COMMENT: National interest —Mujahid Eshai - Thursday, December 02, 2010

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National interest has to be the supreme driving force at all times for politicians. No purpose may be served by a knee-jerk reaction and turning every differing viewpoint into an issue affecting the interests of the country

The New International Airport in Delhi is very well-planned, the Metro underground train, although overcrowded, is cheap, clean and still expanding, the new roads are four lanes-wide and the flyovers are as good as any in the world, yet the road traffic is still as bad as ever and poverty can still be seen and felt on the Indian roadside. People on the streets are still talking about the IPL, the Commonwealth Games and the telecom financial scandals. Meanwhile, The Sunday Times, on November 28, 2010, carried this headline: ‘Delhi Court calls for FIR against Roy, Geelani’. For those who are not familiar with these two names, let one assure them that Roy and Geelani are not a mixed doubles pair for any tennis tournament but only Ms Arundhati Roy, the renowned writer and human rights activist, and Syed Ali Shah Geelani, a Hurriyet leader of Kashmir. The Delhi Metropolitan Court magistrate ordered that a prima facie case for the sedition offence be made out. The magistrate said, “I have come to the conclusion that the complaint dated 28/10/10, lodged with the police, clearly discloses commission of cognisable offences. But the police have failed to register an FIR even though it is duty bound to register an FIR.” Roy and Geelani had participated along with the pro-Maoist leader Vara Rao in a seminar on Azadi where Roy said that Kashmir “has never been an integral part of India”.

Ms Roy, bold and outspoken as she always is, was reported by the aforesaid newspaper to have retorted to the magistrate’s decision by saying, “Perhaps, they should posthumously file a charge against Jawaharlal Nehru too,” and went on to quote 14 instances of the pledges made by the Nehru and subsequent governments from 1947 to 1967, acknowledging that Kashmir’s accession was subject to ratification by its people. The Sunday Times in particular quoted the speech of Pundit sahib made in 1952: “Kashmir is very close to our minds and hearts and if, by some decree or adverse fortune, ceases to be a part of India, it will be a wrench and a pain and torment for us. If, however, the people of Kashmir do not wish to remain with us, let them go by all means. We will not keep them against their will, however painful it may be to us. I want to stress that it is only the people of Kashmir who can decide the future of Kashmir.”

On November 30, 2010, the Times of India reported that the FIR had finally been lodged. Now this has happened despite the fact that the union home minister was not really interested in taking notice of the matter and had stated at the time of filing of the complaint in October 2010 that, “at times, taking no action is also an action”. Only time will tell what happens once the hearings start and a decision is arrived at. But it is most certainly an example of judicial independence that needs to be taken notice of by the legislators and politicians in Pakistan. The union minister’s disinterest in pursuing the matter or even taking notice of the complaint has not turned into media hype or political point scoring.

The objective of writing about this particular incident in detail is three-fold. One, to tell our very own democrats that there is a world beyond having a verbal fist fight on every occasion even if someone has allegedly made seditious statements. Two, the politicians must permit the judiciary to be seen to function as totally independent of the executive or legislature. The courts must pursue, howsoever they deem fit, the law and procedure and the police must remain answerable to the courts, independent of what the government may or may not desire. Three, the people at large, and that includes every politician regardless of his or her stature, must also follow the legal course for registering the complaint without taking the law into their own hands. This happens in every politically aware and mature society that sincerely believes in democratic norms and has shed the shackles of feudalistic behaviour totally.

Of course, there may have been other political considerations that the union minister took into account when making the statement of no action referred to above. Perhaps he was of the opinion that the national interests of India may not be served if alleged seditious statements were taken notice of. But the important thing to recognise here is that national interest has to be the supreme driving force at all times for politicians. No purpose may be served by a knee-jerk reaction and turning every differing viewpoint into an issue affecting the interests of the country. Yet an individual, who appears aggrieved, is free to take up the matter in accordance with legal procedure. This is mature democratic thinking and behaviour.

A number of us in Pakistan will, of course, offer the 31-year hiccupped road of democracy as a reason for lack of similar mature behaviour. We shall be told that we are still learning the ropes of democracy and we need more time to understand the significance of the same. Unfortunately, this argument has been doing the rounds for far too long. We have to start believing in national interest first and last. We have to create the right ambience for national interest to prevail in our thoughts, words and actions. This can only be done by those who rule the country and who are seen to be espousing its cause at the highest level within and outside. Thirty-one years is a very long time in anyone’s life, be it an individual or a nation. It certainly is sufficient time for the nationalistic spirit, so often exhibited in the arena of sports by the people at large if not the players in the game, to take root and be the only driving force. Perhaps the players in the political arena should now start showing this maturity.

The writer is a fellow and former president of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Pakistan. He also served as a member of the Federal Ad Hoc Public Accounts Committee

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