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Eid ul Azha has finally reached 10 Downing Street. This Eid, a sacrifice was brought into the street and ritually slaughtered with a knife borrowed from the neighbour in 11 Downing Street.  The victim was of course the British prime minister Boris Johnson.  

To read Boris Johnson’s profile on Google is to marvel at how a man with prodigious ambition and limitless self-forgiveness could have attained the post once held by his idol Sir Winston Churchill. Mr. Johnson wrote a book about him titled The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History (2014). In one telling paragraph, in which he reveals more about himself than about Churchill, Johnson writes: ‘He was eccentric, over the top, camp, with his own special trademark clothes – and a thoroughgoing genius... As a young Tory MP, he had bashed and satirised his own party... Too many Tories [regarded] him as an unprincipled opportunist... His enemies detected in him a titanic egotism, a desire to find whatever wave or wavelet he could, and surf it long after it had dissolved into spume on the beach... He did behave with a death-defying self-belief, and go farther out on a limb than anyone else might have thought wise.’

Both Churchill and Johnson achieved fame early, as journalists – Churchill with despatches from Cuba in 1895 for The Daily Graphic, and Johnson in the 1980s for The Times and later The Daily Telegraph. Mr. Johnson’s career as a journalist was a paean to petulance. His tenure as an MP for Henley was tainted with ‘duplicity’. As Mayor of London, he hosted the Olympic Games 2012, but to some internationalists he scorched his reputation when at the World Economic Forum in February 2013, in the presence of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, he suggested that ‘Malaysian women attended university only to find husbands.’

His opponents were treated with loquacious contempt. One group he dismissed as ‘great supine protoplasmic invertebrate jellies’. As Foreign Secretary and later as Prime Minister (he spoke French almost as well as president Macron) he severed the Brexit knot that his predecessor Mrs. Theresa May found so difficult to unravel.

Those who still believe that the Palace of Westminster is a waterfront bastion of democracy should read the political obituaries of Lady Margaret Thatcher and Mrs. Theresa May.  Both believed that they had an electoral mandate to stay in power; their Party and its powerful 1922 Committee (a modern incarnation of the secretive Star Chamber) decided otherwise. Now, Mr. Johnson too has fallen casualty to its obtuse machinations, despite having led the Conservative party to a landslide victory in December 2019 (its biggest success since Lady Thatcher’s days).

Who will succeed him?  The field is open, with a number of hopefuls, including Rishi Sunak (former Chancellor of the Exchequer), Sajid Javid (Health Secretary), and Iraqi-born Nadhim Zahawi (Sunak’s successor as Chancellor).  These are the sort of names Queen Elizabeth might have expected to encounter on her royal tours abroad.  If one of them succeeds, Queen Elizabeth may well have her first coloured prime minister. [Queen Victoria would have been amused, as would her Munshi.] One wit has even suggested that if the net could be cast wider, Pakistan as a member of the Commonwealth could propose a strong candidate from here – he is an Oxonian, speaks English, has two British sons, and prime ministerial experience of sorts.

One parliamentary custom we have not inherited from the British is how to manage a graceful exit. Our democratic executions perpetuate the Mughal maxim: Takht, ya takhta (the throne, or the mortician’s plank). It is either Islamabad or Raiwind/Bilawal House/Banigala, without a courtesy call in Rawalpindi to say goodbye.

By the end of July, there could be a change in the Chief Ministership in the Punjab. By end November, there will be a change in the leadership of the Pakistan Army, following the anticipated retirement of General Qamar Bajwa. Between now and whenever, Pakistan could experience the public disaffection that brought baying mobs into the streets in Colombo last week. Prices there, as here, have been rising like helium balloons. The government there, as here, is at a loss how to arrest years of economic mismanagement.

The crisis in Sri Lanka will cause ripples beyond the Indian Ocean. In 2005, president Mahinda Rajapaksa sold the CPEC to his voters as ‘a game changer’ and the port of Hambantota as the twin-pearl to our Gwadar. Like our Sharifs, the Rajapaksa family is a political dynasty. Their fortunes are linked to the coffers of the CPEC. It cannot please the Chinese to see Mahinda’s brother Gotabaya Rajapaksa resign as president and then go into exile.  

How long before our disgruntled mobs rebel and storm the air-conditioned citadels of Islamabad?


©  F. S. AIJAZUDDIN        

  [DAWN, 14 JULY 2022]   

14 July 2022
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