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Legoland

Michael Dobbs is an author and British Conservative politician. Made a life peer, he got the title of Lord Dobbs of Wylye. As the then prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s chief of staff, he was known as Westminster’s baby-faced hitman. During her third term election bid, rivalry within the party led Thatcher to believe that he was plotting against her. This led to Dobb’s expulsion from her inner circle.

Smarting from the ignominy, Dobbs set off on a getaway trip to Malta where his wife told him not to be pompous about the novel he was reading and demanded that he do better himself. Flustered, Dobbs sat down with a pen and pad by the pool. It was there that he conceived the protagonist of his ‘House of Cards’ trilogy. Initially Westminster’s Francis Urquhart and then Washington’s Frank Underwood, the explosive political thriller would become a global television sensation.

Adapted by BBC in the 1990s, it portrayed Urquhart scheming his way to 10 Downing Street. The White House version has Kevin Spacey playing the manipulative and ambitious US Vice President Frank Underwood. His spoken words have become lexicon. Narcissistic, overbearing and ruthless, Underwood describes the road to power as being “paved with hypocrisy, and casualties”. He also declares, “For those of us climbing to the top of the food chain, there can be no mercy. There is but one rule; hunt or be hunted”. He thinks of friends as those who “make the worst enemies”.

Many credit Dobbs as also being adept at foreshadowing events. He foretold the fall of the Berlin Wall and the 90s crisis in the British monarchy. In the British version of House of Cards, Urquhart turned a photo of Thatcher face down and cried “Nothing lasts forever”. The week it was aired, Thatcher was forced out of Downing Street in tears.

Politics is referred to as chess, the game of kings. In Pakistan, it is a daily reenactment of the House of Cards, bereft of rules and replete with machinations. A ruthless drama it is where, as Machiavelli implied, the ends justify the means. Analysts and politicians declare unabashedly that anything and everything is possible in Pakistan. The proof lies in the unfolding events and the fact that much before the elusive election date was finally announced; almost all Pakistanis had achieved the power of foresight.

The unanimous vision was that, despite the plummeting political standing and the absconder and convict status of Nawaz Sharif, he would be the prime minister fourth time around. The crystalline clarity about the future governing setup and its emerging model outshines the prophetic prowess of Nostradamus, what to say of Dobbs of Wylye himself.

Proficient at the unruly that we are, we have also gone far back in time to glean out methods of condemning the memory of those deemed unwanted. Though much older, recorded practices can be found in ancient Rome where it was called damnatio memoriae: to condemn the memory. This was done by trying to erase someone from history and removing related images or references. It was blatantly used to reset the political landscape and reshape narratives as needed and decided by the erasers.

Not content with this, delving further back into history we discovered political ostracism in 5BC Athens. So integral had this practice become in Athenian democracy that philosopher and historian Plutarch writes in his work ‘Parallel Lives’: “The sentence of ostracism was not a chastisement of base practice, nay; it was speciously called a humbling and docking of oppressive prestige and power”. Gleefully adopted being a tried and tested Athenian coolant, it is liberally applied to what are deemed overheated politicians.

Famed philosopher Charles de Montesquieu is known for his seminal work ‘The Spirit of Laws’. It is recognized as perhaps the greatest work in the history of political theory and jurisprudence. A principal proponent of the theory of separation of powers, Montesquieu asserted that, “There is no crueler tyranny than that which is perpetuated under the shield of law and in the name of justice”.

It is the solemn duty of every state to maintain order and punish criminal acts. Even more important is that it is done explicitly through due process. It should in no way be arbitrary or subject to manipulation by the state.

Joseph Stalin used the judicial system to decimate his rivals. The purge saw the incarceration of 98 of the 139 Congress of Victors’ members elected in 1934; some were shot dead. Only 59 of the 2000 delegates that met at the 17th party congress in 1934 met a year later in the 18th one. Known as The Moscow Trials, Stalin had just one objective; to make the state subservient to Stalinism, a name that became synonymous with tyranny.

Describing (would be) political heavy weights, Underwood bemoans “Proximity to power deludes some into thinking they wield it”. Our politics has been an obsession with Russian roulette, where even the players have never been in control of the eventual outcomes. A news item about the Italian prime minister buying a couple of copies of House of Cards had Dobbs advising, “I hope he realizes this is a book of entertainment, not a book of instruction”.

Our dire straits demand that we throw away the much tried and tested book of instruction. It has only made Pakistan into a Legoland of hybrid contraptions that has cost us very dearly. The resulting non-delivering governance has created a fatal vacuum that is a breeding ground for terrorism, regression and public alienation. What we desperately need is a truly representative and stable government. It is crucial for our survival. This can only be possible if the people are allowed to decide their future in an untainted free and fair election.

Mir Adnan Aziz, "Legoland," The News. 2023-11-17.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political standing , Democracy , Politicians , Nawaz Sharif , Lord Dobbs , Pakistan , Moscow