Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has said that he will answer the summons from the Supreme Court for appearance in the contempt case against him. However, he has not shown any intention of removing the reason that has made the Supreme Court proceed, the writing to the Swiss authorities asking them to reinstitute the case against President Asif Zardari. It must be noted that the case was one of those against the President withdrawn as a result of the National Reconciliation Ordinance that has been struck down by the Supreme Court, and has proved a focus for the people of Pakistan, as well as for the court. Though the detailed judgement in the rejection of Mr Gilani’s defence against the contempt notice is not available, it has become clear that the defence of the President’s immunity has not been accepted, though it may not be rejected in the appeal now being heard. It thus becomes moot whether the court will accept that defence at the next stage, which would begin on February 13. The Supreme Court has not pronounced the immunity limited, in not applying to the President for actions he is supposed to have carried out before he became President. But it is possible to see Mr Gilani’s discomfort about writing to a foreign country asking it to try the President of his country. On the other hand, Mr Gilani, in his three years as Prime Minister, has probably done a lot of personally embarrassing things for his country, especially in maintaining the relationship with the USA.This is the same time as the Indian Supreme Court has struck down the auctions of mobile phone licences. It appears that the Indian and Pakistani Supreme Courts, while engaging in what is called judicial activism even though it is good old-fashioned upholding of the rule of law, are both coming up against the Executive, which for so long has enjoyed the power of making the law. It is a toss-up whether the Indian Supreme Court has cut closer to the bone than its Pakistani counterpart, by striking directly at powerful commercial interests, or the Pakistani Supreme Court, for going against the Prime Minister for defending the President.The Indian Supreme Court has suspended the granting of licences by the Telecommunications Minister, who has already resigned because of the scandal, Andimuthu Raja, and been jailed. The underlying issue in both cases, Indian and Pakistani, is corruption. In India, while the corruption is linked to the present government, in Pakistan, the corruption is supposed to deal with the previous PPP government. As the PPP was out of power both during Mian Nawaz Sharif’s tenure, and during the Musharraf years, that alleged corruption goes back to the 1990s, at least 15 years ago. Not only will it be rendered thus difficult to prove, but it will also escape the public memory. Or at least so hope those who actually practise corruption.Yet it should be noticed that the Indian and Pakistani Supreme Courts have both taken action against corruption, and both have broken with tradition in this, because both have stopped supporting the executive, a role which they had inherited from the Raj. One reason why both have done so is the fact that both governments were operating in a miasma of corruption, and the courts have moved against examples of corruption available to the general public. If in Pakistan it was the political class generally, and the President specifically, in India it was the mobile service providers. The law already penalised corruption. Therefore, the courts, once they had internalised their role, that of interpreting the Constitution, would become bulwarks against corruption, no matter where it reached. If it reached into the Cabinet, that was too bad. It had been assumed under the Raj, and was assumed even more so after independence, that the powerful had a certain immunity from the law, if, of course, the law had been drafted to bring them within the mischief of the law. Though the legislative power was supposed to be reserved to the Legislature, the power to issue ordinances was available to the Executive over to the post-independence era. It was used extensively in Pakistan, which experience another Executive intrusion, in the form of martial laws, though it was India which provided the example of a former Prime Minister going to jail, the Congress’ previous PM, P.V. Narasimha Rao. Rao was caught taking suitcases of cash. Whereas the political masters of the Raj were men who had come over from the UK, their post-independence native replacements were elected, especially in India, where there has never been any interruption to democracy. Elections need money, especially party leaders need money. Rao didn’t need the money so much for himself as for his party. There is a very old nexus between the Congress and Indian big business, which caused much wonder at the relationship between the supposedly socialist Jawaharlal Nehru and Indian business houses.It is within this context, then, that the corruption cases have to be seen. In Pakistan too, the business community has gravitated to those in power. To the extent that, in the form of Mian Nawaz Sharif, it has actually come into politics. While India has not got an equivalent, Mian Nawaz’s phenomenon’s success (which saw him becoming Prime Minister twice) led to the PPP also trying to emulate him. Until then, the PPP had been a party of the old feudal elite. Now that the elite tried to get money. That is when the corruption is supposed to have occurred.Though the Prime Minister seems intent on fighting the contempt charge, and even though his appeal on Thursday was heard by the Supreme Court and turned down, the question remains: Why is he so intent on protecting the President? One reason seems to be that he holds his position because of the President, and once he leaves it, he will not get it back again. However, by not protecting the President, he would be accounted in PPP circles a failure. More important, that is how he would be accounted in PPP Co-Chairman Bilawal Zardari-Bhutto’s eyes.The argument that the letter would be written after the President leaves office may not have been persuasive in getting the appeal accepted, and so it is unlikely to be very successful in the trial itself, but as the PM’s counsel does not have much else to argue, it will probably be raised at the trial.The consequences of the PM’s conviction are very serious. It means straining the Constitution to its maximum limits. It is even possible to sympathise with Mr Gilani, at the figure he will cut, of a Prime Minister convicted of contempt of court, and thus under threat of disqualification, but not allowed to dissolve, awaiting the time when he will have to vacate office. However, probably of greater importance will be the consequences to the country, which has already suffered from having a Prime Minister, who has to answer to the President, not to Parliament. The PM may see as his primary duty the defence of the President, not the solution of the problems of the people, the reason for which they voted in this Parliament, which gave both President and Prime Minister their offices.The writer is a veteran journalist and founding member as well as Executive Editor of TheNation.Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The writer is a veteran journalist and founding member as well as Executive Editor of The Nation.