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EDITORIAL: It is 2021, but for a while we lived the Orwellian Oceania of Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984) last week. There was this Asma Jahangir Conference in Lahore, to recall and remember that fierce human rights activist and trailblazer of lawyers.

The moot that lasted three days was addressed by a variety of politicians, judges, lawyers, economists and journalists, and as each one of them spoke from his heart – not mind. So a kind of truth emerged about what we as a nation and country are today.

The conference was held within a week of the joint session of parliament which passed 33 bills in a single sitting. All of it may be constitutional, but one wonders if it was democratic also because sheer majoritarianism had ruled the roost.

Be that as it may, the Asma Jahangir Conference helped one think if 2021 in Pakistan is different from the George Orwell’s 1984. That piece of fiction focuses on totalitarianism, mass surveillance and repressive regimentation of people and behaviours in society. The imagined state of Oceania was ruled by the party who employed the Thought Police in compliance with orders of the Big Brother.

Without making it public that Nawaz Sharif too would be a virtual speaker at the conference the organisers had invited Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry as a special guest. But to him Nawaz Sharif making a speech at the Asma Jahangir Conference is “tantamount to mocking the country and the constitution”. He did not come and advised the host, Supreme Court Bar Association, to “remain neutral”.

However, the government didn’t contend with only withdrawing from the conference; it set about making the opposition leader unable to be heard at the conference. So, as soon as Nawaz Sharif appeared on the screen he was taken off the screen. Mobile internet connection at the conference venue had already been suspended. However, the organisers got him back online for a telephonic address. He didn’t say anything he hadn’t said before about the government.

In politics, the future remains unpredictable. But to a discerning eye, things in today’s Pakistan are not as they appear to be. By making a mockery of parliamentary legislation the government has made this institution irrelevant to kind of governance the people need today. A democracy which doesn’t deliver tends to lose popular support.

The realities on the ground are a testament to the tough living of ordinary people. Barring a small number of people who remain unaffected by the uncontrolled inflation the large majority’s concern is neither the climate change nor the digitization of land record. Its concern is the unprecedented unchecked price hike of grocery, deficiency of gas supply in its kitchen and expensive mode of travel.

The majority of people no more buy the government’s assertion that today’s misery is rooted in yesterday’s corruption. That the NAB is catching the thieves is something that too sells no more in the bazaar. Yes, the future is unpredictable, but the vox populi hasn’t given up on its expectation that as the sun sets on 2021 the institutional mindset too would undergo metamorphic change for good governance.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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