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Triumphalism, Pakistani style

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Asha’ar Rehman

It has to be one of the most appalling images in the world. The victors shaming, ridiculing, making fun of their victims – the vanquished – in a statement meant to establish their superiority. The kind of triumphalism that is conveyed through stories from far and near in Pakistan in which the killers are not just content with defeating, exterminating their opponents, but where they must now break into joyous dance to put their seal on the conclusion for all times to come.
The trait comes naturally to people. It has to be gradually subdued in favour of decency, of good sense. I remember how as young boys we would be ever so keen to mock and ridicule the side we had just beaten in a cricket match. The banter would give way to taunts and often it would all end up in physical confrontation. But slowly we started to appreciate the others, more as partners over and above their coarse appearance as the opposition with whom we had to vie for some impermanent honours.
Slowly, we realised that we could learn from those with whom we locked horns, to use an animal phrase. We would now be eager to concentrate on how – and how beautifully – they did it. We respected them and apparently and hopefully this made better human beings out of us.
What kind of a reaction can one expect from a powerful ruler who thinks he has been vindicated by the court over a pet project of his?
This was a lesson that everyone was supposed to learn. But there were, of course, those who learnt it late and those who may still be in the process of securing the wisdom in these mutual stand-offs, eg, the winners who must set ablaze the camps of a losing opponent after an election to stamp their authority. Or those who are always up for that most obvious oxymoron of all occasions called celebratory fire.
Those who are still learning the merits of being sober in victory are spread all over. In recent times, a specimen of them in good supply was to be found on Twitter and other social media sites. In this particular case, these practitioners’ triumphalism emanated from the court snub that Mian Nawaz Sharif had received by way of his disqualification. This set hordes upon hordes from the opposite party to take to the internet to repeat the old bad ritual in which the winner is allowed to embarrass the loser in the most banal manner. It continued for so long that eventually even some of those who have had their own history of making fun of others cried out for an end to hostilities.
There were, however, those who could justify it then and justify it after a year or two of continued incessant taunting of the party in power – on the basis that the ruling party itself had its own star practitioners of the lowly art of triumphalism that is favoured by all here in all post-win scenarios. These old boys have yet not discovered the merit of ending it on a polite note, and can only appreciate the finer points of an opponent after the latter has crossed over to their camp. Unless that happens, the more appropriate word for those lining up across the battle lines in Pakistan would be ‘enemies’.
A charter between two big political parties may not herald a true democratic order with all its prerequisites. For the weak-hearted though, it could signify the coming of an age where the bilateral bashing that the two parties had been indulging in would be kept in check and the people would consequently have a less noisy neighbourhood to live in.
The problem is not when the two sides act as if they are not beholden to the grand democratic principles listed in the charter. The real issue is that even the more basic calls raised by an acute sense of superiority are not resisted. There are actually so many moments in everyday life when we can demonstrate that the desire to be graceful in victory is as much alive in the ‘others’ as it is in us. These opportunities are not cashed in on. The Pakistanis cannot mock it. They cannot even pretend to be graceful.
The act is even more difficult to perform for those who have the image of an angry man to cater to. Take the case of the angry younger man who has been playing a perfect foil to a sober-looking elder brother for so many decades.
Suppose the younger brother is the chief executive of a region or a province. Suppose he has forever sold to the people – to the party, to the bureaucrats who must serve him and to the media at large – the defining image of an administrator who stands no nonsense.
Now suppose that chief executive is questioned by a group that says one of his projects could have dire consequences for a city that the powerful man has been firmly in control of for ages. Now think about a situation where the powerful man has been allowed by a court to carry on with the project after having been briefly stopped from executing it in certain parts of the city by the same group of his critics.
What kind of a reaction do you expect from a powerful ruler who thinks he has been vindicated by the court over a pet project of his? He is obviously not the one who has learnt to give due respect to the opponents early on in the cricket field. He is not someone who would be bound by any new trends of accepting the opposition point of view with due solemnity and certainly not capable of setting a new tradition of his own. He is likely to unleash his own brand of triumphalism on the people he is sure to have vanquished. The illusion fits perfectly with the scheme. It must not be challenged. -Courtesy: Dawn

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.