Constitution is not a mere lawyers’ document, it is a vehicle of life, and its spirit is always the spirit of age. – Barrister Bhimrao Ambedkar
The love story of written constitutions is fairly new. Civilisations, sometimes grander than modern-day states, were ruled without any supreme law in writing. Edicts and decrees were sufficient to control the masses. This historic status quo became impractical for economic and political reasons – and thus dawned the quixotic era of constitutions.
Pakistan, like almost every other country in today’s world, is governed by a constitution too. Promulgated in 1973, this is the third document to have attained the status of the constitution in the country’s short life of seven decades. However, our contempt for the constitution has, in effect, led to political crises over the years. Despite a clear declaration in the preamble of the 1973 constitution — “the State shall exercise its powers and authority through the chosen representatives of the people” — Pakistan has had two ‘explicit’ military takeovers, and a continuous hybrid disposition, where everything except for the exercise of the state’s authority through its chosen representatives has happened. Undemocratic interventions have been common. A former dictator-president expressed his intimacy with the constitution by declaring on camera that it is “just a piece of paper to be thrown in the dustbin”.
All institutions working in the country are subservient to either of these three pillars, while these pillars are, at least de-jure, subordinate to the constitution – the ultimate will of the people.
Although it has predominantly been the un-elected actors of the polity that have shown disregard for the constitution, it would be misleading to absolve elected representatives, including members that weren’t per-se elected by general populace in the years following partition of 1947. The recent episode of unconstitutionally dismissing the no-confidence motion against Imran Khan by the deputy speaker of the National Assembly is a textbook example of this menace. The office of the speaker, which is constitutionally ordained to act impartially, was turned subservient to Imran Khan’s wishes. Unambiguous articles of the constitution were cunningly obscured to soil the sacred stream of democracy.
The tragic Memogate scandal, and the sad role played by leaders from the then opposition, might be prima-facie legal, but there can’t be two opinions about the fact that the whole orchestration trampled fundamental norms and principles on which our country’s constitution and democracy are structured. With these realities in the background, it is important to understand why we need a constitution, and most importantly why it must be strictly adhered to.
The simple answer is that it is the basic document that gives birth to our Country. This primary source of law is in actuality what gives birth to the abstract idea of Pakistan. Minus the constitution and all we have left are the federating units that make it up, but the concept of Pakistan withers away. This primary foundation then structures a further built up of principles that tether the populace to this hypothetical animation. The citizens are then lured into “Obedience to the Constitution and law”against the promise of some privileges.
The bipartisan relationship between the state and its citizens was best illustrated by Indian comic Kunal Kamra, who compared this alliance with that between a customer and a telecom company; the customer pays a certain amount of money in exchange for special services. But the relationship becomes redundant when either party fails to discharge its duty. An important distinction that Kamra missed was, unlike a service contract, the constitution is only enforced after it has been debated and negotiated through elected representatives; a feature further cementing the ascendancy that constitutions ought to command.
May we have the determination to keep protecting the constitution, not for anyone else’s sake, but ourselves.
Legislative, judicial, and executive, the three pillars of the state, are a creation of this document, and it is through this document that the population restrains the otherwise unbridled force of establishments. All institutions working in the country are subservient to either of these three pillars, while these pillars are, at least de-jure, subordinate to the constitution – the ultimate will of the people. It is through the constitution that the hapless populace tames the wild powers of the state.
In the absence of a robust constitution deterioration becomes a reality. This grundnorm, in contrast to Musharraf’s contemptuous attitude towards it, is what truly makes the world go round in Pakistan. Imagining the end of Judas-like Musharraf’s rule in the backdrop of the 2008 Lawyers’ March, and the struggle for the restoration of independent judiciary without the reinforcements of constitutional provisions is beyond imagination. A rigged game can only be disputed when the rules of the game are in-field. What might one complain about when everything operates in a vacuum?
Some inspiration may be drawn from Abraham Lincoln who, while emphasising that constitutions are the only safeguard of liberties, famously declared that “We the people are the rightful masters of both Congress and the courts, not to overthrow the Constitution but to overthrow the men who pervert the Constitution”. May we have the determination to keep protecting the constitution, not for anyone else’s sake, but ourselves.