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Between the line
 

Deepening democracy
March 25, 2009

 

TWO things of import happened on the same night in Pakistan and India a few days ago. The first was the wresting of the reinstatement of deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary and nine other judges from the clenched fist of Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari. The second was the meeting of most non-BJP and non-Congress parties in India to constitute a third front to give the country another alternative after the Lok Sabha elections so as to do away with the communal politics of the BJP and Sonia Gandhi’s one-person rule in the Congress.

No doubt, the battle at Lahore was far more important to save democracy in Pakistan. By restoring the judges who had earned the ire of the then President General Pervez Musharraf for not falling in line, the lawyers, the media and the civil society who came on the streets have sent a message that the Pakistan judiciary cannot be trifled with.

By clearing the ground for the third front, the opposition parties have asserted that if democracy is to be saved in India it has to be deepened and pluralistic. What the Long March in Pakistan has shown is the same determination—deepening democracy. Chief Justice Chaudhary, who has undergone untold sufferings since his dismissal two years ago, may well be the guardian of Pakistan. That he has the support of the intelligentsia makes things easier for him. But he will fail the nation if he does not cleanse the stables.

The third front in India too has a lot of work to do to clear the mess that the Congress and the BJP have piled up for years. The biggest crime the two parties have committed is to politicize the ills in the society to stay in power. With musclemen and money bags, they have destroyed the values. Now they want to corner enough seats in elections so that no combination reaches the magic figure of 272 in the 545-member Lok Sabha without the support of either of them.

However, the parties which constitute the third front suffer from one handicap: each one of them has at one time or the other been part of the alliance which the Congress or the BJP has forged. This does rub off their claim to a principled stand. Yet the visionary paper which the elements in the Left are drafting may retrieve their standing and attract voters if the visionary paper can make the people believe that the third front parties will give them a rule which, as Mahatma Gandhi said, will provide job to everyone and roof above their head.

Pakistan already has a visionary document, the Charter of Democracy, which the late Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif signed at London. The document affirms its commitment to fight against “the mockery of the constitution and representative institutions, growing poverty, unemployment and inequality and brutalization of society.” The Charter calls upon the people of Pakistan “to join hands to save our motherland from the clutches of military dictatorships.”

I wish the Long March had included in its programme the implementation of the Charter. Indeed, I was taken in by Nawaz Sharif’s statement, while joining the march, that it was a revolution. I am not minimizing his achievement of restoring the judges. The revolution should have meant something for the common man, groaning under the weight of poverty. If Pakistan does not shed feudalism, has no land reforms and rejects the steps for a welfare state, the independence of the judiciary, however important, will not do. But who will initiate the process because Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Reza Gilani are big landlords while Nawaz Sharif is a top industrialist.

A similar dilemma confronts the third front. But one of its constituent, the CPI (M), has said in its manifesto that the state will minimize the inequality between the rich and the poor. Will the other constituents of the front own this as their poll plank? The CPI (M) patriarch, Jyoti Basu, has rightly advised the party to join the government if the third front is in a position to form the government. Both India and Pakistan should realise that democracy without social justice is a shell without content.
However jubilant Pakistan, it has to reckon with the army which has its own identity. All visiting dignitaries call on General Parvez Ashfaque Kayani just as they call on the President and the Prime Minister. Implementing the Charter of Democracy will mean reducing the importance of the armed forces. Is this possible? The recent crisis could have easily brought back Kayani. But he himself was determined not to interfere. Nor did his friend, America, want him to do so. This only underlines the power that the army wields.

I recall when Zulfikhar Ali Bhutto assumed power in 1971 after the emergence of Bangladesh. I asked him at Islamabad how he would ensure that the military would not come back. He said if ever such a thing happened, mere log (my people) would come on the streets and fight against the tanks. Nothing like that happened when General Zial-ul Haq took over. There were more protests in India on Bhutto’s hanging than in Pakistan.

The Charter has not said anything about the inquiry on Bhutto’s hanging. Interestingly, there is a proposal to appoint a commission to “examine and identify the causes of and fix responsibility and make recommendation on the light thereof for incidents like Kargil.” At least India would like Zardari’s government to have such a commission if the charter has not been dead with the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.
The third front does not have to fear a military takeover. But the ambitions of its political leaders make it look like a ladder to climb up to prime ministership. The other day Mayawati, the BSP leader, who heads the UP government, gave a dinner to leaders of the third front, made it clear that she would join it if she was nominated as the prime minister. Ultimately, she agreed that every party would keep its options open and decide about the leader after the elections. The differences were too many to be resolved.

Only the future will tell whether the optimism generated by the third front is justified. That both the Congress and the BJP are mocking at its birth shows that they are jittery. On the other hand, what happens if the ruling Pakistan People’s Party and Nawaz Sharif’s Muslim League comes out in the open to fight for supremacy? The crisis will start all over again. The two will have to join hands for the betterment of Pakistan just as the third front constituents for India’s sake. Somehow, it sounds wishful thinking.

 
 
 
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