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Mainstream, VOL LI No 22, May 18, 2013

Politics even in the Tragedy of Death

Saturday 18 May 2013, by Rajindar Sachar

Many great men, sickened by the way the contemporary society behaves, have been exas-perated to give vent to their harshest feelings. Author Samuel Johnson remarked: “Patriotism is the last refuge of a Scoundrel.”

I had thought that Johnson was unfair to overwhelming number of ordinary citizens who were, in the true sense, patriots. I was willing to concede that if he had used the word “Politics” instead, I might have gone along with him, especially when I read what V. Lenin said: “There are no morals in politics, there is only expediency. A scoundrel may be of use to us just because he is a scoundrel.” Colloquially, scoundrel conjures up ruffian-type of a person, but scoundrel is defined in the Oxford Dictionary to mean “a dishonest or immoral person” that could apply at any level of hierarchy in the society. The crisis however arises for us in India (and especially for the older generation) who have lived with Gandhiji’s teaching that “politics without morality is a sin”.

The ugly manifest of this thinking is the way in which Sarabjit’s death in Pakistan has been so cynically used by politicians ignoring com-pletely the damage that has been done to the future of Indo-Pakistan relations.

The undoubted facts are Sarabjit, who, according to his family, while inebriated, strayed into the Pakistan border in 1991, was however arrested in Pakistan as being an Indian spy. He was tried by the courts in Pakistan and the Supreme Court there rejected his appeal. He was sentenced to death, but before it could be executed relations between India and Pakistan eased somewhat, and efforts were being made to persuade the Pakistani authorities to commute his sentence with the welcome move by the Pak human rights activists and especially the indefatigable efforts by Pakistani lawyer Awais Sheikh. And then this sudden tragedy happened —his being beaten by co-prisoners resulting in his death. It was natural to expect that this would cause anger and disappointment in India and lead to some protests. But vested interests or small-time politicians thought that it was a fertile moment to spread anti-Pakistan hatred. So some TV channels, newspapers and politicians with vested interest ran amuck shouting treachery by Pakistan, and even suggesting India should break off diplomatic relations with that neighbouring state. The result has been a near-crazy sentiment being fuelled up against Pakistan. Some reckless politicians even provo-kingly spread the reckless news that Sarabjit had been deliberately got beaten at the instance of the Pakistani authorities.

And then started the cavalcade of big circus. The Prime Minister of India described him as a brave son of India obviously accepting that he was an Indian spy (what more delicious news could Pakistan have hoped than that India admits it sends spies to Pakistan!).

The Punjab Government, to score a point against the Central Government and to claim that it was more patriotic, announced a reward of Rs 1 crore for Sarabjit. He was also given a state funeral—a rare honour reserved normally for armymen who die in battlefield, further giving material to Pakistan to blame India for sending spies. But so much was the reckless thinking that Punjab, irrespective of party affiliation, competed in the farce: the Punjab Legislature unanimously passed a resolution terming Sarabjit as a national martyr.

Such was the atmosphere that the Congress flew Rahul Gandhi specially to attend the funeral in the purported belief that not to do so would be electorally damaging. Alas what small thinking! Please do not misunderstand. Full sympathy to Sarabjit’s family at his unfortunate death in the circumstances is natural. But what is worrying me is that behind this was the jingoist political symbolism against Pakistan being highlighted as if patriotism in the country has to be judged by the extent of how anti- Pakistan you project yourself. What an ill-fated policy and lack of sense of reality!

And then, when the political parties were bathing in this short-lived limelight, nature struck a blow. We had the unfortunate incident of a Pakistani prisoner, Sanaullah, in a Jammu jail being seriously injured by an Indian co-prisoner—his condition being such that he had to be flown to the Chandigarh PGI for further treatment. This exposed our hollow chant which Indian politicians were making that in Lahore jail Sarabjit could not have been beaten by Pak co-prisoners on their own but must be at the instance of the Pak officials. Would the Indian politicians apply the same logic at what happened at Jammu and blame the Indian officials? If not, why the double standards? It is puerile and politically dishonest to ignore the loud condemnation of the Pakistan Government in Sarabjit’s case by the Human Right Commission and other intellectuals of Pakistan.

The Rajasthan Congress Chief Minister, facing State elections, has carried jingoism to the limit by publically forbidding Pakistani pilgrims to visit the holy shrine at Ajmer Sharif, as he expressed his inability to maintain law and order in the aftermath of the Sarabjit case. If this is his mind, nothing but his resignation is called for.

Both the Central and Punjab governments, by their shortsighted partisan manner of handling the Sarabjit case, have done immeasurable harm to the intelligence agency of India. The extra-ordinary blow-up of the Sarabjit case by the government has led to a large number of Indian spies, who had come back to India after having spent 20 to 25 years in Pakistan jails, go public and complain as to how they have been neglected all these years and they have not been given their dues which were promised to them when they were recruited. I hope their public cry will now at least reach the ears of the Central Government.

There are in both countries a large number of prisoners who continue to be in respective jails even after their sentence has been completed. Can one hope that in the sober sequel to Sarabjit and Sanaullah’s cases, both the countries will take immediate steps to send back these prisoners to their respective countries? This is not only a humanitarian but a legal demand.

India and Pakistan are like Siamese twins. The pain and tribulation of each will get reflected in the other. Accept that bleeding of either will bleed the other too. In this approach alone the welfare and prosperity of both countries lie.

The author is a former Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court.

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