4 5 1 4 1 2 1 . I have been contesting and winning elections for decades. Natiq is a poet and novelist from Okara, Pakistan.
Every two weeks I travel from Lahore, where I teach Urdu literature at a university, to my village in Okara district of Punjab Province. The conversations, the political debates, the infrastructure of the cities disappear in the three-hour bus journey. I grew up here and my parents continue to live here. Most Pakistanis in my village and in thousands of such villages live in grueling poverty, living off subsistence agriculture and working as laborers. Democracy serves a singular purpose in the village: to maintain the power of our feudal lords and to further enrich them and their families.
The rural people of Pakistan don’t have the luxury of weighing ideologies and campaign promises of political parties. Who they vote for is determined by a smile, by a disapproving look from the feudal lord. Tens of thousands of votes are cast for the political party the overlord favors — a choice he always makes after weighing the balance of power. The practice of democracy in the countryside is almost invisible to the television anchors and columnists and other influential urban compatriots who pay American prices for a cup of coffee in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad.