Dr Abdul Kalam and Pakistan’s dysfunctional democracy

Nasir Saeed

India’s former President Dr Avul Pakir Zainulabdeen Abdul Kalam has been buried in his home town of Peikarumbu with full civil and military honours.

He passed away on the evening of July 27 in Shillong at the age of 83. He served as president for five years from 2002 to 2007 and enjoyed full support from both the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and the opposition.

Being a scientist he strengthened the defence of India and earned the title of ’India’s Missile Man’. He was awarded withthe highest Indian awards like the Padma Bhushan in 1981, Padma Vibhushan in 1990 and Bharat Ratan in 1997 for services to his country.

He was India’s 11th, and the 3rd president from Muslim minority, the first from Muslim minority and 3rd president of India, Zakir Hussain, was elected in 1969.

During this period the then chief justice of India, Mohammad Hidayatullah, also served as an Indian president. Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed served as 5th president of India and 2nd president from Muslim minority from 1974 to 1977. Muslims are the 2nd largest minority while Islam is 2nd largest religion of India after Hinduism.

But Muslims still face discrimination, something which is the fate of any minority. However, despite this, they can be seen prospering in every walk of life and making a difference in education, sports cinema and politics.

They have freedom to adopt their culture and practice their religion. Economically and politically they are growing. Moreover, they have full constitutional rights which make them full and equal citizens of the country. They have a considerable number in Indian parliament, where they actively participate in legislating.

In contrast, Pakistan never bothers to consult minorities, even when it is making policies about them. This is because minorities do not have full constitutional rights and are considered a 2nd class citizen of the country. Though at times, especially when they are attacked, expositional statements are made by the government for their protection and security to calm the situation, remedial actions are never taken.

Over the years, democracy has strengthened, while Pakistan is still trapped in a dynastical menace.
It is because of a strong belief in democracy that India has had the honour of having several prime ministers and presidents from minorities. There was a time, like 2004, when India was being ruled by minorities – President Abdul Kalam was Muslim, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Sikh, Chief of the Army Staff, General Joginder Jaswant Singh, Defence minister A K Anthony, Christian, while the country’s ruler and leading party’s head was Sonia Ghandi. This is something we cannot even dream about in Pakistan. No one ever raised a finger against these ministers because of their religion – something only possible when democracy is deep rooted in any country.

It seems religion has got nothing to do with the business of the state in India, something which was explicitly taught to us by our Quaid in his first presidential speech of 11th August. But soon after his death we side lined the minorities, diminished their equal citizenship and constitutional rights and officially barred them from becoming president or prime minster of the country.

Minorities struggled for Pakistan, fighting shoulder to shoulder with the Quaid. In return he had ensured them equal rights, but sadly we could neither honour the promise of our Quaid or recognise their role in the making of Pakistan. The capuchin priests (a sect of the catholic priests) especially Fr Celius brought several Muslims migrants’ convoy safely in Pakistan, he used to encounter any possible attack on the convoy, but instead we are busy teaching hate against our minorities in our schools and colleges, something considered a crime in any civilised society.

Pakistan’s minorities are peaceful and loyal to Pakistan, but systematic and ideological hatred against them continues to grow because of our national narrative, which has to be changed now.

The world is changing rapidly, religion or belief is considered a personal matter and civilised governments refrain from interfering with their citizens’ personal matters, but make sure that they can lead their life according to their belief or religion.

Recently David Cameron said he wants to see an ethnic minority Prime Minister and I am sure he means it. There are already several Pakistani Muslims working in very high governmental posts, also there are a considerable number of Pakistani Muslim MPs and Lords. Several groups who claim to be Muslims’ representatives are consulted and taken into confidence when the government making any policy about them.

Although Bilawal Bhutto, chairman of PPP, has said that he wants to see a Christian prime minister of Pakistan, I don’t think he has made any progress in converting this into reality. I cannot doubt his intention, but it is not simple in a country like Pakistan where extremist groups are more powerful than the government and courts are hesitant to give verdicts against them. I am not sure if he is in touch with Christian leadership like his mother Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto was, with people like Joseph Francis, the only minority member signatory of the charter of Democracy and Shahbaz Bhatti etc.
Treatment on the basis of religion and hate speech is considered a crime in many civilised and western countries, but in Pakistan such people are hailed heroes for their crimes. In the west special efforts are made for integration and to bring minorities into mainstream politics, there are no minority wings of any party.

Every citizen has full constitutional rights and equal citizen status and they can contest any seat, from the party leadership to country’s prime minister. At present London Mayoral election are going to be held in the UK and among other Pakistani Muslims, Sadiq Khan from Labour, the 2nd largest party in the UK, and Syed Kamal Shah from the ruling Conservative party, are prominent candidates.

There is no doubt, Dr Abdul Kalm was highly educated and India will be in debt to his services, but he couldn’t have become the president without full constitutional rights and equal citizenship status. Though these are grieving moments for India, Dr Abdul Kalam will live in their hearts forever. I wish we could treat our minorities, if not the same as in western countries, but at least the same as in India.

Advertisements