Role Reversal in India-Pakistan Politics
The Nation
December 5, 1997
Inder Kumar Gujral felt pity for Pakistan last week when the country’s constitutional crisis was at its peak. “India is also passing through a political turmoil; but when I look at Pakistan, I feel pity for it,” he said something like this. And I felt sorry. Rightly so. For the sort of political warfare that was going on between the head of our parliamentary government on the one hand, and the heads of the State and the Supreme Court, on the other, was unprecedented in Pakistan’s history. Thank God, we are back to normal. Bad that India is heading for worse. Must not we ask Gujral now to draw a parallel between the political situations of the two countries, and comment on Pakistan’s one, just one more time?

As it was the case in past February, the politics of India and Pakistan are seeing a role reversal scenario second time in a year. After the dismissal of the Benazir Bhutto government, Pakistan was certainly heading for an uncertain destiny. The people saved the country, by electing in February a government enjoying well over a two-third majority in Parliament. A leadership, which soon after coming to power, undertook two crucial constitutional reforms: first, to strengthen the powers of the elected and, second, not to let the elected to undermine the basic spirit of the parliamentary system of government by shifting political loyalties. What we saw in the last nearly three months was really tragic. And this tragic thing would never have happened—as it is clear by now—had the heads of our State and Supreme Court not overestimated themselves and shown rational behaviour devoid of the disease called personal ego.

The same disease had claimed other governments in past. But, this time, when a civilian regime with a landslide victory in elections was in power, the whole show that was led by totally nonsensical acts of the unelected lot looked really ridiculous. Leaving aside these unhappy happenings, the bottom-line is that the democratic system in Pakistan has been saved, and, by all accounts, we as a nation deserve to look forward to a more stable democratic system in the days to come.

Coincidentally, while the political crisis in Pakistan has come to an end, the turmoil in Indian politics has started to get worse. Finally, the Indians have seen their fourth government falling in the last two years. Indian President Narayanan has also announced the date for the mid-term polls, which will be held between the last week of February and the first week of March.

About the expected outcome of these elections, there appears to be consensus in the Indian media that its results will be similar to that of last year’s election; that is, yet another hung Parliament, yet another shameless coalition-making struggle among India’s secular, religious, regional, and ethnic parties. There is no guarantee that, by the time the mid-term polls are held, the United Front will be able to maintain unity within its ranks.

There is no guarantee that Congress (I) will be able to win even that number of votes or seats in Lok Sabha which it secured in the last elections. And it is also uncertain whether the Bharatiya Janata Party will be able to achieve what its leaders often claim—that the party will win the elections. The BJP leadership has criticized president Narayanan for dissolving Lok Sabha instead of first asking it to prove its parliamentary strength for forming the government—which meant that even now the BJP was hoping to form a government. How? Surely by securing the support of its rival MPs in Lok Sabha—after buying their political loyalties, in other words.

Unlike Pakistan, lotaism seems to be a widely accepted political philosophy in our neighbouring country. Also, unlike us, the Indians have yet to come to grip with the forces which have a tendency of breaking the country apart. The foremost ground reality in the Pakistan of today is that almost all of its ethnically and nationalistically diversified forces are participating effectively and without any major grievances in the country’s mainstream politics. But look at India! How tragic is the situation there! Coalition government set-ups collapse after every few months. If in March it was Deve Gowda; December has claimed the proud Indian intellectual, Inder Gujral. 1998 may have some more coalition governments collapsing in India

Political crisis in India aside, it’s in the social sphere that this country confronts gory challenges. Imagine the BJP coming to power in India, as it did last year, though only for a dozen-plus-one days! How will then the Indians claim that they represent a secular state? What will happen if Dalits, representing a mass of lower caste people in India, rise further? To expose the façade of India being the world’s largest democracy.

Finally, what about the various secessionist movements that are going on in the country’s various regions, occupied Kashmir and the entire northeastern states in particular? How long a country gripped in severe political crisis afford to crush so many popular movements with the use of force?