Compassion Fatigue

Pretty soon the general elections of 2013 will be a distant memory. The government will retreat to its offices, to do what it does, and the people… well, they’ll carry on too.
But life’s pretty rough these days for the common Pakistani. The new budget has further bent the back of the average Bilal, terrorism continues unabated and, as a massive heat wave melts people’s souls, electricity is nowhere to be seen.
The new government has promised relief, and with the circular debt to be zeroed within 60 days, along with the possibility of lots of Saudi oil on deferred payments, it seems they may well be able to deliver on the relief promise. But none of this is permanent, and as we all know, large-scale improvements are required before Pakistan can come out of this energy crisis in the long run.
Whether the PML-N can bring about these required large-scale improvements is another matter, best left to experts. What this discourse is primarily about is compassion fatigue. Not by the government, but by society – and a very specific section of the society.
In the lead up to the recently concluded elections, a new wave of voters washed up on the electoral shore. Riding on the promise of a new Pakistan, this new electoral force, braving a scalding summer sun and temperatures in the mid-forties, came out of their comfort zones into pleb-infested public cesspools, to vote for their pied piper. When these new voters realised that a massive rigging campaign had taken place in their areas, they took to the streets.
Protests erupted in Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi. Even the fear of backlash from other parties in Karachi did not stop them from voicing their anger and registering their disapproval of what had gone down in certain upscale areas of the city. For the first time, somebody had dared to take on the MQM, regardless of the dangers the history of that party carries. In short, these people were standing up for their rights, ensuring that their votes had not been discounted. I’m sure these people think that they played a major role in highlighting the wrongs that had gone down during the elections. Yes, they did. Kudos to them.
What I find a little bizarre and disappointing is how this same vote bank doesn’t seem to care much for other issues concerning Pakistan. Take loadshedding for example. Yes, there have been protests in some parts of the country, but they have been led by the lower and middle classes who always end up bearing the brunt of this country’s misdoings. Are we to assume that this upper middle class doesn’t care about this issue? Is it because they have funds enough to purchase UPSs and generators and the daily fuel to run the latter?
I have long maintained that this energy crisis is artificial, in that it isn’t an issue of supply and demand, but rather an accounting and management problem. The strength and will required to solve it remains missing. What can force the government’s hand in this matter is people’s power. In the words of the revolutionary Jamaican singer Robert Nesta (Bob) Marley: Cost of livin’ gets so high/rich and poor they start to cry/now the weak must get strong/they say oh what a tribulation!’
Well, not exactly, but you get the drift. The problem with Marley’s point of view here is that the rich couldn’t give two cents for the problems of the masses. Only when they perceive that they themselves have been wronged, only then do they protest.
If this were somewhere else, the public’s response would have been different. The rich and poor alike would have come out on the streets – standing shoulder to shoulder, irrespective of colour, religion or weight. Mass protests would break out across the length and breadth of that country. Public property would be damaged, offices ransacked and banks looted. The government would most likely respond, there would be violence, and perhaps some people would die as well.
But the corridors of power would shake, and immediate steps would be taken. This kind of people power demands unity. And empathy – something severely lacking in Pakistan. The state we’re in right now, if the loadshedding hours are reduced from 18 to 16 hours, we pinch ourselves, praise the Lord and cross our fingers. This cannot be: ‘A rain a-fall, but the dirt is tough, A pot a-cook, but d’ food no ‘nough’
When the circular debt rises again, and the deferred oil runs out, and we return to 18 hours a day of loadshedding, what will we do? Rather, what will the poor, downtrodden class of Pakistan do? Sure, they’ll protest a little, but nothing substantial, because if all their time’s spent in protest, how will they put food on the table? So after a few shouts, they’ll return to their fields, and their factories, to continue slaving as they always do.
The rich however, will take it easy, comfortable with their generators and UPSs.