You have to stand guard over the development and maintenance of democracy, social justice and the equality of mankind in your own native soil. [Mohammed Ali Jinnah]

Monday, June 9, 2008

The black coat movement

IN a stagnant society where moral values and traditions decline, where intellectuals fail to create new ideas in order to inspire the people, where political parties take no interest in mobilising the masses for a change in the system and where leaders, instead of resisting, are ready to compromise with the powers that be in order to retain their privileges and status, the emergence of a new movement with fresh ideas and a vision for change inspires the entire society to actively participate in the struggle.

Historically speaking, a socio-economic and political movement always makes a dynamic impact on society. It awakens the dormant forces and creates a new kind of consciousness of political and social issues. It initiates debates and discussions on the ongoing problems of society.

It generates new energy and vitality among different groups and individuals and prompts them to contribute their share in making a movement a success. In short, it provides new life and fresh blood to a decadent society.

Historians may also ask as to who should be responsible for such a movement — individuals or socio-economic and political forces? I think both factors help each other in creating and expanding a movement far and wide. Sometimes the social forces bide their time and wait for individuals to exploit the situation on the ground and lead the movement. Sometimes an individual initiates spontaneously a movement and the social forces then facilitate his work and make the movement popular.

Keeping in view this historian’s perspective, when we study the lawyers’ movement in Pakistan, we easily reach the conclusion that though the defiance by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry was spontaneous, the spark soon turned into a flame enveloping the entire society. The reason is obvious. People had suffered under eight long years of dictatorship. They were suffocated and were enduring much hardship. Public anger against the dictatorship was pent up as there was no avenue of expressing it.

President Pervez Musharraf’s arrogance was at its height. He had refused to let the exiled leaders return to Pakistan. He had planned to extend his dictatorial powers with the help of his cronies. There was no political party which was capable of launching a movement against the regime. There was no opposition to challenge the general’s authority. There were no intellectuals to inspire people to struggle against an oppressive regime. Poverty, unemployment, disparity between the rich and poor were haunting the masses.

On the other hand, the government was touting its miracle of overall successes in every aspect of life.

But Musharraf was safe as there was no threat to his authority and he successfully overran his opponents, never expecting that anybody would ever defy him. But the movement led by Iftikhar Chaudhry unleashed an indomitable force against the military regime.

Soon enough the black coat movement became a popular expression of the people’s expectations that had reached a new high. As a result of the movement, all the exiled leaders were able to return home. Elections were held and popular votes changed the structure of the government.

As soon as political parties came to power and formed a government, a change occurred in their thinking too. A change, unfortunately, for the worse! First, they started by discrediting the black coat movement as the catalyst of this political change. The PPP led the campaign by announcing that it won the majority of seats not because of the struggle for the restoration of the judiciary but on the slogan of roti, kapra aur makan.

Then the PPP started denigrating the whole movement by saying that the lawyers were struggling for the jobs of the judges and not for any higher purpose i.e. not for an independent judiciary.

It is sad that the political parties, instead of recognising the sacrifices, the tribulations, the sufferings of the legal profession for the cause of an independent judiciary, launched a campaign against the judges and created hurdles in their restoration.

History tells us that it is not necessary that a movement should succeed and achieve its object. It could be crushed by strong authoritarian forces not only physically but also intellectually through publicity and propaganda. It could be divided by the creation of different groups and it could be corrupted financially. It has happened before that a dissident movement, once broken and crushed, disappeared from the scene leaving behind a negative image created by the ruling classes in order to mislead the people.

But times are changing. We are living in a democratic and global world. There exist alternative media that can keep the popular image of a movement alive despite negative propaganda from a hostile regime.

It is a strange phenomenon that the black coat movement in Pakistan is refusing to surrender despite all the difficulties it is facing and its vigour and vitality appears to be undiminished.It will not be far-fetched to believe that this movement may succeed in forcing the political leaders to mend their ways.

It will be in the interest too of the politicians themselves if they share the struggle for an independent judiciary in Pakistan.
DAWN - Editorial; June 08, 2008
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