A tale of two countries

Comparisons are odious. But this one seems irresistible without meaning to equate parliamentary democracy in India and Pakistan.

Events in the two countries are in veritable competition for newsworthiness. At the centre of the storm are civilian regimes and elected representatives. In Pakistan the face-off is between the formidable Army-Judiciary combination and an unpopular PPP-led regime. In India, the government’s pitted against anti-graft activists in the judiciary and the civil society so ably abetted by the media.

The other parallel could perhaps be that in the dock at both ends are coalition regimes seen as corrupt and conspiratorial. The combine led by the PPP is seeking to assert Parliament’s supremacy to overcome challenges to its longevity–by the Army and the top Judiciary—over allegations that civilian rulers sought to upstage and defang the security establishment in cahoots with the US after the Abbottabad raid.

The story in New Delhi is a trifle different. Upon mishandling the Lokpal movement, the government’s willing to meet halfway its version of a strong ombudsman. It has sought to counter the fastidious Anna Hazare seeking a hundred per cent deal by underscoring Parliament’s supremacy to legislate. It is difficult to predict the end result of this face-off and the one across Wagah. But there isn’t a danger of a coup in Pakistan and the collapse of the UPA in India.

Except cynical voices, there’s unanimity over Parliament’s primacy in law making in India. The logjam essentially is over the proposed Lokpal’s investigative powers and the prescribed mandatory model for ombudsmen in states many of which are ruled by non-UPA coalitions and parties. The Opposition, as in Pakistan, tends to fish in troubled waters to show the “discredited” government as dysfunctional and soft on corruption.

The question in Islamabad is whether the Assembly or the Supreme Court should probe Memogate. The Army and sections of the Opposition— crying for President Zardari’s scalp and a leadership change perhaps within the existing Assembly— want judicial intervention to book conspirators including Hussain Haqqani, the dismissed Pak envoy to the US. Haqqani’s wife Farahnaz Ispahani is a presidential aide. That directly puts Zardari in the line of fire.

The route the Opposition and the Judiciary prefer to get to the bottom of Memogate might suit the Army. But they are stoutly opposed to the return of military rule in Pakistan. Sensing the mood, Army Chief Ashfaq Kayani has himself from Zardari but not the country’s experiment with parliamentary democracy.

On the face of it, Kayani comes across as wiser. Hazare’s refusal to cede an inch now to later gain a mile shows him as a poor strategist. He shines still because the government has lost its sheen. To keep his drawing power, his mass appeal, he must let Parliament work. The civil society, as Jagdish Bhagwati rightly observed, can flag an issue, not flog it.

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