Petty politi­cians or easy scape­goats?

A dream fa­ble from a strangely fa­mil­iar land where peo­ple blame their politi­cians for their own fail­ures

The Hindu - - COLUMNWIDTH - Tabish Khair is a nov­el­ist and aca­demic who works in Den­mark

I dreamt that I woke up in a for­eign coun­try with many lan­guages, cul­tures and re­li­gions. It was also a coun­try with a work­ing demo­cratic sys­tem and a Par­lia­ment full of dif­fer­ent par­ties.

The peo­ple of this coun­try, de­spite wide swathes of il­lit­er­acy, mostly par­tic­i­pated in the po­lit­i­cal process, and of­ten held strong views. But they tended to com­plain end­lessly about their rep­re­sen­ta­tives. Some of them would ag­gres­sively — even vi­o­lently — en­dorse one party against the other, but they would also cas­ti­gate politi­cians in gen­eral.

“If only we had good politi­cians,” one of them lamented to me. “Yes,” added his friend, who ac­tu­ally sup­ported a party in the Op­po­si­tion. “All th­ese politi­cians just play us against each other in or­der to win. They never think of the peo­ple and the coun­try first. Sheer op­por­tunists, all of them. With no moral, no char­ac­ter, noth­ing but a hunger for power.”

In my dream, I lis­tened to them, and it sounded fa­mil­iar. I had heard sim­i­lar sen­ti­ments while awake too. But I was cu­ri­ous. I asked them to ex­plain.

Two cults

“Well, you see,” one of them said. “We have var­i­ous re­li­gions, but the ma­jor one is known as the cult of stone and the sec­ond big­gest one is known as the cult of air.”

Ah, I said. That sounded fa­mil­iar too. “And what do th­ese, er, cultists look like?” I in­quired.

“Look like?” he an­swered. “They look hu­man, like me and him, of course!” He pointed to his friend, who — to my for­eign eyes — looked al­most like his twin. “My friend be­longs to the cult of air: we call them Aeri­al­ists. I be­long to the cult of stone: they call us Lithi­cists.”

Ok, I re­joined. “I don’t see any prob­lem yet — let alone a prob­lem your politi­cians can take ad­van­tage of.”

“No, you won’t, you don’t know the place,” the Ae­ri­al­ist re­sponded. “But you see, we had this church in which we wor­shipped our god who can­not be seen, and the Peo­ple’s Party of Aeri­al­ists claimed that it had been built on the spot where one of their vis­i­ble gods had been born...”

“Not that you lot were ac­tu­ally us­ing that Ae­ri­al­ist church,” the Lithi­cist re­joined with a laugh.

“Facts, my friend, facts. You are talk­ing be­lief; we are talk­ing facts. Your lot broke down our church by sheer force. You broke the law in the process,” the Ae­ri­al­ist re­sponded.

The two friends paused at this point of dis­agree­ment and then agreed that, in any case, they did not care this way or that, and the mat­ter would be de­cided in court be­fore the next elec­tion.

“I still do not see how politi­cians can...,” I be­gan to say, but I was in­ter­rupted by the two.

“That’s not the only is­sue the courts will de­cide be­fore the next elec­tion,” the Lithi­cist in­ter­posed. “You see, the Ae­ri­al­ist Church has its own per­sonal laws.”

“So do other churches here,” the Ae­ri­al­ist broke in.

“But my friend,” the Lithi­cist con­tin­ued. “You will agree that your per­sonal laws are a bit harsh on your women: the hus­bands ob­vi­ously get more rights than the wives. Why, they even get more wives!”

The Ae­ri­al­ist looked a bit un­com­fort­able and waved away the is­sue. “I say, let the courts de­cide,” he replied. “They will, they will,” his friend laughed.

I was still quite con­fused in my dream. “Look here, gen­tle­men,” I ob­jected. “It is not that I am un­fa­mil­iar with such con­tro­ver­sies, but what I still do not un­der­stand is why you seem to be blam­ing all this on your politi­cians?”

Both of them replied to­gether: “Be­cause our politi­cians take ad­van­tage of such sit­u­a­tions!”

“But how can they?” I asked, bewil­dered. “You have said that the courts will de­cide, and you have told me that you have a con­sti­tu­tional democ­racy and func­tion­ing courts in your coun­try. If so, surely, the courts will de­cide against the con­ser­va­tive Lithi­cist po­si­tion in the case of the de­mol­ished church and against the con­ser­va­tive Ae­ri­al­ist po­si­tion in the case of the per­sonal laws. I mean, you have al­ready in­di­cated that, in terms of law and jus­tice, it was wrong to de­mol­ish the Ae­ri­al­ist church and that it is wrong of Aeri­al­ists to dis­crim­i­nate against women in their per­sonal laws. So, prob­lem solved: your courts will take the right de­ci­sion be­fore the elec­tions and no politi­cian will be able to use th­ese is­sues again!”

Accepting court or­ders

Both the friends laughed in­cred­u­lously at me.

“That is what you think, do you?” they scoffed. “Well, let me tell you, Mr. For­eigner (or maybe they said Mr. Dreamer), many Lithi­cists won’t ac­cept a court or­der in favour of the Ae­ri­al­ist po­si­tion on the mat­ter of the de­mol­ished church, and many Aeri­al­ists will not ac­cept a court or­der against their per­sonal laws. So, do you know what will hap­pen be­fore the elec­tion if the courts take the cor­rect de­ci­sions in both the cases? Mobs of Lithi­cists and Aeri­al­ists will be out in the streets protest­ing and smash­ing win­dows for dif­fer­ent rea­sons, pre­vent­ing rea­son­able vot­ers from vot­ing… The elec­tion will be to­tally po­larised. Politi­cians!”

“Surely it is not the politi­cians’ fault if so many of you refuse to ac­cept the cor­rect...,” I started ob­ject­ing, but that is when I woke up.

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