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This, that and the other

December 09, 2007

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HAVING written a column for this week, but having no desire to be carted off to jail or to suffer any physical inconvenience — not being a street fighter and, besides, not having too much time left to me — I consulted my lawyer and asked him to vet it.

He is young, wrinkled with pragmatic wisdom. His advice: Scrap it! You have no rights at present. You can be picked up by the dreaded men of the ‘agencies’, you can be harassed, even tortured, and surely jailed. To so do, they can take you into custody from anywhere – your house, your club, a friend’s house, your park – handcuff you, tie you up, put you into solitary confinement, starve you – in other words, ‘enlightened moderation’. We, your lawyers, will have to fight like King Leonidas against the Persians at the Pass of Thermopylae attempting to stave off ‘enlightened moderation’. It is far better to sit at home, stay away from your PC, and enjoy the company of friends in this fair weather.

Then I asked whether my animals were safe — my dogs, my cat, my cockatoo. I was told that as they are my property they cannot be arrested but they can be killed. In fact, they have more rights than I do. At least they cannot be ‘picked up’. But, and a big but, who will hear you if you are caught?

The manner in which President General Pervez Musharraf and his government dealt with Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry on Mar 9 and with the entire judiciary from then onwards is, to say the least, highly condemnable – and it has duly been condemned by all at home and abroad. This action is bound to get him and those who have governed with him over this period into prominence – well above the footnotes – in the history of the semi-civilised nations of the 21st century.

Reflecting upon all this makes one ponder upon the past, upon the times when statesmen such as Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and Mohammad Ali Jinnah were in command of the destiny of the subcontinent, admittedly in their era not so overrun with what we now refer to as ‘subcontinental monkeys’.

To be found in my archives is a photograph of a highly concerned looking Rabindranath Tagore listening to the woes of a distressed and disturbed Gandhi. It was then that Tagore told him: “If they don’t follow you, walk alone.”

Strange as it may now seem, when Gandhi who had preached non-violence all his life was brutally murdered by his assassin it evoked mourning in Pakistan. Jinnah remembered him as ‘a great leader of men’.

These days our media is filled with the approaching threat — the boycott of the elections. Let them threaten on, let there be discussions and predictions galore, but I am willing to bet that not one, repeat not one, of the undesirables who will be eligible to contest will boycott (apart from Imran who has made his position eminently clear). There is too much at stake, too much to lose. Many of them may not have another chance to leap upon the gravy train. The two main protagonists have been out in the cold for a long time and their ‘touch’ is not what it was. Benazir Bhutto stands in a queue for entry into a poorhouse, Nawaz Sharif stands to lose all his hair for good this time around, and Altaf Hussain of London town cannot risk a return to the homeland.

Good for Imran, our cricketer and beneficiary of thousands of poor cancer patients of his country. He is the cleanest of the lot and we must respect his decision to boycott. For any reason should he be picked up and jailed he should not even think about going on a ‘fast until death’ (which he is rumoured to have done when he was briefly incarcerated last month). He must remember that when Gandhi embarked upon his fast unto death he was dealing with a benevolent government.

Legend has it that the astute Gandhi would give notice to the government of his intention to embark upon a fast after ascertaining that Colonel Narriman Mehta, a physician and an officer of the illustrious Indian Medical Service, was still around. The notice would be conveyed to the Viceroy through various channels, the Viceroy would notify the Secretary of State for India in London, who in turn would inform the prime minister, who in conference with his ministers would then discuss what it was that Gandhi wanted of them. They would decide on what could and could not be granted and when. Thereafter, Gandhi would be taken into custody, incarcerated in the Aga Khan’s palace in Poona or some other such comparably comfortable quarters.

And incarcerated in the room next to Gandhi would be none other than Gandhi’s favourite physician, Colonel Mehta, who had been given instructions to see ‘that the old buzzard does not die’.

He however did die, but not until after his British jailers had handed over the subcontinent to its new rulers, one of which was Jawaharlal Nehru. There may be some of us still around who remember when the Sikh leader, Master Tara Singh, in protest announced that he would fast unto death. No problem, said Nehru, and promptly forgot him. There was no Colonel Mehta around in those days. The free Sikhs pleaded with Nehru, whose simple answer was: “I have not asked or ordered Tara Singh to fast. If he wants to die, so be it.” Some days later, the Sikhs were back with the news that Tara Singh was sinking. Nehru remained unmoved. The Sikhs suggested that he make some sort of gesture to enable Master Tara Singh to find an excuse to give up his fast. Nehru refused to budge.

Finally, one day we saw a photograph of a group of Sikhs offering an orange to Tara Singh, the caption underneath suggesting that the basket of oranges had been sent with Nehru’s blessings? And so Tara Singh survived to fight another day.

arfc@cyber.net.pk