When India and Pakistan are celebrating their 64th independence anniversaries, the scions of the two dominating families are also happily entering their adulthood in political arena. Rahul Gandhi in India and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari in Pakistan are equally conscious of their dynastic clout that gives them the power and privileges they have come to enjoy without holding any government office.
They dress up simply — Rahul in kurta and pajama and Bilawal will soon be returning to Pakistan and wearing salwar and kameez (the dress that Zulfikar Ali Bhutto prescribed). But both dynasties have tons of money, most of which they have reportedly stashed away abroad. Every one remembers the luxurious country estate priced at more than four million pounds (Dh23.76 million) that Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari purchased in the English county of Surrey. In former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi's regime, the Bofors gun scandal was a byword for corruption.
Both dynasties, Nehru-Gandhi on the one hand and Zulfikar-Benazir Bhutto on the other, are conscious of their support among the gullible whom each have fed on slogans: former prime minister Indira Gandhi promising the electorate to oust poverty (garibi hatao) and Bhutto's vowing to give the common man access to food, clothes and housing (roti, kapda aur makaan).
Without doubt they have each let their respective nations down because people on both sides still wallow in poverty and helplessness. But the past sacrifices of former prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru in one country and those of former Pakistan prime ministers Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir in the other have still sustained the hope that the two dynasties would one day deliver the dream which they had sold.
Indeed, the two families have the halo of martyrdom around them which the Congress in India and the Pakistan Peoples Party are able to cash in on during the polls. One may criticise Indira for driving morality from politics during the Emergency from 1975-1977, but at the same time, who can forget that she was assassinated by her own security men whom the intelligence agencies correctly identified as doubtful. Bhutto may have rubbed his opponents the wrong way, or suppressed free speech, but people recall him as their saviour who gave his life because he wanted democracy to live.
When will the peoples of the two nations remove the blinkers from their eyes is difficult to say because Pakistan remains a feudal society and India a middle class-led democracy, with a wobbly parliament. Yet one thing is certain: the common man will some day assert himself and undo the spell of the dynasties and their misgovernance.
Sadly, none of the political parties in either country ever thought of providing free education. This should have been a priority with the enlightened Nehru, or with the first martial law dictator in Pakistan, General Mohammad Ayoub Khan. Had people in the two nations been educated, they would have been resourceful enough to start enterprises and oust social ills from their lives. Today — after more than six decades — India's literacy is around 70 per cent while Pakistan remains way down. Instead the rulers on both sides have cultivated prejudices in the hearts of the people. The hatred between India and Pakistan is one of the fallouts.
Another fallout has been the lack of character in the upper class. It has no sense of social obligation. The dazzling malls that have come up are full of women who flaunt their Rs1.6 million (Dh129,171) purses and of men who think that the clothes with foreign brand names give them distinction and the intellectual air which they otherwise lack. They have no pride in indigenous goods. Perhaps it is time for the two countries to introspect about where they are heading and what are their goals. A little soul searching cannot do any harm. It is no use picking one party or one person as a scapegoat. In this bath we are all naked. The problem with us is that we have lost sensitivity.
We may talk about poverty, but we, the privileged class, really do not know what the poor go through, or how they live. Mahatma Gandhi, who led us to freedom, said that the country would now usher in an era where everybody would have food to eat, a house to live and an opportunity for gainful employment. Nehru talked about a tryst with destiny and promised to fulfil the dreams with which the people had lived during their bondage. The founder of Pakistan, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, promised equality to all in religion and opportunities. His dream of a pluralist society has been belied by modern Pakistan. India can at least say with pride that it has established a secular society. Yet what the rulers and dynasties in both countries have to realise is that they are far from what the founding fathers had promised.
On the 64th birth anniversaries of India and Pakistan, people should make it clear that countries are not playgrounds for any dynasty. Democracy means rule of the people, by the people and for the people.
Kuldip Nayar is a former Indian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom and a former Rajya Sabha member.