Friday, December 7, 2007

People's Protection and Mercy Season


As the sun sets over 14 Tollington Road, GOR Lahore, outside a posh bungalow, people are chanting slogans against the government and vowing to protect an old, ailing gentleman-judge who has refused to take oath under the much-maligned PCO. The Registrar loyal to the government has threatened eviction, but the people who still consider “Justice Sahab” a legitimate sitting judge of the Lahore High Court stand guard outside the house, at all times of the day and the night. They vow that they shall not let anyone evict the judge. He is under the People’s Protection, as they continue this drarna-cum-vigil.

Any astute and seasoned observer of Pakistani politics will tell you that in the heart of a leafy elitist district of Lahore, outside a posh residence of a High Court judge, people sitting on charpoys and staging protest is a very surprising phenomenon.

But the fact remains that the people are extending support to those who seek it. On God’s earth, there is no protection greater than that offered by his people, when they stand united, and in defense of principles they hold sacred. Today, the public believes that the judges stand for their inalienable rights against an increasingly lawless and barbaric state. The people now believe that protecting the judges is key because it is they who act as society’s bulwark against the fierce onslaught of totalitarianism.

It is important to remember that this is not an old phenomenon. People have had a lot of scores to settle with the judiciary. Not long ago, the judiciary was considered part and parcel of the civil-military establishment that upholds the system of capitalist exploitation in this country. The lower judiciary still lingers under that stigma. As for the higher courts, it took no more than a few concerted gestures of honest, principled commitment from a majority of the higher judiciary – and khalq-e-khuda(God’s peopple) forgave all their past sins. More that that, khalq-e-khuda is actually holding them in a warm, pretective embrace. Standing outside the Judge’s residence, today no one would even bear mention of those embodiments of judicial sins that extend from Dosso to Zafar Ali Shah and Nawaz Sharif v State and countless others. Those cases are history and today is another day.

Everyone explains this by saying that this nation has a very limited political memory. I think that the real explanation lies elsewhere. For one, we are a people who were raised to suspect everyone and criticize all. We are given to weaving conspiracy theories, to ridiculing policies, laws, ideas, anything and everything except, of course, if it is an order backed by the threat of immediate sanction from a power that currently prevails. One after the other, the nation’s hopes and the heroes who embody those hopes (political leaders, entrepreneurs, sportsmen, nuclear scientists) have all been seriously, and often maliciously, discredited. People are desperate for just about any straw of hope that they may cling on to. And if, in such a time of crisis, the higher courts, despite their tarnished history, extend a full helping hand, nay a strong arm, why wouldn’t the people respond. Add to that the fact that in harder times, people, like their God in heavens, become oft-forgiving.

No one should ignore the public’s new-found, infinitely magnanimous and reconciliatory mood. Talking of reconciliation, it is one thing to reconcile your disputes with the powers-that-be in the state and quite another to seek reconciliation with the people’s fury. In all honestly, the latter is worth more – particularly for any politician or officer of the state with a pretence to serving the people.

Now is truly a time of National Reconciliation. The example of the judges proves that God’s people, just like him, have opened the floodgates of mercy. Political parties should not lose this opportunity to clean the very many stains of their past by openly embracing the people’s demand for the restoration of judiciary and fundamental freedoms. It may be a bit premature to say this, but it appears that the same offer is open to the police. If today the people have embraced the higher judiciary, what stops the police from doing a just a little to deserve the same treatment. Even the army and all other organs of the states, who are taking a severe beating in their respective jobs and wouldn’t mind some help, should seriously reconsider their options. Wouldn’t it be better if the strongest state institution of Pakistan, instead of locking horns with the people, joined them in their march towards a better, freer future?

A proviso must be added to this discourse: the current Mercy Season may end anytime soon. As soon as the first is fired against them and their first martyr falls, ranks will frozen and people on the other side would be become ‘others’. Any political party or institution of the state that wants to close ranks with people should do it now, when they still can. You can shop for the People’s Protection before blood is spilled; after that, the Sale will be over and the price to pay for missing a historic opportunity will be very high.

No comments: