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The Amin, the mean and the ugly

March 05, 2013

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Pakistan has been in search of Amin (honest) politicians since its birth. The desire to see angels walking (err ... flying?) in the corridors of power is unflinching. You can't help but empathise with the noble intentions but there are a few minor issues which I earnestly believe must be attended to before we join the chorus.

Go through the country's political history and you will find a mention of the misdeeds of the politicians on every second page and on the very next page is written the story of efforts to contain, correct or undo them. If you study the full script, it reads like a tussle full of tense moments, intrigues and highhandedness. Luckily, we have always had some state institution that guarded the larger national interest against excesses of greedy politicians.

The most favored methodology of these esteemed and sensitive state institutions to deal with the menace of politicians has been the doctrine of disqualifications. It started as early as 1949 when our first Constituent Assembly enacted the Public and Representative Offices Disqualification Act, affectionately called PRODA. The quasi-democratic regime of the Muslim League, with Liaqat Ali Khan as its prime minister, faced the threat of a direct election on the one hand, and the challenge of subduing strong 'provincialism' on the other. They needed a tool to selectively hunt down the miscreants, and PRODA came in handy. They could bar politicians through this law for a decade.

But the rulers probably lacked the resolve to effectively use this tool as the menace persisted. Another reason for their reluctance might be that the larger national interest hadn't grown large enough yet; it was in infancy. As soon as it overcame its teething problems, it started crying for a more lethal tool to play with. General Ayub thus, promulgated Elective Bodies Disqualification Order, nicknamed EBDO, to shoot down politicians at his pleasure. EBDO tribunals introduced in 1959 barred politicians from active political lives till 31 December 1966. The date seemed arbitrary but the learned political planners of our military had thought that the EBDO-ed politicians would lose relevance by that date anyway. Moreover, their own hatchery would bear a full flock of Amin politicians, who would then replace their meaner predecessors. The hatchery did produce a brand new flock. At first, they looked quite Amin but after some time they too turned mean, and besides that, there was an ugly duckling among them as well.

So the first experiment turned sour, but the desire for the country to be governed by angels was too precious to be abandoned. General Zia decided to do the job more professionally and recruited a whole lot of experts who excelled in not only defining moral standards but also in collecting everyone's vital measurements. They were so good at it that they could tell the character of a person by just measuring the size of his facial hair or by the way her dupatta's drapery did or did not fence her body. It was now called Ehtesab and the general and his experts fashioned a whole box full of legal tools to do it with precision. Article 62 and 63, that were dusted off recently, were among those. Besides, it included banning politics, lashing corrupt politicians in public and forbidding elections and yes, he also hanged the ugly duckling, just to make his stern resolve known.

But very unfortunately, this experiment too did not prove to be any different. The lot behaved at first but then changed color and there were more than one ugly duckling this time. But if you think that our larger national interest would have given up this seemingly futile effort, you are mistaken. The failure of bearded moral masters gave rise to beard-free champions of honor.

The knowledge of political science had also made considerable advances by that time and one could now develop a DNA map of a political party, isolate the corrupt genes and, more excitingly, transplant Amin genes from elsewhere into these parties. If the party's auto immune system refused the change, the Amin part could be culled into separate sub-species. It was now named Accountability. The science fiction in political theater, however, lasted only till its premier in 2002. The genetic engineering failed miserably and even those fitted with Amin genes turned mean and some even morphed into ugly rebels.

Now what? 65 long years have been exhausting, to say the least. But don't you ever expect the larger national interest to become a hapless bystander. There is no doubt that the odds are stocked against it but try it will. Qadri was one big spike in the otherwise flattening lifeline graph of those on high moral grounds. And we may witness a few more such dramatic highs before the elections.

The people's representatives must be judged against high standards. There can't be two opinions about it. The problem, however, is with why we can't we let the people make this judgment through their vote. Why does some state institution have to assume this responsibility on behalf of the people and indulge in selection before the election? People judging their leaders on standards that the people have set themselves, isn't this what democracy means? If people elect a person, who in the eyes of some, falls below perceived moral standards, then, I have problem with these standards and with the persons who have set them. Let me tell you that these standards are set by those who deal in faith, at the wholesale level and all through our history this bogey has been used to stifle the democratic process.

The clamor for morally sound candidates and efforts to undermine the democratic process go hand in hand. The first Constituent Assembly was not directly elected and the government under it had no love lost for democracy and it enacted PRODA to cleanse the polity. Ayub did not believe that poor and illiterate people should have the right to vote and hunted politicians under EBDO. Zia championed Ehtesab and his party-less elections of 1985 were a slap on the face of democracy. Accountability was a buzz word with Musharraf too, who did every bit to weaken political parties. Come on now, it can't all be a coincidence.

As no supreme guardian is midwifing the elections this time around, Article 62 and 63 are being brandished to force the political discourse the larger-national-interest way. From militarisation of state to moralisation of democracy – is that the total distance politics has travelled in this country so far?

 


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The writer works with Punjab Lok Sujag, a research and advocacy group that has a primary interest in understanding governance and democracy.

 

 


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