Of politi­cians and their sooth­say­ers

Many sup­pos­edly ra­tio­nal lead­ers have sought spir­i­tual help in gain­ing an edge over their ri­vals. Ron­ald Rea­gan’s wife reg­u­larly con­sulted a Cal­i­for­nian syn­di­cated horo­scope colum­nist.

The Asian Age - - Oped - Ir­fan Hu­sain

WHAT­EVER peo­ple might think about Im­ran Khan’s words and an­tics, no­body can deny that he brings a lot of colour and ma­cho swag­ger to pol­i­tics.

By mak­ing bizarre ac­cu­sa­tions against ri­vals, he suc­ceeds in putting them on the de­fen­sive while de­flect­ing any crit­i­cism of his own course of ac­tion. And, like Trump, he shrugs off at­tacks from the tiny mi­nor­ity of lib­eral, sec­u­lar crit­ics who quaintly seek the truth in our po­lit­i­cal dis­course.

And so the PTI cir­cus rolls on from one tri­umph to the next, lights ablaze and trum­pets blar­ing. In fact, it’s the only show in town, with other par­ties and politi­cians pro­vid­ing the chief show­man with a se­ries of easy tar­gets.

Nawaz Sharif is hit with the charge that he handed over state se­crets to the Amer­i­cans. Proof? That’s a 20th cen­tury con­cept with no rel­e­vance to con­tem­po­rary Pak­istani pol­i­tics.

With just a few months to go un­til the gen­eral elec­tions, you would think Im­ran Khan would be bur­nish­ing his party man­i­festo, and high­light­ing the achieve­ments of his party in KP province. Far from it: judg­ing from me­dia cov­er­age, the whole coun­try is fix­ated on the Great Khan’s mar­riage pro­posal to his “spir­i­tual guide”.

Frankly, I couldn’t care less about who Im­ran Khan mar­ries: what hap­pens be­tween two con­sent­ing adults should be strictly their busi­ness.

How­ever, the fact that a na­tional leader, and a se­ri­ous con­tender for the coun­try’s most pow­er­ful civil­ian job, should need the crutch of a res­i­dent sooth­sayer is dis­turb­ing.

Ac­cord­ing to breath­less me­dia cov­er­age, it was the lady in ques­tion who ad­vised Khan to go to the moun­tain re­sort of Nathi­a­gali while the Pana­m­a­gate trial was go­ing on. But do we really want a Prime Min­is­ter who is so gullible? How­ever, Khan is not alone in his su­per­sti­tions: ac­cord­ing to re­ports do­ing the rounds at the time, Nawaz Sharif sought guid­ance from a pir known as De­wana Baba in Mansehra.

We are in­formed through a re­port in Dawn from a cou­ple of years ago that Asif Zar­dari prob­a­bly man­aged to com­plete his term in of­fice thanks to the pow­ers of Pir Ejaz. Apart from this ma­jor tri­umph, he also claims that he was in­stru­men­tal in en­abling Zar­dari to ac­cess the $ 60 mil­lion sit­ting in Switzer­land, and frozen by the author­i­ties pend­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

And let’s not for­get the goats: ap­par­ently, one an­i­mal was slaugh­tered ev­ery day for the du­ra­tion of the Zar­dari pres­i­dency.

The same gent had ad­vised the PPP head hon­cho to stay near the sea to ward off the evil eye, as well as other su­per­nat­u­ral at­tacks launched by his en­e­mies.

Dur­ing her sec­ond stint as Prime Min­is­ter, Be­nazir Bhutto was re­ported to seek guid­ance from De­wana Baba, Nawaz Sharif’s seer. You’d think that af­ter Sharif’s un­cer­e­mo­ni­ous de­par­ture, BB would have seen the light. No chance: once bitten by the or­a­cle bug, the vic­tim seeks to guard his spir­i­tual flanks against at­tacks from the dark side.

It is of­ten in­se­cure lead­ers who seek the ad­vice of or­a­cles and seers. Lack­ing con­fi­dence in their own de­ci­sion- mak­ing pow­ers, they look to higher pow­ers to guide them. And once you start be­liev­ing in jinns, you need to counter hos­tile spir­its with your own un­seen troops.

But as we know all too well, sooth­say­ers of­ten get it ter­ri­bly wrong. Just look at what hap­pened to Ra­japakse, the Sri Lankan ex- pres­i­dent: there he was, solidly en­trenched with well over a year to go in his term of of­fice, when he sud­denly called for an early elec­tion. Overnight — and much to ev­ery­one’s sur­prise — a frac­tious op­po­si­tion co­a­lesced into an ef­fec­tive elec­tion ma­chine, and de­feated Ra­japakse.

It later emerged that he had been ad­vised by his res­i­dent or­a­cle that the align­ment of his stars pre­dicted vic­tory if he were to call the elec­tion a year ear­lier than they were due. Big mis­take. When asked to ex­plain what went wrong, the sooth­sayer replied that he had guided Ra­japakse to vic­tory twice be­fore, and “two out of three” wasn’t a bad record.

In fact, while we pre­tend to be im­per­vi­ous to such su­per­sti­tious rub­bish, we sur­rep­ti­tiously glance at the horo­scope col­umns in the news­pa­pers to see what the stars say.

Many sup­pos­edly ra­tio­nal lead­ers have sought spir­i­tual help in gain­ing an edge over their ri­vals. Ron­ald Rea­gan’s wife reg­u­larly con­sulted a Cal­i­for­nian syn­di­cated horo­scope colum­nist.

Mankind has al­ways looked for help to ward off the ter­rors of the night when spir­its stalk the land, and ghouls and zom­bies await the un­wary. Most be­lief sys­tems make men­tion of them in one form or another.

So in this wider con­text, does it mat­ter that the man who would be prime min­is­ter be­lieves in this mumbo- jumbo? Ac­tu­ally, yes.

Many years ago, Im­ran Khan rub­bished Dar­win’s the­ory of evo­lu­tion, over­look­ing the mass of ac­cu­mu­lated ev­i­dence that sup­ports it. Is this the man who will give us a ‘ naya Pak­istan’?

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