Last week Yousuf Raza Gilani refused to step down as the Prime Minister of Pakistan after he was convicted by the Supreme Court for contempt of court, exposing completely his party's hypocritical line about respecting the independent judiciary. Given the PPP government's sporadic doses of contemptuous rhetoric about the apex court and its persistent refusal to obey court orders ever since it came to power, this open declaration of war was not completely unexpected. After all, it never wanted to restore the judges sacked by Musharraf in the first place. And ever since Gilani had to announce their restoration in the wee hours of the morning under immense public pressure, the independent judges have been a thorn in the side of PPP bosses and those under the corruption-ridden wings of their government. Rather than mending their above-the-law ways, those lording over the government have decided to bring the whole house down with them.

The government has been preparing for this showdown for the last four years. While the serf-like leaders and wily wizards of PPP created spins around their Prime Minister's conviction, obfuscating a clear matter and creating justifications for the lawlessness of their power-hungry bosses, their patronised jiyalas blocked roads, burnt tyres and chanted slogans against the honourable judges. The anti-judiciary protests have been rehearsed on several occasions by the PPP government, and it is underpinned by a mischievous narrative that would like to blame the sitting judges for all the crimes committed by the country's courts in the past, accusing them of being prejudiced against the PPP and Sindh. The court's attempt to curb the abuse of power by those in authority, something which is its constitutional obligation, has also been used by the PPP to raise a hue and cry about the judiciary encroaching upon executive authority. While mouthing respect for the independent judiciary, it has actively maligned the institution and fabricated a case against it for its loyal jiyalas.

The Zardari-led PPP government had made up its mind from day one to undermine the independent judiciary and the legal community that led the rule-of-law movement. After all, the survival of its above-the-law politics and unconstitutional governance depended on it. Babar Awan was unleashed with suitcases of cash that he blatantly distributed among the bars. He and several other leaders were encouraged to attack the judiciary in unacceptable language, holding contemptuous press conferences and giving a political colour to its judgements. Even the President and the Prime Minister used political gatherings and public forums to attack the institution with the aim of making it controversial, chipping away at its moral authority.

Now the Attorney General has declared the court order convicting the Prime Minister as absolutely illegal and said that it was to be ignored. Others have misled the nation with their talk about filing an appeal, as if just talking about it is enough to suspend Gilani's conviction. The convicted Prime Minister has announced that the Speaker of National Assembly will judge whether to move the Election Commission of Pakistan for his disqualification. This is the culmination of a well orchestrated long campaign to make the judiciary ineffective. According to the PPP, its jiyalas, blinded by serf-like loyalty to its dynastic leadership, have the authority to interpret the Constitution and not the Supreme Court of Pakistan. The law is what Asif Zardari says it is.

Clearly, this is tyranny disguised as democracy. To perpetuate its rule, the now illegal executive lorded over by Zardari, is out to subvert the constitutional order and create chaos. The convicted Prime Minister is openly challenging the constitutional authority of the Supreme Court. In defiance of various other Supreme Court orders, his government seems to have vowed to protect corrupt practices. In fact, as if to pointedly insult the judiciary, those found guilty by the court are honoured, and those identified for investigation are made ministers. To put it simply, the government is basically telling the court that it gives two hoots about its judgements and that it will do as it pleases, regardless of the legal repercussions of its corrupt actions. The government is basically thumbing its nose at the apex court.

In a way, Zardari, his partymen and his allies have made up their mind to bring the rule-of-law movement back to square one. These partners in crime would like to bury the ideals that the mass movement fought for; equality before law and accountability of those in power. Like Musharraf, they would like the judiciary to be a bunch of yes-men eager to please those in power, never daring to curb any wrongdoing on their part. They view the Constitution as a piece of paper that should never be used to rein in the abuse of authority by public representatives and their chosen officials, regardless of how grave its consequences are for those they claim to represent. They would like to send a depressing message to the public that the people can change nothing and that they should resign themselves to being ruled by governments that are a law unto themselves. It is not likely to work though.

As described by the then respected and now disgraced Aitzaz Ahsan, who seems to have swallowed his ideals, the rule-of-law movement was the reflection of a leap in public consciousness. Those who struggled for the restoration of an independent judiciary, the millions of men and women, young and old, poor and rich, Pakistanis from every province and every ethnicity, were not a random crowd. They were not protesting for the restoration of some dynastic leader. They did not hope to get a job or a Benazir Income Support stipend in return for their struggle. They had come out for an ideal, a desire to be ruled by law and not by the whims of whoever happens to be in power, a military dictator or a democratically-elected tyrant. The public consciousness that underpinned the rule-of-law movement was firmly rooted in democratic ideals of constitutional rule. Those who struggled had refused to be treated as bonded serfs and were acutely aware of their rights as free and equal citizens.

Those who dreamt of a new Pakistan are not dead and gone. The Zardari-led PPP is aware of that and it thinks it has done its homework to counter the public backlash that has been brewing for some time and is now coming to boil. The big boss thinks that his loyal party of serfs will be able to subvert the dream through its patronised jiyalas and the lawless spaces created and facilitated by its Interior Minister. He thinks that his divisive rhetoric and crocodile tears about victimised Sindhis and the Seraiki province are enough to distract the people from real issues. He thinks that the perpetual state of crisis cultivated by him, the inflation, loadshedding and violence in many parts of the country, will be enough to make the people forget about any lofty dreams that they had. That is wishful thinking on his part. No leap in public consciousness could be rolled back. In fact, those dreaming of a new Pakistan are now more numerous.

    The writer is a freelance columnist.