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Democracy pipedream

Whatever his other credentials, Musharraf has never been accused of corruption nor nepotism, writes Khushwant Singh.

india Updated: Dec 14, 2007 22:38 IST

Democracy cannot be imposed on a people; it has to evolve and survive on their free-will. Americans should have learnt that lesson from their experience in Iraq. They have not, and are now experimenting it in Pakistan. They have bullied General Musharraf to shed his uniform and become President Musharraf. He has lifted the Emergency and restored civil rights to citizens. He has promised elections on January 8, “come what may”. Americans have put their money on Benazir Bhutto; the Saudis who are a despotic monarchy and the chief source of finance for Sunni Muslim militancy are backing Nawaz Sharif. Both of them have been charged with corruption in the past.

Whatever his other credentials, Musharraf has never been accused of corruption nor nepotism. Cronyism is a different matter. What will be the outcome of the poll in January 2008 and what kind of democracy will emerge out of it is only known to Allah.

Democracy is of many kinds as can be seen in Western countries, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand. India has evolved its own brand, which may be described as dynastic-feudal democracy. We developed a taste for it during British rule. It could be said that but for men like Gandhi, Nehru and his close associates, it could have taken a different shape. They abolished separate electorate and gave adults, including women, voting rights. More often than not we elected wrong people with criminal pasts or those who used muscle and money power to win elections. Our Election Commission gradually eliminated such people; nevertheless unsuitable people still manage to win elections. Results of elections, often do not tally with public opinion. But we continue to enjoy freedom to vote and a free Press. If we continue to regard the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty as of prime importance, it is of our free will. If we let some families control States elections, and form governments largely based on their kinsmen, it is also due to our willingness to do so. We can easily reject them at the next elections. We have the freedom to bark at all times; we also have the freedom to bite once every five years.

Pakistanis are very much like ourselves except they have not developed a taste for democracy because of the years of military dictatorships. Perhaps they have forgotten the adage that ‘good government is no substitute for self-government’. Our best wishes are with them.

The Importance of Khayyam

Professor Mandani who was with Osmania University, Hyderabad, is now settled in the US teaching in Illinois. He read of my disenchantment with religion and discarding religious theories on origin, purpose and future of human existence. And my praise for liquor. He sent me a photostat copy of the first illustrated edition of Fitzgerald’s English translation of Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyat published in 1859. I am familiar with Khayyam's rubais and can rattle off quite a few I know by heart. On-reading them it struck me how many poets and thinkers have rubbished religious beliefs in earlier lives and what follows death, but nevertheless the vast majority of human beings continue to subscribe to them. They enjoy the poetry but refuse to accept its thought-content. Asadullah Khan Ghalib spelt out his disbelief in paradise in the 19th Century; Omar Khayyam did so many centuries earlier. He was born in Naishapur (Khorassan) in the 11th century and cast doubts on the existence of heaven and hell as well as exhalted the joy of drinking wine-both unacceptable to orthodox Islam. To wit:

Into this Universe, and why not knowing
Nor whence, like water willy-nilly flowing
And out of it, as wind along the waste
I know not whither, willy-nilly blowing
He mocked the pretence of knowledge holy men claimed:
Why, all the saints and sages who discussed
Of the two worlds so wisely -they are thrust
Like foolish prophets forth; their words to scorn
And scattered and their Mouths are stop with dust

Khayyam was candid enough to admit his ignorance on these matters, clearly indicating that no one else knew any better:

There was the door to which I found no key
There was the veil through which I could not see:
So little talk while of Me and Thee
There was - and then no more the Thee and Me

I could go on and on quoting Khayyam’s heretical beliefs. Suffice to say that though he died in 1123 AD, his works attained immortality because of their lyrical beauty and outspoken candour.

Queen of Melody

Singer Noor Jehan was known in Pakistan as Malika-e-tarunnum—Queen of Melody. She was also good looking and known to have had many lovers.

One day her niece asked her, “Massee, how many lovers did you have in your life?” She mused over the question for a while, then began to name her lovers in turn.

Massee,” interrupted her niece, “You have already named sixteen and are still counting!”Noor Jehan said with a sigh: “Dekhoji, nah nah kardey vee solaah ho gaye-see, (despite my saying no, no every time, the count has already come to sixteen.) If I added those to I said haan, haan (yes, yes), to, I would lose count.”