Farewell to Benazir or to Democracy?
(Written at the time of her Assassination)
Lakshmi Raj Sharma
Professor, Department of English,
University of Allahabad,
Allahabad 211002. India
The assassination of Benazir Bhutto, some years back, forces us to reconsider some basic presumptions and to cogitate on whether the so-called civilized procedures of contemporary life are ironically leading to a state of savagery. Democracy is turning out to be one of the most unnatural institutions invented by man for a presumed convenience. It had evolved as an agency that would foster civility, social harmony and human longevity. There is no doubt that for some time, in fact for several centuries, it fulfilled its purpose with a semblance of satisfactoriness. Today democracy has seeped so deeply into our blood that assigning any negative connotations to it could tantamount to a fault of the mind. Yet every country that has adopted it has felt its limitations. Democracy has now and again tended to mock at the very purpose for which it came into being: providing security to people and helping their voices to be heard. The democratic representative has managed to grind his own axe under the garb of a “caring for everyone” appearance. This phenomenon has been true r on the face of it in South Asia. But in the apparently more advanced democracies like the United Kingdom and the United States of America the phenomenon has remained hidden, operating from behind the wings. We may imagine that the common man is now fairly enlightened and wise enough to know that his voice is being heard. But the picture that has seemed to emerge is one in which the average man of today is no different from the one Shakespeare presented in Julius Caesar, where the bard chuckled cynically at the naiveté of the masses or at what he considered to be mob mentality.
Why do I call democracy unnatural? Because the most natural thing for every man to wish for is grabbing power and possession without caring for what the other would like to acquire or be. Democracy is supposed to stop man from this kind of wish-fulfilment; it is supposed to give maximum benefit to maximum people. It is therefore by its very nature opposed to what is natural for man to do in an undemocratic set up. If we elect governments and allow ourselves to be governed by them (or should I say subdued by them into a state of civility) it is only because without that we would roll toward the totalitarianism of dictatorial regimes. But what is dictatorial in an undemocratic set up and what dictatorial in a democratic one is sometimes difficult to distinguish. When Benazir Bhutto was shot dead, Pakistan was returning to democracy, the elections had been announced. The President of the United States of America had expressed satisfaction at the way things were progressing in Pakistan. We were all rather satisfied with the changes that Pakistan was likely to attain theoretically. But then on December 27, 2007 came the rude shock of this assassination. The point with democracy is that it tends to be theoretically right. It makes the maximum number of people believe that they are getting the maximum number of benefits. It creates that sham satisfaction in which we can say “God’s in his heaven and all’s right with the world.” Far from giving us our basic securities, democratic governments generally fail to offer even our right to life. This happens not only for the common people but also for the distinguished leaders at the helm of democratic power. At the time when Rajiv Gandhi was blown to pieces, India had already settled into a comfortable state of democracy. When President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, there wasn’t even the fear of terrorism and America was a powerful democratic nation. The deaths of these powerful people, and those of others, who are given state protection, only go to prove that in democracy things like security exist at the theoretical rather than the real level. At such moments it dawns that in democracies everything doesn’t happen democratically; even democracies have politically strong individuals doing what they like. The deaths of these leaders are not the chief concern of this article. They are merely pointers at the helplessness of the so-called secure and powerful leaders of democracies. When democracies offer so much uncertainty to the people at the top of the political hierarchy, what can the man at the bottom expect?
The man at the top, as well as the man at the bottom, remains in doubtful control of his life in a democracy. If we say that Democracy cannot guarantee a secure life to its people, what else can it guarantee? Does the citizen remain even reasonably represented in a democratic state or are the voices of bullies and politicians the only ones that are heard? To answer this question one needs to ask the average American whether he approved of the policies of President George Bush or does he say yes to everything done by the present President? Or one needs to ask the average Indian whether his voice is ever heard by a parliament that is dominated by a coalition government. The number of questions that Democracy invites is not small. How far does the democratic procedure of elections actually make an elected government representative? Does a democratic government ever act as a truly representative government? When democratic governments are judged against certain other forms of governance like the erstwhile system of benevolent despotism, for instance, can they match up to them? We have reached a stage in human history when such basic questions need to be raised and a serious attempt be made to answer them. Has democracy evolved into something that is riddling itself increasingly with answerless questions?