Petty politicians or easy scapegoats?

Tabish Khair

A dream fable from a strangely familiar land where people blame their politicians for their own failures
I dreamt that I woke up in a foreign country with many languages, cultures and religions. It was also a country with a working democratic system and a Parliament full of different parties.
The people of this country, despite wide swathes of illiteracy, mostly participated in the political process, and often held strong views. But they tended to complain endlessly about their representatives. Some of them would aggressively — even violently — endorse one party against the other, but they would also castigate politicians in general.
“If only we had good politicians,” one of them lamented to me. “Yes,” added his friend, who actually supported a party in the Opposition. “All these politicians just play us against each other in order to win. They never think of the people and the country first. Sheer opportunists, all of them. With no moral, no character, nothing but a hunger for power.”
In my dream, I listened to them, and it sounded familiar. I had heard similar sentiments while awake too. But I was curious. I asked them to explain.
Two cults
“Well, you see,” one of them said. “We have various religions, but the major one is known as the cult of stone and the second biggest one is known as the cult of air.”
Ah, I said. That sounded familiar too. “And what do these, er, cultists look like?” I inquired.
“Look like?” he answered. “They look human, like me and him, of course!” He pointed to his friend, who — to my foreign eyes — looked almost like his twin. “My friend belongs to the cult of air: we call them Aerialists. I belong to the cult of stone: they call us Lithicists.”
Ok, I rejoined. “I don’t see any problem yet — let alone a problem your politicians can take advantage of.”
“No, you won’t, you don’t know the place,” the Aerialist responded. “But you see, we had this church in which we worshipped our god who cannot be seen, and the People’s Party of Aerialists claimed that it had been built on the spot where one of their visible gods had been born…”
“Not that you lot were actually using that Aerialist church,” the Lithicist rejoined with a laugh.
“Facts, my friend, facts. You are talking belief; we are talking facts. Your lot broke down our church by sheer force. You broke the law in the process,” the Aerialist responded.
The two friends paused at this point of disagreement and then agreed that, in any case, they did not care this way or that, and the matter would be decided in court before the next election.
“I still do not see how politicians can…,” I began to say, but I was interrupted by the two.
“That’s not the only issue the courts will decide before the next election,” the Lithicist interposed. “You see, the Aerialist Church has its own personal laws.”
“So do other churches here,” the Aerialist broke in.
“But my friend,” the Lithicist continued. “You will agree that your personal laws are a bit harsh on your women: the husbands obviously get more rights than the wives. Why, they even get more wives!”
The Aerialist looked a bit uncomfortable and waved away the issue. “I say, let the courts decide,” he replied. “They will, they will,” his friend laughed.
I was still quite confused in my dream. “Look here, gentlemen,” I objected. “It is not that I am unfamiliar with such controversies, but what I still do not understand is why you seem to be blaming all this on your politicians?”
Both of them replied together: “Because our politicians take advantage of such situations!”
“But how can they?” I asked, bewildered. “You have said that the courts will decide, and you have told me that you have a constitutional democracy and functioning courts in your country. If so, surely, the courts will decide against the conservative Lithicist position in the case of the demolished church and against the conservative Aerialist position in the case of the personal laws. I mean, you have already indicated that, in terms of law and justice, it was wrong to demolish the Aerialist church and that it is wrong of Aerialists to discriminate against women in their personal laws. So, problem solved: your courts will take the right decision before the elections and no politician will be able to use these issues again!”
Accepting court orders
Both the friends laughed incredulously at me.
“That is what you think, do you?” they scoffed. “Well, let me tell you, Mr. Foreigner (or maybe they said Mr. Dreamer), many Lithicists won’t accept a court order in favour of the Aerialist position on the matter of the demolished church, and many Aerialists will not accept a court order against their personal laws. So, do you know what will happen before the election if the courts take the correct decisions in both the cases? Mobs of Lithicists and Aerialists will be out in the streets protesting and smashing windows for different reasons, preventing reasonable voters from voting… The election will be totally polarised. Politicians!”
“Surely it is not the politicians’ fault if so many of you refuse to accept the correct…,” I started objecting, but that is when I woke up.