King or Country?

By: Humayun Gauhar
Published: July 1, 2017
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My articles, I am told, fall in the category of ‘musings’. Nice. Muse away, I say, but try as I might, when one’s muse, my wife in my case, is far away in London for more than a year with nary a sign of returning, what to do? Even my friend Maverick the Monkey, Commander of the Monkey Brigade of the E-7 jungle is away in the environs of Gilgit, not just to get away from the heat but more to get some contract – any contract – in the CPEC. But muse away I will without a muse, for happily I have got used to, even comfortable, without my muse – any muse. That’s true independence.

Force of habit makes me read out the first bit of this article to my old muse and she said, typically, “Cut the rubbish Humayun and cut to the chase.” But what should I chase; there is so much to chase. The Panama papers against our Godfather’s corruption or Trump successfully destroying the world with King Salman’s help who has it in for Iran and all Shias or Maniac Modi spoiling for war with Pakistan and starting a thermo nuclear conflict or Kim Jong-un fingering America or the UK elections or what? I will just muse and let the devil take the hindmost.

The world is descending into a state of utter confusion regarding sovereignty, independence and statecraft.

There was a time when the rallying cry was ‘For King and country’, where they used ‘State’ and ‘Country’ interchangeably, though there is a vast difference between the two. They are not synonymous. A country is a land from which a nation springs up, a nation being people with many commonalities, particularly language. A country is natural. A state is manmade and more often or not comprises of many nations with many languages, many of which are themselves divided between other states. Thus the hypocritical nomenclature ‘nation-state’, but the state is hardly ever a nation. Thus the Scotts will insist that they are a nation that is part of a state called the United Kingdom. A country which is also a state is much more natural and thus powerful because it would not be easy to cause divisions in it, regardless of religions, sects and even tribes and sub-tribes and yes, global or regional power struggles.

Now ‘For King and country’ has become ‘For King OR country’ because the king, by whatever name called, has become synonymous with country and state. ‘King and country’ they say. The truth is that a king without a country would be nothing and would be living on a platform of Delhi railway station; a country without a king would not only survive but might even do better,” so too a state. Political scientists say that a head of state (not government) symbolises the “continuity of the state” – not the country.

Saving the king or de jure ruler has come to mean saving the system no matter how iniquitous it is because it means saving the few beneficiaries of the system. It is saving the status quo: the few beneficiaries will fight tooth and nail to save the system and the status quo, which means saving the constitution that begets them no matter how bad and irrelevant and even illegitimate the constitution may be. For the few beneficiaries of the system, or the ‘elite’ as they are also called, it’s no surprise that the constitution is akin to a divine book from heaven. ‘Elite’ really means amongst the best, like Jahangir Khan is included among the elite of squash. But now the term ‘elite’ has sadly been debased to mean the richest, the most influential or the most powerful. Essentially, when they fight tooth and nail to save the system, the elite are responding to that most primeval animal instinct called survival. Contrarily, destruction of an iniquitous system really means survival of the earth’s wretched who are always in a majority in most, if not every state.

Where the king or head of state is only a symbol of continuity and essentially ceremonial, the ruler, de jure or de facto, has assumed the position and importance of king in his own and the public’s minds. “I am the state” he proclaims; “lose me and lose the state.” “After me the deluge” and all that nonsensc, he and his minions shout from the rooftops. They forget the images of ‘immortal’ kings past that lie decaying in the dust. Remember the Pharaohs, now gracing many a museum attracting only curiosity and wonder. So now in a state the king is country: no king no country; no king, no system; no king, no status quo. They forget that if there were no state (or ‘country’) there would be no King or Constitution and some hegemon would rule, a condition we in the Third World are all too familiar with.

Ask yourself: when was it last when we were truly sovereign and independent? No in my lifetime or yours. Don’t get fooled by the symbols of independence: a flag, a national anthem, a parliament a Supreme Court building, an armed forces capable of defending for not more than two months.

We keep chasing certain ephemeral ‘freedoms’ – speech, association, and information, entirely forgetting the freedom to earn a respectable living, to have access to fundamental human rights like decent clothing, shelter, education, movement. The few institutions that symbolise freedom have been occupied and are controlled by the rapacious elite: the executive, parliament, judiciary and the media. Our executive doesn’t even have the freedom of decision-making; it has to pay heed to what outsiders tell it to decide because we have lost the economic war. Sorry but we are not free.

Since the iniquitous system and man-eating status quo are dearer to the small, charmed national elite, patriotism has been ejected from the country. They don’t simply believe the first slogan ‘Country First’ but ‘King First’ because they think the king is good for the country and because his presence ensures the continuity of the iniquitous system that is enshrined in the constitution. Such convoluted thinking forgets that if there were no country there would be no king, no constitution, no system and no elite. When systems fail and fall they give way to chaos and anarchy that causes grave destruction and human death. In very few lucky situations anarchy propels revolutions that can lead to more equitable systems or, more likely, to new states, remembering that ‘country’ and ‘state’ are used interchangeably, each one being different entities.

In Pakistan the Supreme Court has called the King ‘Godfather’ because the government has become a mafia. One fears the day the Godfather starts thinking that he is god, like the Pharaohs did before him. Where are they? In the graveyards of indispensable men, are they not?

About the Author
Humayun Gauhar
The writer has been a journalist and columnist since 1980. He writes for various national and international newspapers.