Accepting Responsibility

For Pakistani voters, the forthcoming elections are a great opportunity to set aside their pride and prejudice and honestly vote for those who have the requisite competence to steer the country out of its multiple crises and help the people of this great country ...

Accepting Responsibility

“The price of greatness is responsibility”Winston Churchill

With authority comes responsibility that in turn calls for accountability. Seats of power are perhaps the most attractive for any ambitious person and who would not like to be made a king, president or prime minister, even if it means for a day only. People often flock to movies based on this sort of a theme because they reflect their unfulfilled dreams. With all their good intentions there cannot be denied the pomp and splendor that lures them to desire these positions. 

These magnificent images are so fixed in our minds that anything different is seen with unbelievable astonishment. In the modern democratic world, royal ostentatious features have been replaced to some extent by high security, bullet-proof vehicles, branded clothes and accessories, a know-it-all arrogance, foul language (for opponents of course) and distance from the public, especially in the case of the Third World. Despite being poor and dependent upon international donor agencies for running their economies, these countries have rulers that shame lender countries’ leaders in their lifestyles, luxuries and conceit. 

The most surprising thing is that people continue to elect them in office, only to grumble about their policies and administrative measures, including their artificial concern about people’s miseries, but acting against their very interests, especially those of the down-trodden, who they rate as least significant and hold lowest on their priority list.

Where the humility of developed nations’ rulers is enviously looked upon with awe by the developing countries’ people, ostentation displayed by their own is now creating disgruntlement, as the recent political turmoil in Pakistan has shown. There appears to be a political awakening, although in its teething stage, as earlier voting trends were towards personal gratification, exercising power, religious exploitation, false promises, slogan-mongering, regionalism, and worse of all, family kinships—in utter disregard for character and competence.

Ronald Reagan said that “government is like a baby. An alimentary canal with a big appetite at one end and no sense of responsibility at the other.” Simultaneously, one cannot ignore this quote by Theodore Roosevelt: “Behind the ostensible government sits an invisible government, owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people.” Now, does not that sound like a prognostication for our beloved country?

Politicians get drawn out of a system that favours the rich and mighty, who aspire to secure power in order to safeguard their vital interests. People who have no stakes are hardly inclined to join politics and even if they do, they lack the requisite support of the masses to earn a nominal victory - what to talk of a sweeping one. Presently, there is no system in place to educate voters inculcating in them an understanding of their national responsibility to cast their votes intelligently, consciously, without fear or favor, and listening to their conscience, rather than be overwhelmed with prejudices that prevents them from acknowledging reality. As it is, there is very poor general awareness in the public, because while the current education system may make them literate, it fails to develop their consciousness.

The present curriculum of public and private schools contains nothing to teach the young generation about its responsibility towards the nation with respect to democratic principles. The young fertile minds are the ones that need to be planted with the seeds of true democratic norms, peppered with ethics and watered with a sense of service towards the country. Ask the children today about their future plans and most would reply that they aspire to leave their motherland for greener pastures abroad. Gone are the days when serving the people used to be the most favoured answer.

Under these circumstances, electronic media can play a pivotal role in grooming the nation by introducing programs which can enable the public to distinguish between truth and fiction. Scholars and writers having the ability to talk and to portray serious messages through plays, skits and light-hearted comedy to help voters get a clearer picture of the type of politicians they would like to see in power. 

Campaigns could be initiated about clean, fair, balanced, ethical politics geared towards voters, to help them decide who is best suited for running the government. Debates between prospective candidates can be highly informative about their policies and mindset. Voters need to know that dishonesty acts as a disguise for truth. Affected mannerism does not sustain for long and when the actors’ real face is unveiled, it totally discolours their image. Being real is being human.

These are some of the ways in which voters’ training can be made possible but would the media, the twenty first century public mentor, take on this responsibility, is the million dollar question. Why? Because the media also harps the tune of the ones feeding them, who are obviously endowed with wealth and power, so why would they give air time to penniless politicians? They too have a lot to capitalise by having favourable people in power. The present divide in media groups amply points towards this tendency. Whereas one side highlights weaknesses, the other talks about strengths that automatically imbibe biases giving birth to like-minded groups of voters who go to polls wearing coloured spectacles. 

For Pakistani voters, the forthcoming elections are a great opportunity to set aside their pride and prejudice and honestly vote for those who have the requisite competence to steer the country out of its multiple crises and help the people of this great country restore their self-respect. They should pay heed to Roger Waters who said: “There is no ‘us’ and ‘them’. It’s an illusion. We are all human beings, and we all have a responsibility to support one another and to discover ways of wresting power from the very, very few people who control all the cash and all the property.”

Unless this is done, there can be no end to the miseries suffered by the masses, particularly the helpless and the needy. Advice for election contestants in the words of Ralph Marston would be: “Concern yourself more with accepting responsibility than with assigning blame. Let the possibilities inspire you more than the obstacles discourage you.”

The writer is a lawyer and author, and an Adjunct Faculty at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), member Advisory Board and Senior Visiting Fellow of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE)