law,” democracy and large-scale organization are incompatible. The `rule by an elite, or oligarchy, is inevitable upshot of “tactical and technical necessities” of democratic organisations. All organisations eventually come to be run by a “leadership class”, who often function as paid administrators, executives, spokespersons or political strategists for the organization. Far from being “servants of the masses”, the “leadership class,” rather than the organization’s membership, will inevitably dominate the organization’s power structures. They control access to information, with little accountability. They manage to centralise their power, as masses (rank-and-file members) are apathetic, and indifferent to their organization’s decision-making processes.
No large and complex organization can function purely as a direct democracy. Power within an organization will always get delegated to individuals within that group, elected or otherwise.
Democratic attempts to hold leadership positions accountable are bound to fail. The oligarchy has power to reward loyalty, gag dissent and influence members (masses).
The Iron Law of Oligarchy smacks of ideas in The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism, a fictional book in the dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) by George Orwell. Throughout recorded time, and probably since the end of the Neolithic Age, there have been three kinds of people in the world, the High, the Middle, and the Low. The examples of Lee Kwan Yew in Singapore, Mahathir Mohammed in Malaysia, Deng Xiaoping and Xi Jinping in China, Park Chung-hee in Korea illustrate how `high’ visionary leaders backed by a strong central government can rapidly transform nations.
Covid 19 and Indian rich:
Info Tech czar Azim Premji committed Rs. 1000 crore ($134 million) through his philanthropic arm, the Azim Premji Foundation. Software developer Wipro Limited committed Rs.100 crore ($13 million), while engineering services company Wipro Enterprises Limited donated Rs 25 crore ($3.3 million).
India’s richest man Mukesh Ambani contributed Rs. 500 crore ($67 million) , additional Rs. 5 crores ($660,000) for the relief fund of the chief minister of Maharashtra, and an equal amount for the relief fund of the chief minister of Gujarat state. Besides Jehangir Tareen and their ilk, there are hundreds of billionires in Pakistan. They made no visible contribution to Pak relief fund.
Lack of transparency: Shabbar Zaidi’s book Rich People, Poor Country portrays a sorry state of Pakistan.The book contends that our national discourse “does not provide adequate knowledge and information to the public at large on policy issues”. Nor does it help professionals in providing practicable, independent and honest advice to policymakers.
Authors’ estimates, based on the amount of assets revealed under Foreign Assets (Declaration and Repatriation) Act, 2018 (tax amnesty scheme) suggest that a substantial number of Pakistanis – around 7-8 per cent of the country’s total population of 210 million – are very rich. These Pakistanis have individual incomes possibly exceeding even the highest average per capita incomes in the world. In sharp contrast, our government remains poor — being able to collect taxes that constitute only 10 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP).
He argues, a government not able to tax the rich will never have the resources required to provide the poor with economic and social protection.
Presidential or parliamentary system: General Zia was enamoured of the presidential system. He claimed that the Quaid-i-Azam had opted for this system in a note in his diary. What was the Quaid’s note? The handwritten note dated July 10, 1947 states: “Dangers of Parliamentary Form of Government: 1) Parliamentary form of government– it has worked satisfactorily so far in England nowhere else; 2) Presidential form of government (more suited to Pakistan)”. But, in true context. The Quaid did not expect elected governments could be dismissed under a presidential system. While speaking in the Indian Central Assembly on the colonial government’s decision to punish the officers of the Indian National Army, the Quaid said: “…when the time comes, my army in Pakistan shall, without doubt, maintain all loyalty, whatever the liability, and if anyone did not do so, be he a soldier or be he an officer or civilian, he will go the same way as William Joyce and John Amery.” (The two members of the English elite, the latter a son of the secretary of state for India, were executed for supporting Hitler during the Second World War).
The Quaid may have had the subconscious worry that feudal landlords in a parliamentary system would not allow democracy to function. The landlords in Punjab and Sindh always supported the Unionist party. They switched over to the Muslim League as the Congress had vowed to follow socialist secular policies.
No social democracy: In Pakistan, it is the vested interests, not demos (people) of demo-kratia, who rule. There is no social democracy. In India, feudal fiefs were abolished in 1948. But, they have a heyday in Pakistan even today because of a decision of the Shariat Appellate Bench of the Supreme Court of Pakistan in the case of the Qazalbash Waqf versus Chief Land Commissioner, Punjab, on 10 August 1989 (made effective from 23 March 1990). The Court, by a 3-2 vote declared land reforms un-Islamic and repugnant to injunctions of Islam.
