The looming change

Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them. (William Shakespeare) What Shakespeare said about greatness can also apply to the dynamics of change. Sometimes, if the warning signs are not heeded, change is forcibly thrust. A person, for example, who normally avoids going to a doctor or taking a medication may be the one under the force of circumstances likely to give consent to a major life-saving surgery. In the US, for a large part, the assumption amongst much of the Muslim community was that if one remained nice, quiet, and confined political activity to donating money to the campaigns of a few high-ups here and there, no harm would come. It was a sentiment for holding on to the comfort zone of the status quo, and, in effect, an argument against change. And then came 9/11. At home, an untenable scenario is fast emerging: flames on the Frontier and a federal set up with a proven incapacity to govern. The twin problems which have plagued the political culture remain rampant in their ferocity: (1) the naked pursuit of riches and (2) the taste of vengeance. Taken together, they ensure increasing fragility when the need is for greater stability. Many in power may have ample experience in money-manoeuvring but little experience in genuine governing. A pattern of expending precious time and energy in laundering past misdeeds continues but time may be running out, with the urgency for change gathering momentum. Venal institutions, constant in-fighting, and personalised agendas have overtaken and compromised the urgency of doing common good. Internal weaknesses - which now pose an existential menace - cannot remain disguised in an age of instant communications. The subcontinent is notable for its surprise endings. After the Dhaka debacle of 1971 - with Indira Gandhis Sikh general, Aurora, at centre stage - few would have imagined that Sikh assailants would slay Indira Gandhi; that Indian Congressmen would spearhead the massacre of Sikhs in 1984 in Delhi which would dwarf in scope the Jallianwala Bagh massacre of 1919; that Zulfikar Ali Bhutto would be hanged by his hand-picked army chief; and that Bangla Bondhu Mujib would be gunned down by his own Bangladeshi troops. Too often, there is not enough determined intention to make a success but enough defeatist assumptions to ensure failures. Coupled with defeatism, there is a sense of denial - a feeling that with the passage of time and with the process of democracy continuing, the situation automatically should get better. It wont. In Satyajit Rays classic movie, The Chess Players - set during the period just before the upheaval of 1857 - the Muslim aristocracy in India is depicted as self-absorbed and squandering its time in playing chess while oblivious to the unravelling of its rule and the creeping encroachment upon its domain by the British. False hopes and false democracy do not make the recipe for success. A set up which punishes petty theft yet rewards grand theft is neither tenable nor sustainable. The moment may be rapidly approaching when the For Sale sign has to be replaced by 'Not For Sale. Change does not usually come with a polite knock on the door; it often forces its own way in. The writer is an advocate and a senior political analyst.

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