What have we done to deserve this?

37

It’s not just the expense or the callous waste of public money – money out of the public purse. It’s the insensitivity which takes your breath away. Here you are going for a relatively minor heart procedure – very common nowadays – to London, which is bad enough because, whether you realise it or not, it brings a bad name to your country, showing as it does that your own doctors and hospitals are not good enough for you.

But that’s not enough. You must make a spectacle of yourself and the country whose elected head you are by ordering a wide-bodied Pakistan International jet, meant for revenue-generating passengers and not the comfort of your good self, to fly empty to London and from there bring your exalted self, family and hangers-on to Pakistan. And this does not seem to bother you and the government you head in the least.

I said insensitivity…a disregard for form and appearance, a total lack of a sense of propriety. But that’s not all. You also need a healthy dose of stupidity to allow yourself such behaviour.

And, let’s not forget, this on the day that that saint amongst mortals, Abdus Sattar Edhi, is being lowered into the earth. Just when the nation is remembering and mourning the loss of one of its most cherished sons our faux Mughals – the real Mughals had more sense and refinement – put on this display.

Can the contrast be more glaring? Edhi exemplified, more than anyone else, poverty, asceticism of spirit and compassion beyond words for the suffering of his fellow beings. And here the elected head of the country who should be leading by example commandeers state resources for his personal comfort in a manner that would be considered unpardonable anywhere.

The cost of this exercise in some newspapers has been put at 30 crores, in others 40 crores. If there was any justice in this country – Fortress of Islam, no less – this amount would be recovered from them personally.

They could have hired a plane themselves and we would all have said what a fine example. But no, that would be asking for too much. They could have taken a regular PIA flight, and PIA being what it is, they would have laid on a special menu for the PM. But that too would have been out of character. Bring themselves down to the level of ordinary citizens? Unthinkable.

And so we had to be treated to this spectacle, wide-bodied plane and all. And whereas the PM’s office should have attempted a justification, they handed over this thankless task to PIA which had to go into contortions to explain that the PM’s ‘camp office’ had been shifted to London so that he could conduct the nation’s business from there, and it was not easy bringing back the ‘camp office’ on a regular PIA flight….question of seats, you understand. And they expect the nation to buy this nonsense.

Ye gods, we know we have sinned and many are our errors and omissions. But do we deserve this? Is Pakistan someone’s personal jagir that you do with it as you please? The Mughals built their forts and their Taj Mahals but they did so by right of conquest. With the strength of their arms they had conquered Hindustan and built themselves an empire. Shahjahan, to take but one example, was no effete builder of palaces and monuments but a warrior-king, as were all the great Mughals (the first six of them, from Babur to Aurangzeb).The legitimacy or justification for whatever they did sprang from this circumstance.

What Himalayas have our imitation Mughals, our stuffed lions, conquered that they should treat national resources as their personal property?

And the Khadim-e-Aala – or should it now be Fankaar-e-Aala? – says that Edhi’s example taught him to stand with the poor. Try beating this. Hand it to him that he regularly comes up with such extraordinary stuff. He’s given up the habit now but he was fond of declaiming in public Habib Jalib’s revolutionary poetry. For fat-cats like him to do this requires some nerve…a bit like a Rockefeller singing the Internationale (summons to revolution). If they can pull off such a stunt, the Jalib thing, I suppose summoning a 777 Boeing for the ‘camp office’s’ transportation back to Lahore is small change.

The present ruling set has broken all records in using public money for their own benefit. Look at the roads leading to Jati Umra. There’s a bomb-proof wall being built around this private estate at a cost of 70 crores…and no one is batting an eyelid. What do we call this style of government?

We say it is a democracy. Such things would not be possible in most democracies. They would pillory Narendra Modi in India if he went for a minor heart procedure to London and then got a Boeing to fly him back. There would be uproar in the Lok Sabha and the media. He would not be able to live it down. Here, in Pakistan, everything goes. And we take it lying down because that is what our institutions – our noble institutions – have come down to.

Parliament is not even a talking shop and the media is split down the middle between those who still try to raise some racket over such things and those who see it as their sworn duty to butter the government everyday and sing its praises.

Every morning when I go through my pile of newspapers – and I go through five of them – there are stories and so-called commentaries that Pravda, the Russian communist party’s newspaper in the old days when the Soviets had an empire, would be embarrassed to print.

Come to think of it, it’s not just insensitivity and stupidity. It’s also culture. The level – the mental and cultural level of our political class and I daresay of the governing class as a whole – is rather low. And it doesn’t help that the present ruling class is from the great land of the five rivers, holy Punjab. Great poets such as Waris Shah, Bulleh Shah, Shah Hussain, Ghulam Farid and Mian Muhammad Baksh this land has produced. But their poetry, as far as a tyro like me can make out, has had no effect on the elite classes of this land.

Except for one ruler, and one only, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, this enchanting land for all its romance and poetry has produced mostly political toadies or cultural retards. India breaks out in revolt in 1857 and Muslim and Sikh battalions commanded by the likes of Colonel Nicholson – whose monument you can see on the way to Taxila – helped crush that uprising. This is our history and let us not forget it. And call it our misfortune or tragedy that Pakistan today is led by the Punjabi element – because Punjab is the dominant province in terms of population and resources.

But Punjab has suppressed its own language and suppressed also the spirit of its great poets. Thus it is scarcely a wonder that to the mental outlook of the state it dominates it has brought the culture of the philistine and the imbecile. Look at the political class. Look at its princes and aspiring crown princes, already thinking in terms of dynastic rule. Look at their empty countenances and then take in their vaulting pretensions. If this is the best we have let us not curse our fortune.