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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 37

Imperative of Strengthening Democracy


Wednesday 3 September 2008, by SC


With the resignation of Pervez Musharraf as the head of state there was a new opportunity in Pakistan to strengthen its democratic institutions in order to prevent any re-emergence of military rule through conspiracies and coup d’etats. The widspread jubilation among the public at large on the streets after Musharraf’s exit was a transparent testimony to the democratic aspirations of the people that Musharraf, the autocrat had failed to smother. It is at that very moment that cracks appeared in the ruling coalition culminating in the PML-N’s eventual decision to withdraw its support. The issue on which Nawaz Sharif decided to sever his party’s ties with the PPP—that is, the restoration of the judges sacked by Musharraf during his infamous emergency rule last year—was indeed serious especially when the two principal constituents of the ruling combine (the PPP and PML-N) had publicly committed themselves to pass a resolution in parliament calling for the reinstatement of the sacked judges within 24 hours of Musharraf stepping down from the office of the President. But notwithstanding the cause one must be concerned over the consequence of the PML-N’s move: how far it would weaken Pakistan’s fledgling democracy which needs to be reinforced to record genuine success of our subcontinent’s democratic experiment (which regrettably has frequently failed in our neighbouring state). Democratic forces in India are keenly watching the developments in Pakistan from this perspective and one hopes the erstwhile partners of the coalition would once again come together for the sake of democracy not only in that country but South Asia as a whole.

Recently events in India too are reflective of the limitations of our democratic functioning. The massive protests in the Kashmir Valley, both on the Amarnath land transfer controversy and the perceived feeling among the Kashmiri populace of ‘economic blockade’ (as a result of the agitation launched by the Shri Amarnath Yatra Sangharsh Samiti in Jammu for restoring the State Government’s original order to transfer forest land to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board) were initially allowed by the authorities but then subsequently once again brute force has been employed in a bid to suppress the democratic struggle. The crackdown in the Valley, leading to the arrest of the leaders of the movement, can only enhance the alienation among all sections of the populace there.

This approach is ill-conceived, flowing as it does from stereotyped ideas of persons occupying high positions and without any political understanding of the ground situation, and can be disastrous in the long term. Thus the crackdown must be immediately brought to an end, the arrested leaders of the all-encompassing mass movement released forthwith and a sustained dialogue with them initiated without any precondition. It is only through such a dialogue, conducted in an atmosphere of openness and utmost honesty and sincerity, that many cobwebs of misunderstanding and misperception can be removed so as to pave the way for a peaceful political resolution of the problem. To brand the mass movement in Kashmir as an offshoot of militant activity is to betray a jaundiced outlook that needs to be discarded at the earliest if democracy is to have any meaning for the people of the Valley.

Lately certain glaring incidents of intolerance—the Sangh Parivar’s communal attacks on the Christian community in Orissa’s Kandhamal on the pretext of the murder of VHP leaders and vandalisation of an exhibition showcsing prints of the works of celebrated artist M.F. Husain (who himself is still being forced to live abroad)— have also highlighted the fragility of our democratic fabric. Unless active measures are taken to redress these wrongs by bringing to book the culprits (in these cases those launching majoritarian onslaughts with a communal mindset) the secular-democratic ethos of this country would suffer irreparable damage.

One can remain blind to the danger on this score only at one’s peril.

August 28 S.C.

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