The jungle covenant - Hussain H Zaidi - Monday, February 07, 2011

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“My lord, one of your cubs has killed three of our folks. That’s why we have detained him,” the Sheep Chief submitted to the Lion King.

“Do you intend to try him?” the Lion King asked.

“I’m afraid, my lord, yes. The prince has taken the law into his hand and he needs to be brought to book,” the Sheep Chief replied.

“May I remind you,” the Lion King roared, “that the Jungle Covenant gives the royal family complete immunity from legal proceedings for all their acts of omission and commission? Therefore, I command you to set the prince free or face the consequences for violating such sacrosanct a document as the Jungle Covenant.”

“We have read the Jungle Covenant thoroughly and the wise among us are of the view that not a single provision authorises the royal family to deprive any animal, even a sheep, of his or her life,” the Sheep Chief explained.

“You mean to say you have better understanding of the laws of the jungle, which our forefathers had drafted, than we have?”

“Your lordship, I must go mad before staking such a claim. I was just putting across our humble view that in the comity of animals no one is above the law and that every one is equal before the law.”

“Yes, we do regard the rule of law, as well as equality before law, as the constitutional principles of the animal society. But these noble principles apply only to relations among the subjects. They don’t hold water when it comes to relations between the royal family and the rest of the animal kingdom,” the Lion King said in a sharp tone. “The law being the will of the sovereign, it can’t be binding on him. The sovereign is the source of all laws and is entitled to exact obedience or compliance from others. The ultimate test of the validity of a law, decree or order is its conformity with the will or the word of the sovereign. Need I mention that sovereignty is vested in the lion family? It follows that in the jungle kingdom the lions can do no wrong and therefore can’t be prosecuted.”

“My lord, I implore you to follow the due process of law and present you arguments, impregnable as they seem, before the jury and have the prince acquitted,” the Chief Sheep submitted.

“Tut, tut! You are again barking up the wrong tree. Yes, the due process of law is one of our watchwords, but it is binding on us only when the dispute is within our own clan. It hardly governs our relations with the rest of the kingdom. If we start subjecting over members to the due process of law and similar principles, soon we’ll cease to rule the jungle,” the Lion King replied, reiterating his position. “On top of that, we don’t want to raise our cubs in such a manner as to make them into sheep. If they are to become kings and queens tomorrow, they must learn when to obey the law and when to repudiate it. Don’t you remember Machiavelli’s characterisation of the Prince-he should be as cunning as a fox and as fierce as a lion?”

“Your lordship has hit the nail upon the head. But my problem is that there’s already a lot of resentment against the royal family in my clan. If I allow the prince to go scot-free, my folks will make mincemeat out of me. No harm will come to the prince; you have my word, my lord. I only need to be given some time to find a way out,” the Sheep Chief made another request.

“How your people will treat you is of little account to us. But if you don’t hand over the cub to me, I’ll tear you apart. At any rate, I can’t let you have two bites at the cherry. If you can’t see about such simple a matter, then you aren’t entitled to head your clan. I’ll be forced to think of replacing you with someone else who will not dillydally over carrying out my orders,” the Lion King said, sounding a note of warning. “Already I have received a lot of complaints about your ineffectiveness. The ruling council is meeting late in the evening to take stock of the situation. Now shove off and come back to me before the sun sets.”

The Sheep Chief was on the horns of a dilemma at the lion king’s plain talk. “If I set the prince free,” he thought, “my clan will not forgive me for knuckling under the pressure of the royal family yet again. And if the prince is tried and convicted, the king will simply give me the push.” After oscillating between the alternatives, he made up his mind and went to the Lion King.

“My lord, I’m prepared to set the prince free in exercise of my special powers. My only submission is that the royal family will help me tide over the storm that I may face in the wake of my decision,” the Sheep Chief told the Lion King.”

“Don’t worry. You have the lion’s word.”

The writer is a freelance contributor based in Islamabad.

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