By B.G. Verghese
The big news, though still coming in, is of course a famous victory for democracy in Pakistan and a courageous rejection of Islamist fundamentalism despite a mixed verdict. As many as 26 lives were lost to fundamentalist mayhem on polling day and 100 more since the poll campaign began in April. Fear kept away some polling staff and voters but the overall poll percentage hs been gratifying.
Hopefully, the just concluded election presages a new beginning in Pakistan with the completion for the first time of a full parliamentary term under civil rule and a democratic succession. The democratic urge underlying the vote in the face of murderous Taliban threats augurs well for Pakistan and Indo-Pakistan relations. The military, though currently subdued and guardians of the poll,and the mullahs have been jointly and separately responsible for keeping the two country’s apart. The Army safeguards the “ideological frontiers” of Pakistan (read Kashmir and beyond) while the Mullahs defend Islam against the danger of liberal, democratic thought and practice.
This pernicious legacy of the fundamentalist two-nation” theory is also being currently fought in Bangladesh. If democracy is to take root in Pakistan then these evils must be exorcised from the body politic. There must be a commitment to equal citizenship where not merely Shias, Sufis, Ismailis and Ahmediyas but the Hindu, Sikh, Christian and other minorities as well as women are treated as equal citizens, safe from vicious, medieval blasphemy laws and other forms of discrimination.
Nawaz Sharif’s Muslim League (N) has taken a clear lead with Imran Khan’s new right-leaning but non-fundamentalist Tehrikh-i-Pakistan coming a distant second, ahead of a discredited ruling PPP. Nawaz Sharif has made all the right statements about fostering good relations and cooperation with India, picking up from 1999 when he was rudely ousted by General Musharraf. But much will depend on the kind of coalition he will head and the political bargains struck.
The petty tit-for-tat enmity between sections of Indians and Pakistanis sadly ended the life of Sarabjit Singh, an Indian life convict in Lahore, and Sanaullah, a Pakistani life convict in Jammu. Sarabjit was clubbed to death by his cell mates and a week later there followed the disgraceful revenge killing of Sanaullah by his jail mates. Both were acts of barbarism made possible by callous negligence on the part of the respective jail authorities. Both were victims of senseless hatred. In both cases, those guilty of murder must be brought to speedy justice.
At home, Ashwani Kumar, in particular, and P.K. Bansal have finally been removed from the Union cabinet in a graceless exercise of much delayed propriety. The Congress again failed to do the right thing at the right time. No excuses will wash. The Supreme Court had to hold the Government by the scruff of its neck in the one case and it took a series of criminal exposures in the other before the Government acted.
In the Ashwani Kumar matter, a stinging Court indictment virtually directed the Government to ensure genuine autonomy by July 10 for the CBI, presently “a caged parrot tutored to sing in his master’s voice”. It must be hoped that this will be done and done honestly and that the abhorrent Single Directive will go and the CBI will be vested with an independent prosecution wing to pursue findings of guilt swiftly and relentlessly.The Attorney-Generaltoo has lost credibility and it is best that he goes too rather than remain a lame-duck.And what about the two errant joint secretaries in the PMO and Coal Ministry and their bosses?
Temporary cabinet appointments have been made by way of additional charges to fill the Law and Railway portfolios. Many earlier vacancies remain and a larger reshuffle is due with an infusion of younger blood.
The Congress meanwhile is preening itself on its come-back in Karnataka. The outcome will be welcomed as the BJP administration there had become a sink of corruption and internal dissension and had fostered a dangerous brand of divisive Hindutva-RSS communalism that was poisoning social relations. Caste politics must now be put aside and Karnataka given a clean and progressive government with the accent on performance. This could be the Congresses best ticket for the 2014 polls.
Parliament has been adjourned sine die without endeavouring to debate and adopt the food security and land acquisition bills. The BJP, above all, must bear full responsibility for this wilful sabotage of the nation’s business. By steadfastly refusing to engage with the Government in Parliament and hold it accountable for whatever may be its acts of omission and commission, the Opposition has let it off the hook.
Meanwhile Delhi University has done well to open up undergraduate education to wider academic choice through its proposed new four-year degree course in slices of two years, plus one plus one. Given majority Syndicate backing, the Government wisely has refused to interfere in what is an academic decision.
Many teachers and others have denounced the DU Vice-Chancellor for haste, lack of consultation and arrogance in “imposing” his will onthe University. I am no educationist but see little expansion in the choice or range of courses, especially in the humanities, since I graduated from DU in 1944. There has been stagnation and too little change, with many teachers happy merely to regurgitate the notes dictated to them by their teachers two or three generations ago. Wider “consultation” over a longer period would have resulted in endless delay, litigation, dharnas and other dilatory procedures in the name of democratic process and protest.
Having served on the governing boards of at least three DU colleges, and chaired two of these, I am aware of the reluctance of certain teachers and unions to permit change, possibly for fear of exposing their own limited learning and mediocrity and jeopardising a cosy rise in rank and salary through the mere passage of time. Hence, for example, the determined opposition to the concept of autonomous colleges. There are many fine teachers, of course, but they are too easily brow-beaten by a raucous minority while others prefer to coast along fearing to buy trouble. This chaltahai mentality has enervated government and other institutions that have borrowed this culture or had it imposed on them.
So it is good news that DU is breaking new ground. Experience and practical realities will surely dictate sound norms and practices. Notwithstanding some initial uncertainty, students will welcome the chance to learn more and have more avenues to knowledge open up before them.