Politics of Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry: Superman returns in a different attire
Recently, the former Chief Justice of Pakistan, Mr. Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry launched his own political party. I am glad that finally, he has openly revealed and confessed his personal motives and ambitions. This news surely did not come to me with any surprise as Mr. Chaudhry is quite political-minded. Even when he was a judge, he became a hero for taking a principle stand against a dictator and the way he stood behind the Lawyers’ Movement and engaged a huge audience was laudable. An overwhelming section of lawyers, bar councils, political parties, media and even the civil society played an active role for the independence of the judiciary. Everyone had high expectations from Mr. Chaudhry to best serve the third organ of the State after resuming the highest office in judiciary.
The fact that Mr. Chaudhry did not succeed in living up to the expectations of the general public is now history. Is it the people who are ungrateful or is it the failure of a former judge? I believe that this was meant to happen. People were at fault for having high and unrealistic expectations from him; due to public pressure, the former judge also contributed in authoring his own misfortune. The initiation of the rampant exercise of Suo Moto jurisdiction by him over policy matters highlighted on popular TV talk shows and TV channels against the top-notch Governmental officials and representatives, showed his political motives of projecting himself as the savior of the nation.
During his tenure as the Chief Justice of Pakistan, there was an acute level of distrust of stakeholders in the Government and the Executive, the doctrine of separation of powers was thwarted by a deadlock. The members of the general public even started questioning the prospects of democracy. It is without cavil that the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) government contributed in increasing the political crisis by its own so-called reconciliation policy and negligence in running the state affairs, which provided a room for Suo Moto to be excessively exercised. It is also without cavil that, at all material times, all eyes were mostly on Mr. Chaudhry to interfere in the governance of the elected government. So much so, that during the public gatherings, even the politicians and leaders of the opposition would request Mr. Chaudhry to exercise Suo Moto powers over issues involving the government.
This made him a party in various contentious matters. In exercising Suo Moto jurisdiction, he performed various roles such as initiation, investigation, prosecution, adjudication, execution to take credit for exposing the government’s corruption and negligence, which made him a judge in his own cause. There was a real apprehension of bias against him that he will never deliver a judgment in favour of the accused even if the prosecution failed to discharge the burden of proof, especially, if the public sentiment is against the accused. Being rich and high-profile was quite dangerous during his tenure.
Mr. Chaudhry deserves some credit for making the power accountable during his tenure as a judge. However, he ignored the doctrine of impartiality by overdoing the accountability to serve his personal whims and ego. The selective accountability of the elite also creates as much of a real apprehension of bias as does the non-accountability of the elite.
The government is considered to be powerful and there was only one man to face its power: the Superman. At all material times, Mr. Chaudhry wanted to be the hero by discrediting the elected representatives and public office holders. In the past, we have seen judicial restraint where judges were tentative to question the decisions of the government over the principle of non-interference in policy matters.
I do not support complete judicial restraint because judiciary is a Guardian of the Constitution and it has to defend the Constitution against the actions that are unconstitutional, ultra vires, void ab initio and non est. Similarly, I also do not support the aggressive judicial activism as was adopted by Mr. Chaudhry which showed that he spent most of his professional time in passing decisions and judgments against the government, its policies and against the actions of the public office-holders.
Such judicial activism involves catastrophic consequences. The legitimate and illegitimate expectations of the general public are multiplied, they no longer take the concerned authorities seriously, and even the prescribed procedure of state functionaries becomes outweighed when people can reasonably foresee a powerful judge to disturb everything. An over-powerful judiciary is not in a country’s interest but only an independent judiciary is our need. The leaders of the people are their elected representatives, the constitutional mandate lies with the governments to address the political issues. As an organ, the judiciary is inherently incompetent to be political just as the Military Dictator is inherently incompetent to run the country. The former was, unfortunately, not kept in mind by Mr. Chaudhry. The latter surely was, because the foundation of the Lawyers’ Movement was against the dictatorship.
In the court of Mr. Chaudhry, the sitting Prime Minister, heads of rangers and police, senior bureaucrats and ministers were humiliated. I am not defending the actions of anyone who violated the law and the Constitution but everyone is innocent until proven guilty and the due process of law is a fundamental right of all the citizens, including the elite and powerful members of the class. If the judicial remarks are so obvious and adverse against the accused, the independence of officials of investigation agencies is seriously compromised. They take the judgmental remarks as instructions and guidelines for their scope of work.
Surely, the Superman has returned in a different attire, but I seriously hope that he has not returned with the same old personality.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of any organization with which he might be associated.
Photo courtesy: Saqib Tanveer, Naya Pakistan Team, Geo News