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Political Perspectives

Although freedom is more likely to flourish with multiple parties, the measure of democracy is not the number of parties but the degree of recognition of individual rights.

By Sirajuddin Aziz | November 2021

Feudalism was not meant to be a political system, yet always through history, it had a political context or, in the least, a connotation. The feudal system hinges on a lethal combination of legal, economic, military and cultural systems and has flourished from Japan to Europe, over centuries. It is exploitative because the landowner demands in exchange, labour and services, from the landless. In his book, Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith referred to what he called ‘feudal government’, as an economic system. In actuality the decentralization of an empire inspires feudalism. The sub-continent, during the Mughal era, in particular, was a perfect case in point. They (rulers of Delhi) handed over large estates to submissive rajas, maharajas, nawabs, etc., they lorded over the masses and the peasantry. It is another matter that such craving for administrative purposes diluted the powers of Delhi’s rulers.

Feudal society is from the lowliest of the low, to the wealthiest of the filthiest order, of the economic strata. The powerful distinct social groups acquire prominence through the perpetuation of exploitation of labour and the peasants. A feudal society comprises the nobility (read all the ignoble), the clergy (read the religious opportunists) and the peasants (read the hapless). This is not about Pakistan -- it is a broad definition of feudalistic society. But the existing system’s similarities with our politicians’ feudal outlook are striking.

Capitalist society or capitalism as an economic system is a trivial refinement over the feudal system, where the relationship of social contract is established between powerful entrepreneurship and the working class, cum labour. There is free enterprise, but there are only fetters for the working class.

Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance (H.L . Mencken). Upon gaining independence, both Pakistan and India thought it proper to pursue the Westminister model of parliamentary democracy. In doing so, at least Pakistani politicians failed to see if its contours suited the local situation. Shashi Tharoor. in his book, ‘An Era of Darkness’ is describes the British parliamentary system in the following words: “I am far from convinced that the British system is suited for India. The parliamentary democracy we have adopted involves the British perversity of electing legislature to form an executive: this has created a breed of legislators, largely unqualified to legislate, who have sought election only in order to wield (or influence) executive power…. It has distorted the voting preference of an electorate that knows which individual it wants but not necessarily which policies”.

This is so true for Pakistan, as well. Many disputed elections indicate that, possibly it is insanity that drives people to vote.

In our context, self-interest of politicians is projected as contest of values and principles. People have to learn that a good politician and an honest dacoit can never make an acceptable equation. Most politicians, regrettably, agree with Frank Mcnally’s views, that if the politician wishes to succeed in politics, he/she must keep the conscience under control. Somewhere it is said that a politician is one who lays down his life for his country. Theadore Roosevelt, I am certain had no idea of our parliamentary setup when he remarked, “when they call the roll in Senate, the senators do not know whether to answer, “Present” or “Not Guilty”. Unfortunately the poor (uneducated mostly) electorate has to choose between candidates to know which of them would do the least harm. Political systems developed over centuries have been many. The political party system is based on the adult franchise that exercises its right to vote for a person / party, of his/ her choice, with free will and no coercion.

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