Strongmen and Weak People
The people of South Asia remain wedded to heroes and hero-worship. Personal charisma, more than institutional legitimacy, serve as major tools of the power of the individual whether in or out of government.
Asians, by and large, have a fascination for strongmen. Democratic India is no exception to the rule except in detail. The names of Gandhi and Nehru remain political currency strong in India as ever. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stays as a sort of protected individual if not exactly a protégé of Sonia Gandhi. Rahul, Rajiv-Sonia Gandhi’s son, is flexing muscles to join the political arena.
This is not to question the reality of Indian democracy. To all outward appearances, it has come to stay. Just the same, there is no denying the steady growth of Bal Thackeray’s and Narindar Modi’s Hindutva and Advani’s ekat mata yatra of the 80s in the protective shadow of democracy. Any number of Bollywood movies and private/official TV channels regularly project glorified images of the Hindu Parivar and private/collective idol worship. The revivalist motif, deeply-embedded in this sort of image-making, could be hardly missed.
There is almost a ‘gentrification’ of God’: religious idols promoted as profitable commodities. The sustained growth of Hindu revivalism and its impact on the minds of an average middle class Hindu family can be hardly exaggerated.
Back to Parachin (ancient) Indian of Chandra Gupta and Asoka (prior to turning a Buddhist monk) has assumed the force of an aggressive atavism. To Ram-Ram and Namaste, as the standard form of salutation, has been added ‘Jai-Radha-Krishan’. Trash? Maybe. But it’s here just the same.
Back home, Pakistan and democracy remain an unhappy couple, one finding little joy in the arms of the other. What worth is democracy in a state where the verdict of the apex court is overturned by the executive?
It’s time to raise hard questions evaded for ever so long.
Was the making of Pakistan a triumph of democracy ‘without shedding a single drop of blood’? Was the founder of Pakistan a democrat in spirit and action? Could a state or a country be Islamic and democratic at the same time?
of strongmen like Ayub and Bhutto (even Musharraf for good measure) coexist with democratic norms?
On June, 14 1948, the Quaid visited the Command and Staff College in Quetta. In his address he advised the officers to carefully study the constitution in force in Pakistan and understand its true constitutional and legal implications.
The substantive part of the speech is produced below:
‘The Defense forces are the most vital of all Pakistan Services and correspondingly a very heavy responsibility and burden lies on your shoulders.
‘I have no doubt in my mind, from what I have seen and from what I have gathered, that the spirit of the Army is splendid, the morale is very high, and what is very encouraging is that every officer and soldier , no matter what race or community to which he belongs, is working as a true Pakistani.
‘If you all continue in that spirit and work as comrades, as true Pakistanis selflessly, Pakistan has nothing to fear.
‘One thing more. I am persuaded to say this because during my talks with one or two very high-ranking officers I discovered that they did not know the implications of the Oath taken by the troops of Pakistan. Of course an oath is only a matter of form; what is more important is the true spirit and the heart.
‘But it is an important form and I would like to take the opportunity of refreshing your memory by reading the prescribed oath to you.
“I solemnly affirm, in the presence of Almighty God, that I owe allegiance to the Constitution and the Dominion of Pakistan (mark the words Constitution in the Government of the Dominion of Pakistan) and that I will be duty bound honestly and faithfully to serve in the Dominion of Pakistan Forces and go within the terms of my enrolment wherever I may be ordered by air, land or sea and that I will observe and obey all commands of any officer set over me.”
“As I have said just now, the spirit is what really matters. I should like you to study the Constitution which is in force in Pakistan at present and understand its true constitutional and legal implications when you say that you will be faithful to the Constitution of Dominion.”
‘I want you to remember and if you have time enough you should study the government of India Act 1935, as adapted for use in Pakistan, which is our present constitution, that the executive authority flows from the head of the government of Pakistan, who is the governor-general and therefore, any command or orders that may come to you cannot come without the sanction of the Executive Head. This is the legal position.
‘If you have time enough you should study the government of India Act, as adapted for use in Pakistan which is our present constitution.’
What then was the Quaid really? Head of the State or Head of the Government, or both?
Where then would the Prime Minister go?
Would the status of the Governor General (today’s President) as the Chief Executive be consistent at all with the basic norms of prime ministerial democracy we have in force today in Pakistan?
Who would resolve the problem, how and when?
It is amazing that the Quaid’s own and formal elucidation of the role of the Governor-General (President) and the Prime Minister as the Chief Executive should have escaped the due attention of our constitutional experts and of the mass media. Hence the confusion (conflict?) continues to persist in respect of the constitutional power and authority of the head of the state and head of the government.
As a people we remain wedded to heroes and hero worship. Personal charisma, more than institutional legitimacy, serve as major tools of the power of the individual in and out of the government.
Gandhi and Jinnah may well serve as the best prototypes –always in authority – in and out of official power.
Mahatma to his people, Mohan Das Karam Chand Gandhi was not so kind a father and husband. He ruined the life of his eldest son Hari Lal who turned into an alcoholic, a compulsive gambler and briefly a convert to Islam.
Jinnah could shut up his prime minister when he pleased. On one occasion, according to his ADC, Flt. Lieut. Ata Rabbani, Liaquat had hardly uttered, ‘Sir, I think…’, when Quaida-Azam snapped ‘Keep quiet Liaquat, you cannot think of anything’. (I was Quaid’s ADC, Ata Rabbani, Oxford, 1996 p/132)
As for Uncle Nehru, he’d be all milk and honey one moment and all fire and brimstone the next. The writer is an eminent regional security expert, a defense analyst and former ISPR spokesman. He writes for various publications and often speaks on national security issues on TV.
Pakistan has been ruled by military men for the most part.
Democracy has often been described as personality-oriented politics in India.