When you hear the look-alikes of our leaders in potentially irreverent television comedies, you know that it is a joke. When the leaders themselves make a statement or answer a question in a press conference or talk-show, you take it seriously. There is an instant ticker on the news channels. Headlines come in the next day’s newspapers.
Ah, but the caricatures may be more truthful than the leaders themselves. The real joke is how the leaders change their stance, statements and promises. Because the news channels have ready access to the relevant clips, the spectacle of how our politicians shamelessly renounce their earlier positions is now becoming a regular distraction.
Do I need to give any examples? For instance, we know what the likes of Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi had said about the PPP and its leaders. Likewise, Asif Zardari was candid about ‘Qatil’ League. There was that great Mushahid Hussain sound-bite about the stupidity of the Zardari-led government. And yet, they were willing to be partners in the ruling coalition. Remember Imran Khan’s crusade against the MQM? That stance has changed.
It is the same when leaders make promises. These promises have to be taken on their face value. Not only that the promises are not kept, the situation gets worse. It was in the National Assembly that Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani pledged that his security motorcade would consist of only four vehicles.
Now, politicians in other countries also change their positions. The dictum is that there are no permanent friends and enemies and a door is never closed in politics. Still, drastic shifts necessitate appropriate explanations and apologies. Politics, too, has its own code of ethics and behaviour. Some moral principles have to be respected.
We may refer here to the hallowed tradition of a high functionary submitting his or her resignation as soon as a credible charge or financial or moral corruption is reported. We read about it all the time. But our leaders do not seem to believe in any concept of accountability or personal integrity.
However, our media has traditionally been more attentive to what they say – rather than what they do. Statements make more news than events, at least in the newspapers. Every speech made by the prime minister or some prominent leaders has to be displayed on front pages. The joke is that the particular statement may be a repetition of what has been stated a dozen times.
I recall a story about a correspondent of a major daily who was posted in Quetta when Ayub Khan was our president. His life’s desire was to interview the president. So, when Ayub Khan was on a visit to Quetta, his newspaper received an exclusive interview of the president. It was, naturally, published as the main lead. But the interview had not been granted. The reporter had only shuffled some sentences from statements published earlier in the week. And the information decided not to contradict the story.
So, the next time you watch political satire on your news channel, take it a little more seriously than a statement made by the real person.