Jamsheed Marker, in his book Cover Point, observed ‘Liaquat … moved the Objectives Resolution, which declared Pakistan to be an ‘Islamic State’”. Liaquat Ali Khan could not foresee that Objectives Resolution (Allah’s sovereignty) would be warped to justify perpetuation of feudal aristocracy and persecution of minorities.
Under Article 38 (f) and Senate’s resolution No. 393 (9 July 2018), the Security and Exchange Commission of Pakistan enforced Shariah Governance Regulations 2018 for abolition of riba. Gnawing reality of complex interest-based economics forced the government to continue paying interest on loans and international transactions notwithstanding.
Article 38 is titled ‘Promotion of social and economic well-being of the people’. And abolition of riba is just a sub-paragraph. While we re-christened riba as PLS, partnership as modarba/mosharika, and so on, we did nothing to provide social justice to the people. We tax people without taxpayers’ welfare. Locke and others say government can’t tax without taxpayer’s consent.
Quest for stability: Neither the presidential nor the parliamentary form of government is a bulwark against instability. Pakistan’s demokratia practitioners are subconsciously contemptuous of separation of powers. The stakeholders appear to suffer from ‘I’m the constitution’ narcissism. They ‘glistened’ our constitution with ‘golden’ interpolation of a president in uniform, and another a life-long president. We had a civilian martial-law administrator also. Former finance secretary Saeed Ahmed Qureshi in his book Governance Deficit: A Case Study of Pakistani recounts ‘Eight blows to the Constitutional System’ including dissolution of the Constituent Assembly, dismissal of elected prime ministers, induction of Gen Ayub Khan as defence minister on 24 October 1954, and imposition of martial or quasi-martial law ‘for 33 out of Pakistan’s 68 years of history’.
I’m-the-Constitution paranoia: Pakistan’s constitutional history is marred by egotistic clashes between power claimants. Even judicial judgments swung in the direction of the wind vanes of the time. Shortly before pronouncing his verdict in the Dosso case, then Chief Justice Muneer declared that ‘when politics enters the portals of the palace of Justice, democracy, its cherished inmate, walks out by the backdoor’.
The kingpins in various institutions tend to forget French jurist Jean Bodin’s dictum ‘majesta est summa in civas ac subditoes legibusque salute potestas, that is ‘highest power over citizens and subjects, unrestrained by law’. Bodin explained power resides with whosoever has ‘power to coerce’. It does not reside with the electorate, Parliament, the judiciary or even the Constitution.
In the past, Pakistan’s bureaucrats, judges, politicos, and even praetorian rulers fought tooth and nail to prove ‘I’m the locus in quo of ultimate power.
Take General Zia. He had nothing but contempt for the Constitution and democratic norms (p.87. ibid.). While addressing a press conference in Teheran, he said, “What is the Constitution? It is a booklet of 10 or 12 pages. I can tear them up and say that from tomorrow we shall live under a different system. Is there anybody to stop me? Today the people will follow wherever I lead them. All the politicians including the once-mighty Mr. Bhutto will follow me with their tails wagging.” Dicey said, “No Constitution can be absolutely safe from a Revolution or a coup d’état”.
Ambedkar’s prophesy: The drafter of India’s constitution, Dr. B R Ambedkar, prophetically remarked, ‘However good a Constitution may be, if those who are implementing it are not good, it will prove to be bad. However bad a Constitution may be, if those implementing it are good, it will prove to be good’. Ambedkar’s atman (spirit) must be swirling in pain to see the conduct of the practitioners of democracy– saffronisation, bigotry, war cries, exploitation, and what not. But a plus-point for Indian democrats. The Indian Constitution allows the President to dissolve the elected parliament (doing so is treason in Pakistan). But, he has never done so.
In Pakistan, it is the vested interests, not demos (people) of demo-kratia, who rule. There is no social democracy. To quote Ambedkar, ‘Political democracy cannot last unless there lies at the base of it social democracy. What does social democracy mean? It means a way of life which recognises liberty, equality and fraternity as the principles of life’. The fault lies with democrats, not democracy, whether presidential or parliamentary.
Inference: To correct multifaceted social injustice, all stakeholders, in khaki and civvies, should try to evolve Aristotelian `Golden Mean’. Or else, continue on auto-pilot until divine retribution strikes. Already some leading hospitals have been shut down ostensibly for lack of COVID19 protective gear. No basic needs for the common man.