The Supreme Court announced yet another landmark judgement last week, declaring the contracts of all the Rental Power Projects (RPPs) non-transparent, illegal and void ab initio. The detailed judgement of the two-member bench, authored by the honourable Chief Justice of Pakistan, ordered the contracts of RPPs to be rescinded forthwith and directed the Chairman of National Accountability Bureau to proceed against all the persons involved, including ministers and secretaries of Finance and Water and Power, and functionaries of PEPCO, GENCO, PPIB, and NEPRA, who lorded over this colossal corruption. Under the Supreme Court directives in the case, over Rs8.6 billion doled out by the state exchequer to these illegal entities have already been recovered from them. The question is: What was the government's role in this daylight robbery that continued for years under its democratic wings?

Those who struggled for the restoration of an independent judiciary have one more reason to feel satisfied that their struggle was not in vain, though the so-called democratic government has done all it can to make the Supreme Court ineffective. Not stopping at disobeying the court orders, the PPP-government has actually taken upon itself the task of maligning and discrediting it. The comprehensive judgement also exposes the true face of our elected government, and its hollow slogans about working for the welfare of those they are supposed to represent. Perhaps, it is time for revisiting the discourse on Pakistan's democracy.

The RPPs scam is, of course, just the latest one in the long list of our democracy-labelled government's crusades against the very people it is meant to serve and protect. As the Supreme Court has said in its judgement, all the government ministers and public officials during whose tenure the RPPs were approved or set up, prima facie violated the principle of transparency, and therefore, their involvement in getting financial benefits out of the same by indulging in corruption and corrupt practices cannot be ruled out. But it is not just a matter of government ministers and officials working to promote the interests of private power-generating companies for a fee instead of serving the Pakistani citizens, who pay their salaries and on whose behalf they occupy these high offices.

To understand the true scale of their crime, the larger consequences of their anti-people RPP policy and corrupt actions must also be factored in. It would be difficult to put a price on the millions of work hours lost due to loadshedding, the mental anguish of millions of citizens, the loss to industries and businesses, the laid-off labour, the dark streets of our cities, the dry tubewells in our fields. It is not just a case of some corrupt government functionaries making millions on the side, but one that shows a complete disconnect with their constitutional obligations and their insensitivity to the hardship and torture visited upon the people they govern due to their actions. Above all, the RPPs scam is not an isolated case but an integral part of the anti-people pattern that is clearly discernible in the functioning of our so-called democratic government.

We have seen one state institution after another going to the dogs due to nepotism and corruption that is actually protected by the PPP-government. So is it all acceptable, the hardship to the citizens and destruction of state assets, because those who are bringing about the disasters came to power through elections? Does it not matter that 45 percent of votes on the electoral lists were bogus? Is it okay that a large number of these representatives committed fraud by presenting fake degrees in order to contest elections and many of them are still to be proceeded against? Should we accept the fact that none of the parties in Parliament practice democracy internally? Do we look the other way every time democratic principles are flouted and wait for the day when democracy in our country will come of age?

Even in mature democracies that do not suffer from most of these serious problems, there is a debate about how democratic their governments are. Citizens in countries with decades of undisturbed democratic processes are waking up to the heavy influence of money and moneyed interests on their governments. There is a clear understanding that those running the affairs of the state and devising policies are not motivated by common good, but by the concerns of their sponsors. In Pakistan, the RPPs scam is an example of something similar - an elected government working for the interests of the private companies and crushing the citizens under the unbearable weight of their shady deals. Add the list of our peculiar problems to the worldwide critique of democracy within a capitalist framework, and we are left with a system that might be labelled as democratic but has no relationship with the ideals that it aspires to.

So when does a democracy stop being a democracy? Or can an elected government continue to disregard its constitutional obligations to the people, add to their hardship in fact, and yet claim itself to be a democracy? Even when it becomes clear that it is not a case of the failings of a sincere government that would like to do something good for the public but is unable to do it because of circumstances beyond its control? Even when it is obvious that the government is acutely aware of the anti-people consequences of its policies and actions, and goes ahead with them for considerations that have nothing to do with the people, their interests or democracy? Even when the entire democratic structure becomes an anti-people monster, geared towards grinding petty personal axes and making millions and billions on the side?

Should we, the people who witness this loot and plunder, be patient and wait for democracy to start working for us some day? Should we overlook the huge chinks in our democracy's armour because the worst form of democracy is better than a dictatorship? Are these the only two choices we have? Can we hope to move towards democratic governance without seeing the present dispensation for what it is? In the democratically darkened reign of Zardari's PPP, the Supreme Court is a ray of hope for those who dream that one day there will be rule of law in our country, a system that is truly representative and a government that serves the citizens.

n    The writer is a freelance columnist.

    Email: hazirjalees@hotmail.com