As I sit writing this week’s column, I am getting scraps of news from friends and acquaintances about a ‘Long March’ converging on Islamabad and what it has done to disrupt the lives of thousands of people. I have always looked upon democracy as a system that is based on prerequisites such as high literacy rates, a balance between agricultural and industrial economies and urbanisation - none of which exist in Pakistan.
Public meetings, processions and marches are a part of democratic dispensation in countries where people have a high level of civic awareness, courtesy, maturity and responsibility. Regretfully, the masses in the ‘land of the pure’ and our political leadership possess nothing or very little of these attributes.
It is argued that we would have reached the desired democratic level had our journey not been interrupted by successive martial laws. While I do not deny the negative role of military rule on the political process, I cannot absolve our political parties of being worse if not equally dismal, in governing the country whenever they did come into power. A case in point is the performance of the current dispensation.
Getting back to the subject of ‘Marches’ - a phenomenon that is the bane of every ordinary citizen, who is neither a party worker nor a zealot. The worst affected by such political motorcades are the intercity travellers, caught in a snail pace stream of vehicles with no thought or courtesy for those, who want to get somewhere in a hurry and wish to cross them. As more vehicles come up from behind, the ‘concertina effect’ kicks in and the number of vehicles begins to grow with both willing and unwilling participants. If a lucky driver finds a suitable exit, he heads for it as deftly as he can, in order to take a detour.
A long march generally ends in a demonstration or a sit in, at a key spot where the media can cover them. If this sit in is in the federal capital, then residents better stay indoors for movement in and out of the twin cities becomes almost impossible and sometimes fraught with danger. The government machinery comes into action as entry points and other key roads are blocked with containers with total disregard to the plight and panic of residents, who want to get home from their work places. What happens to people suffering from a medical emergency is another matter.
This brings me to question I have often put to my friends: if this is a march, then it should be on foot not in the luxury of four wheelers. However, since that is how it is, I am inclined to call this a ‘Long Drive’ instead of a ‘Long March’.
A novel variation of the ‘March’ is the ‘Train March’. This time it is the train passengers that bear the brunt of this form of protest. Deprived of their seats by swaggering political workers, these poor folk can do nothing, but fume. Conditions are further compounded when the train stops at stations, only to resume its journey after the long speeches with their empty promises have finished.
Here too, there appears to be an error, for how can a train journey be classified as a march. It would give me great pleasure to see our political leadership walking from Lahore to Islamabad in the middle of the railway track ending their adventure with bleeding feet.
I am waiting for the day when some political alliance will announce an ‘Air March’. This will be a most interesting event, as it will tax imaginations to their limit. Here are a few cases in point:
i How will the political leaders address the people in cities they are flying over?
i How will they achieve sadistic satisfaction with the understanding that they are not disrupting everyday life down on the ground?
i How will they overcome the shock of consuming supersized meals served to them at staging points, if they were travelling by road”
i And above all, how on earth will they create the ‘concertina effect’ to show numbers while in the air?
Since long marches appear to have become a fashion, I would advise my readers to maintain a calendar of ‘Long Marches’ and regulate their daily life and travel accordingly. For instance, marriages could be fixed not in keeping with the lunar cycle, but the gap between the marches of two political parties or the annual board meeting in Karachi may be scheduled after obtaining political time tables from all concerned.
n The writer is a freelance columnist.