Undiluted Democracy Is The Answer To Our Problems
The other day I grabbed a book, Indian Nationalism—an anthology of writings of leading Indian politicians, scientists, poets and intellectuals of British era—from a bookstore in Islamabad. Luckily it cost a little in these times of rising dollar exchange rate and I found it affordable to buy a copy. The first thing that attracted me was the writing and speech of Allama Iqbal in which Iqbal in his masterly fashion delve on the subject of Islamic conception of nationhood and how it is different from the concept of nationhood based on the idea of people’s connection with land on which they live.
But my interest focused on something else—Iqbal’s aversion to European style of democracy— which he shared with other Muslim luminaries of that era, for instance Sir Syed Ahmed Khan. But first let me quote from Allama Iqbal’s writing that forms part of the book I was reading, “The principle of European democracy cannot be applied to India without recognizing the fact of communal groups. The Muslim demand for the creation of Muslim India within India is therefore perfectly justified” reads Allama Iqbal’s speech cited in the book. Democracy in British Indian meant dominance of the political system by Hindu majority and it also amounted relegating Muslims—a minority community within the context of British practice of enumerating the population of India on the basis of their religious beliefs—to the permanent status of a minority community in Indian political system that would never taste political power after the British leave power in the hands of the locals.
Iqbal, however, was not alone in this negative political attitude towards democracy, or western democracy— a democracy that makes one man one vote and rule of the majority as its basic principles. Other Muslim luminaries of his era were as afraid of democracy or its outcome in British India’s context
. Sir Syed Ahmed Khan tops the list of those Muslim luminaries who abhorred democracy and its outcomes in those times of political uncertainties of cosmic proportions. Sir Syed Ahmed Khan clearly opposed democracy as a method to solve the communal problem of British India. Sir Syed even propounded the idea of qualitative superiority of Muslims of India over other communities to make the point that democracy which relies on the “law of numbers” is not acceptable.
French historian of Pakistan’s political history, Christophe Jaffrelot has quoted from a Pamphlet produced by intellectuals of Aligarh obviously under the influence of Sir Syed to make the point that Muslims are superior to other communities, “The Hindu including of course all classes of them constitute the majority ; but it cannot be said that entire body of them can claim the same political and social importance of the Mohammadans (…) Are these two classes (Hindu and Muslims) then merely to be judged by their quantity and not quality, by their size and not by their importance, by their bear numbers and not their influence ?”
It would not be an overstatement to say that Muslim Luminaries and intellectuals of early 20th Century British India were suffering from a minority complex—they feared the majority rule and as a consequence feared democracy. But this negative political attitude didn’t remain restricted to that era and that generation.
This attitude expanded to become political policy of the oligarchy—comprising of migrant bureaucrats who opted for Pakistan on 14th August 1947 and the junior military officers who were hurriedly promoted to senior positions to fill the posts left behind by leaving British military officials– that came to rule Pakistan in the first nine years of its existence before the first military takeover in October 1958.
The story of minority complex, however, didn’t end there. Pakistan Muslim League leadership that assumed power in Pakistan after independence were a minority in the lands that constituted Pakistan on 14th August 1947. Most of them, with few exceptions, were from Muslim Minority provinces of British India and migrated to the lands that formed Pakistan to assume power in Karachi. They didn’t have any natural constituency in the lands that formed Pakistan. Therefore they always opposed general elections to decide the question of who should rule Pakistan and what kind of state Pakistan should have right from the very start.
Soon this migrant political elite was replaced by a combination of military-bureaucratic oligarchy—Ayub Khan and Sikandar Mirza were the two important members of this oligarchy—which not only had no political base in the lands, they also deeply abhorred any kind of electoral democracy in that lands they came to dominate.
So the minority complex continued to operate in the lands called Pakistan in different forms and avatars.
From then on, story of Pakistani political system is a story depriving majority its right to rule in the lands called Pakistan. Majority manifested itself in different forms—on occasions Bengali majority demanded the right to form the parliamentary government in united Pakistan, on other occasion political majority of political parties like PPP under Benazir Bhutto demanded the right to rule the country after they won parliamentary elections. But every time it was the minority that prevailed and had the last laugh in Pakistan’s political system.
The minority complex, however, didn’t remain restricted to military-bureaucratic oligarchic. Pakistan’s democratic and popular leaders also suffered from it. Zulifiqar Ali Bhutto was the prime and classic example. The situation which brought this minority complex in elder Bhutto to the fore emerged in the wake of 1970 parliamentary elections in which Awami League of Sheikh Majeebur-Rehman emerged victorious in East Pakistan, where as in the West Pakistan, Bhutto’s People’s Party was won the majority of the seats.
But overall Awami League had clear majority in the national assembly and had the right to form the government in the center and PPP was a minority party. Christophe Jeffrelot again quotes Zulifiqar Ali Bhutto as saying in the wake of 1970 parliamentary elections that he represented the “real Pakistan” as he won from Punjab and Sindh—which is reminiscent of superiority argument employed by Sir Syed and Aligarh intellectuals in pre-independence era, when it was Hindu versus Muslim situation. It seems that minority complex and superiority argument has been injected into the DNA of Pakistan’s political and intellectual elite that came to dominate the public life in free Pakistan.
Pakistan is an outcome of democracy and minority complex or superior argument has proved very destructive for the political system of Pakistan. No oligarchy or superior class or religious group can claim to represent the real Pakistan. Democracy and an undiluted one is the only answer to our problems.
Umer Farooq is an Islamabad-based freelance journalist. He writes on security, foreign policy and domestic political issues.