The PJDCP circus

German playwright Bertolt Brecht wrote a famous play in 1943 titled ‘Life of Galileo’. In one of the most memorable exchanges in the play, Galileo’s student Andrea laments:

“Unhappy the land that has no heroes”, to which Galileo replies, “No, unhappy the land that needs heroes”. Popular wisdom dictates that one should leave the field while being ahead. Unfortunately, common sense is not that common. One could find countless examples of such attitude is superhero movies (from ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ to the Michael Keaton-starring ‘Birdman’). Numerous ‘heroes’ in our own history have displayed the will to hang on to power unless fate intervenes. Starting with Mr. Jinnah who turned into a constitutional dictator once the Brits were out the gate to the toothless Commando, Musharraf. The lure of power can shake even the strongest and once you get used to the ‘perks, privileges, protocol’ that comes with top posts, who in their right mind would let it go?

It was recently reported in the news that former Chief Justice and Suo-Moto-in-chief, Mr. Iftikhar Chaudhry had decided to join politics by forming a new party called ‘‘Pakistan Justice Democratic Critic Party’. While the former Chief reserves the right to take part in politics like every other citizen of this country, his first decision i.e. choosing a name for his party, falls short of adequacy. One wouldn’t mistake the Chief of being the commie-type but the name of his party reminds me of former soviet republics (to quote the character James Donovan in ‘Bridge of Spies’, “The problem with your countries is the names are too long”). The abbreviation PJDCP could refer to any of the obscure government agencies based in Islamabad.

Semantics aside, the word ‘critic’ as part of a party name is probably a first for our political history. Criticism is our national pastime. It is high time that someone took notice of this fact and decided to do something about it. The target of that criticism has also been represented in the name. All the drawing room discussions in our homes revolve around criticising democracy, justice and Pakistan. One wishes the best of luck to the Chief and his party. A brief overview of Mr. Chaudhry’s career needs to be discussed before forming an opinion about his ideas.

In Deuteronomy 16:18, the Bible says: “You shall not distort justice; you shall not be partial, and you shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eye of the wise and perverts the words of the righteous.” A more earthly concept is that “Judges should only speak through their judgements.” Mr. Chaudhry changed the role of judiciary in Pakistan’s political landscape during 2007 when he was forcibly removed from his post of Chief Justice. A reference had been sent to the Supreme Judicial Council against the Chief Justice accusing him of nepotism. Dictator Musharraf had had enough fun by then and his popularity graph was approaching the Mariana Trench. Sacking a sitting Chief for committing an innocuous, and very Pakistani, crime of nepotism struck a nerve with everyday Pakistanis (Is nothing sacred anymore?). His only claim to fame/notoriety before this dismissal was to allow Musharraf to rule the country for three years after his coup in 1999.

Following a failed ‘Lawyers’ Movement’ which frequently descended into a free-for-all mob, Chief Justice was restored by the Supreme Court. Justice Chaudhry became the only Chief to be removed twice from office when Musharraf claimed Emergency in November 2007. Following national elections in 2008, Musharraf was thrown out of office and political parties finally restored Mr. Chaudhry. Fuelled by the support he had garnered during the movement for his restoration, CJ discarded the principle of ‘judicial restraint’ in favour of a muscular ‘judicial activism’ policy. Theoretically, the three branches of government (executive, legislature and judiciary) should act independently to each other. In Pakistan’s case, no one acts independently and nosy neighbours are the rule rather than exception.

Suo-moto powers were given to the Chief Justice by constitution to be used in cases of public interest. While the CJ should be commended for his role in pushing political governments to arrange local body elections, raising awareness about missing persons in Balochistan and checking parliament’s power in appointing judges to higher courts, he pushed the envelope more than necessary. To quote Irfan Husain, “During his long term as chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry acquired a well-deserved reputation for rudeness and arrogance. He seemed to take special delight in humiliating senior civil servants and politicians. And while he did some good work with his numerous suo motu notices, to many he appeared to be deliberately destabilising a fragile return to democracy.”

One of the lowest moments of CJ’s tenure was taking a suo moto against Atiqa Odho for carrying a bottle or two of what’s commonly known as ‘Rooh Afza’. How will a man who gave judgements for the better part of last three decades, change tracks and bow to the will of people? The first thing that a new political party has to determine is to find constituencies where it can win elections. Last I checked, there was no constituency in the country with only district bars and attorneys. The former adjudicator has to work on his public dealings and formulate an agenda beyond the periodic demands for a ‘Presidential System’. In conclusion, I’d wish Mr. Chaudhry and his PJDCP the best of luck in national and local elections.

The writer is a freelance columnist. Follow him on Twitter

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