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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 52 December 23 & 30, 2023

Ehtesab - The bogey of accountability | Faraz Ahmad

Saturday 23 December 2023, by Faraz Ahmad


December 30, 2023

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was the first and only Pakistan Prime Minister duly elected under a proper Constitution, the 1973 Constitution in early 1977, virtually coinciding with the victory of Janata Paty in India. The 1973 Constitution was suspended later by General Mohammad Ziaul Haq and After him partially restored with considerable mutilation.

Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) almost swept those National Assembly elections with nearly 60 per cent votes and 155 out of 200 National Assembly seats, a majority of which came from Punjab. But the right-wing Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) comprising mainly of parties of the Muslim clerics and Army props like Air Marshal (Retd.) Asghar Khan’s Tehreek-i-Istaqlal (TI) and paradoxically leftist National Awami Party (NAP) of Khan Abdul Wali Khan, the son of Frontier Gandhi Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (still alive then). But Badhshah Khan refused to be part of or support the PNA, an alliance of Mullas and Army stooges.

Even from Baluchistan whose left-wing leaders like Ghaus Bux Bizenjo, Khair Baksh Marri and Atalullah Mengal suffered a lot at the hands of the Government under Bhutto, kept their distance from PNA agitation.

In a highly feudal and pro rich society, Bhutto for the first time attempted to introduce land reforms, labour reforms and even administrative reforms, posing a threat to the status quo. Like the 1971 general elections in India when the right-wing Grand Alliance here went to the elections with the slogan “Indira Hatao, Desh Bachao” the PNA too had no other plan or programme but to target Bhutto accusing him of being irreligious, corrupt, debauch, who drank and womanised. Though none came up with any evidence of alleged corruption against Zulfi.

Again, like Indira’s 1971 Congress victory, which was unpalatable to the Grand Alliance here, and the mainstream English media as well, to the extent that they credited some non-existent Chinese ink on ballot papers for Congress victory, the PNA in Pakistan too rejected the results and Wali Khan of all the people called for fresh elections under the Supreme Court supervision. Naturally then Bhutto dismissed this demand off hand and then started the three month long violent countrywide agitation against Bhutto by the PNA, whose formal demand was establishment of ‘Nizam-e-Mustafa’ a rather vague proposition considering that there is no agreement in the numerous Islamic sects, both Sunnis and Shias what really constitutes something akin to ‘Nizam-e-Mustafa’ because in that alliance there were both the Wahabi Jamaat-i-Islami and the Barelvi Jammiat-e-Ulema-e-Pakistan (JUP) led by Maulana Shah Ahmad Noorani.

But the whole agitation from the beginning was to depose Bhutto and stall any progress introduced by Bhutto albeit for political gains., Eventually General Mohammad Ziaul Haq deposed Bhutto in a bloodless coup on July 5, 1977.

Zia, as duplicitous as those Mullas, announced a 90-day ‘Operation Fairplay’ to hold fresh elections and return to barracks. That though was never his intention. Nor did the PNA want a re-election. So while the PPP led by Bhutto not yet arrested, started preparing for elections in right earnest, the PNA led by Nasim Wali Khan (Wali Khan’s second wife, much younger than him) and the right wing Urdu media in particular, started crying “ hoarse with one voice ‘Ehtesab’ meaning accountability first pleading against elections with Bhutto there.

Bhutto was eventually hanged on a bogus case by a Muslim League fellow named Ahmad Raza Kasuri (still alive) and no evidence was produced to vindicate PNA allegations. Also, after years of sifting through the results of the 1977 elections with a magnifying glass, Zia regime produced a ‘White Paper” to prove “large-scale rigging but could identify less than a dozen constituencies where there could be some substance in PNA allegations.

But why this background? Because Modi is treading the same path successfully. Pakistan set up a fraud National Accountability Bureau (NAB) which pronounces any uncomfortable leader corrupt and ineligible to contest elections and lead the country. They did this to Benazir Bhutto, Asif Ali Zardari and even Nawas Sharif when he fell out of favour with the Pakistan military. But the moment the military found no alternative to remove Imran Khan, Nawaz Sharif is now eligible to lead his country, through another election. Ditto, Modi embraced Himant Biswa Sarma after BJP accused him of large scale corruption. Same with Suvendu Adhikari, Mukul Roy, Narayan Rane, Pema Khundu of Arunachal Pradesh or now Ajit Pawar in Maharashtra.

Here we have the Enforcement Directorate, the Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI) and the National Investigation Agency (NIA). Even the Delhi Police Special Cell comes in handy when they intend to harass and muzzle independent media like the digital portal Newsclick. whose Editor-in-Chief Probir Purkayastha and Human Resources (HR) head Amit Chakraverty have been in jail for over a month without a bail. TMC leader Mahua Moitra, a sharp critic of PM Modi and his party, is facing corruption charges; another strident critic of Modi who exposed many instance of alleged corruption and inexplicable favours to billionaire Gautam Adani, Sanjay Singh is also in jail on corruption charges by ED, AAP Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia too is in jail.

Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud and the outgoing Supreme Court judge Sanjay Krishan Kaul, both underlined the need for the lower judiciary to be upright and bold. Yet the same apex court is reluctant to even hear bail petition of Umar Khalid a bright young scholar of JNU. Evidently Modi and his cronies don’t like such critics.

Latest on the list seems to be Priyanka Gandhi. The moment Rahul Gandhi announced his next Padyatra of over 6000 kilometres starting from Manipur through Hindi heartland and BJP strongholds including Gujarat, the very next day we see the ED plant a story about some suspicious transactions by companies or individuals close to Robert Vadra, Priyanka Gandhi’s husband and even threw in Priyanka’s name. The implicit threat: stay out or go to jail. For Pakistani leaders it is nothing new. We in India may learn to stand up to it.

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