We are right even when we are wrong neatly sums up the attitudes and predispositions of leaders in Pakistani politics who are perpetually in denial mode, and which has brought the country to the brink of disaster. The net effect of this attitude has been negligence in dealing with the most pressing issues of our age (poverty, hunger, disease, democracy, security, hygiene) because politicians have been obsessed with maintaining power, authority and influence in the country at any cost. Even if the leaders were squeaky clean and distanced from corruption, they would still not be up to the herculean task of dealing with the issues and problems of the age. Their recourse to rhetoric and symbolism – imbricated in the language of democracy - in place of substantive policies and their muscled implementation follows from their psychology and practice of self-serving and low moral and intellectual standards.

This of course, is not surprising. Compared to the political leaders of most other third world countries, status quo Pakistani politicians have grotesque personalities and characters. Their essence and modus operandi can be summarised by the adage ‘arrogance at home and servility abroad’. Even towards India, the world’s biggest centre of pretension, communal violence and least number of lavatories.

The political leaders’ mentality of denial of what is wrong and what needs to be done, is correlated with their low cunning and materialistic tastes that are nowhere more apparent than in their personal habits and culture. They crave and consume high-end Western material goods, including toiletries, shoes, clothes, watches and so on. But why do they stop there, as if consumption of these goods epitomised the pinnacle of good taste and the ultimate goal of politics. Why do they not graduate on to the more instructive and deeper dimensions of Western cultural artefacts. Though the West can be blamed for many things that are wrong in the world, for example wreaking death and destruction in the Muslim world, they cannot be blamed for every ill in Pakistan. They never ordered Pakistani politicians to only consume their glitzy consumables, and they never stopped them from developing higher quality tastes in the lived life such as listening to the compositions of Shostakovich and Prokofiev, or reading Wittgenstein. So if they are to ape the West, why not ape the best for their country, including machine tools, good governance and high culture without Western bias.

One does not expect them to have written a thesis on Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, as an entrée into politics (though becoming local councillors before orbiting would constitute good training); but they could at least have a quick browse at Rawls’ A Theory of Justice, as this might be an appropriate accompaniment to Givenchy fragrance plied on their restless bodies. Nor does one expect them (next time they are in London) to be chauffeured in a Rolls-Royce to Wagner’s The Ring of the Nibelung. They would not like this opera because in 1848 Wagner took part in a popular uprising in Germany and Austria against the autocratic powers of the royalty, which sparked a revolution in many cities and towns among them Dresden, where he became one of the uprisings chief supporters. The people took to the streets and pressed the King with the demand for electoral reform and social justice.

So Wagner would be bypassed; but they could attend Bizet’s opera Carmen with its easier listening and simpler theme of lust, greed, envy, and over large egos. These members of Pakistan’s political elite may feel that they are out of their depth in attending operas. But they would be wrong in thinking this: they would be very much at home at Handel’s opera Rodelinda with its theme of moral decay, ambition, intrigue, betrayal and murder.

The above behaviour and cultural orientation is definitely correlated with the practices of the political elite in Pakistan’s economic, social and political spheres: the massive array of missed opportunities to legislate and implement policies for profound social and economic development in the country as a whole, rather than being obsessed with symbolisms like the urban transit system. Because the latter course of action is easier and quicker, irrespective of whether it deepens or not. Most thinking people would consider these policies to be wrong and misguided. The political leaders would insist that they might be wrong, but they are right nevertheless in doing what they’ve done.

This attitude prevails presently in relation to the rigged general election, and the call for a fresh one. Elections are necessary because there is no common will among the people, only majority will. The election bestows legitimacy on the will which is held by the majority. Pakistani status quo politicians should know that elections are a way of resolving differences. They know that there are deep differences over the outcome of the last general election, and that in order for these to be resolved without resort to force, they need to acquiesce to the demand for new elections for a fresh mandate. These demands cannot be deflected with the deployment of mendacious casuistry. The status quo politicians know that they are in the wrong in rigging the election, but they think they are right in not acknowledging this. But for how long will they be right. They should call for new elections soon, and simultaneously try to refashion themselves as politicians dedicated to secure the best for all, and not for themselves alone. Tigers may never be able to change their spots – but these politicians are no such species. A more appropriate question: can rodents learn to forage differently so as not to wreak havoc on the country?

Pakistani politicians could dump their old habits and look for an alternative modus operandi and turn to Ibn Taimiyya, a wealthy man who lived simply in turbulent times. Although he did not reject the polity (Caliphate), he redefined it by turning it into a rational political institution intended to serve the community. Through creative reinterpretation, he deployed the Qur’anic concept of fitra (divinely endowed human nature) to centre the highest epistemic authority. In this way, he subverted the elitism that had become ensconced in the politics of his day, and tried to revive the ethical dimension of politics of his time. But sadly, latter day Pakistani politicians would subvert even this into a wrong, while claiming all the time to be right.

The writer is a freelance columnist.