Power and the Small Man

By Humayun Gauhar

I’m not one for kicking a man when he is down. I kick him enough when he is up and at the peak of his power. I’m for picking a man up when he is down. This is a principle that I have lived with all my life, not because I expect similar treatment when I am down but simply because it is a personal principle. Personal principles are not adopted to be violated else one would fall in the category of hypocrite.

So be it with Iftikhar Chaudhry, our longest serving and now mercifully retired chief justice. In all honesty, I cannot say, “Let history judge him”. History is never fair and balanced, just as Iftikhar Chaudhry wasn’t. It is always biased in favour of the victor and the prejudices of he who writes it. The duty of he who sits in judgment on others is a frightening Divine duty for if he violates it he breaks his Covenant with the Almighty for which the punishment doesn’t bear thinking about. God will judge Iftikhar Chaudhry.

The worldly shouldn’t forget that though Iftikhar Chaudhry is retired he might rise again in some other incarnation. Don’t write him off for he may be down but he might not be out. His behaviour and demeanour as chief justice, his love for media attention and acclaim, his overbearing arrogance and overreach leaves one wondering whether he might still have ambitions unfulfilled.

However, certain comments are in order. Iftikhar Chaudhry proved the adage: “Give a small man power and he will show you how small he is.” After his restoration as chief justice of Pakistan by a movement of lawyers, media and civil society defiled by the later entry of political parties for political gain, God placed him on a high pedestal and gave him a great opportunity to do great things. Sadly, the stature he achieved was far above his station. Expectations from him went higher than his stature: he would make the entire judiciary truly independent, people thought, clean up the lower judiciary so that it delivers justice in time at the grassroots, end bias, imbalance and iniquity in court proceedings and judgments and make this vital third branch of government a genuine but positive watchdog of potential executive excesses within the realm of national reality and security concerns.

Instead, he blotted his judicial wig by frittering away the opportunity with pettiness, controversy and obvious unbridled ambition, suspicions of corruption, overreach and the frivolous use of suo moto powers and contempt of court laws. He enjoyed pomp and circumstance to an embarrassing extent, often making a perfect sight of himself. When he took suo moto notice of what might in a pretty actress’s alleged bottles, he stooped lower than even his brother judges could imagine, many of whom were hugely embarrassed. You don’t get to meet pretty girls with suo moto notices. You do it with gentlemanly behaviour. Ask me. Iftikhar Chaudhry made the judiciary his fief. Now, with his retirement, it might finally be free.

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He certainly put the fear of God in the executive and its institutions, but he put in so much fear that it got all but paralyzed. He hauled up generals to his court but treated them in a manner that it not only got the army’s back up but also eroded people’s respect for the military – the best way to destroy a nation, as Salahuddin Ayyubi said. In the absence of a necessary ratification process of executive appointments by a bipartisan Senate committee, the Supreme Court’s ingress into the executive’s appointments was inevitable, with its concomitant deleterious effects where its intervention was unjustified.

Sadly, many amongst us, even in parts of the media that is at least supposed to maintain the pretense of independence and balance, don’t follow the principle of not kicking a man when he is down. They start kicking viciously after he has fallen. These are people without guts. Such people seem to be in a majority because the ‘silent majority’ doesn’t put its hat in the ring. Some kickers are driven by alien creeds that they don’t understand. More are driven by greed, hatred or revenge or simply to please current powers. No point in saying “shame”: it is human nature driven by self-survival by pleasing kings and princes by fortifying their predilections and partialities and by sheer sycophancy. It comes from our age-old courtier culture: please the prince and get enriched.

The current bugbears of our politicians, media, and the well heeled who have a theory for everything, ordinary citizens and the downtrodden are General Pervez Musharraf and ‘dictatorship’ in general and Iftikhar Chaudhry and ‘democracy’ in particular without a clue as to what both really are. Governments are judged by whether they achieve what they set out to achieve, not how they came into being. Democracy is a creed that often descends into dogma just as clerics of all kinds have reduced faith to religions and dogma brimming with rituals trapped in churches, temples, mosques and mandirs. Religion, rituals and dogma have little to do with pristine Faith. Similarly, ‘democracy’ has been reduced to the periodic ritual of an election exercise, however flawed, whereas democracy actually means a system that throws up governments that constantly and significantly improve the human condition starting from the poorest and most deprived. The dogma of today’s democracy keeps the pathetic human condition constant at best while the rich get richer and more powerful, keeping all the levers of power in their hands while fooling the hapless masses with the mirage of democracy and participation.

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The practitioners of ‘dictatorship’ have been identified with military uniforms only, ignoring the uniforms worn under the skin and in the minds of the questionably elected who often foist their relatives and cronies on the country for they trust no other with their misdeeds. Electoral democracy has been practiced in a minority of mostly western countries for about two centuries with a few former colonies aping their former masters for about half a century. In the rest of the thousands of years of recorded human history it has been rule of the fittest, the last man standing, which today would be called dictatorship.

European countries started practicing democracy after they had reached a certain level of development by plundering their colonies under the doctrine of ‘White Man’s Burden’ – “Dr. Livingstone, I presume”. They certainly unburdened themselves and burdened the colonized. But they were only able to do so after the separation of church and state and taking formal religion and clergymen out of statecraft about 400 years ago and unleashing knowledge acquisition, inquiry, research and invention. The USA came into being and was able to get going with its own unique democratic system after colonizing North America and decimating the natives. The same happened in Latin America with the Spanish and Portuguese colonizers.

However, western democracies haven’t tweaked and adjusted their systems enough and innovated along the way so as to remain with the contemporary. Resultantly, modern societies have outstripped their systems and democracy is fast getting reduced to an electoral exercise there too in which, like clerical religion, periodic use of the vote has become the opium of the masses to send them on a ‘high’ where they imagine that they have power to remove or usher in new rulers. The actual results are determined elsewhere, not by the ballot box, many of which are openly and brazenly stuffed in full public and camera view, ‘hanging chads’ that cannot be counted or electronic voting machines that go on the blink at the ‘right’ time.

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Chief executives of countries are selected by small electoral colleges where there is a presidential system and where there is a parliamentary system by an electoral college comprising the lower house of parliament after considerable horse-trading. Lower houses often select someone who the people have hardly heard of and not whom they voted for (Sonya Gandhi and Manmohan Singh spring to mind). He or she then leads their fortunes for four or five years. No wonder deep states, establishments, big business syndicates and in the third world foreign governments love electoral colleges because they can easily be manipulated through judiciaries, intelligence agencies, police, bureaucracy and media. If that isn’t dictatorship with a sugarcoating of democracy, what is? The difference is that a military ruler churns out his own ‘democratic’ icing to get legitimacy. In both instances, while robber barons benefit and new barons are created, the proletariat is left behind, to fill its empty stomach with dreams unfilled, aspirations unmet, harangues, rhetoric, propaganda and false advertising. Friendly, often co-opted media and sycophants galore put rulers into the comfort zone. The day comes when things start crumbling around military and democratic dictators, the proletariat is shaken out of its opium-induced stupor and another election is held to put the proletariat and bourgeoisie back into a ‘high’, happy in the notion that they have a “government of the people, for the people, by the people”. It is anything but.

The day the proletariat understands that the system is their opium, the earth will start shaking, blood will start flowing and the citadels of the great will come crumbling down, not just buildings and palaces but all the fragile political and financial structures they have erected to enrich themselves while keeping the people in wretchedness and the darkness of ignorance.