Dawn Editorial 13 December 2019

Violent lawyers

WHAT else could be more damning evidence of a society teetering on the edge of anarchy than when those sworn to uphold the law violate it in a manner that is considered a crime even in times of war?
On Wednesday, hundreds of lawyers stormed the Punjab Institute of Cardiology in Lahore after videos emerged on social media showing certain doctors from the hospital mocking the black coats over an ongoing dispute between the two sides.
And this was no spontaneous violence, condemnable as even that would have been.
This was a pre-planned assault, with the mob — some of its members carrying sticks and guns — descending upon the hospital en masse, determined to wreak havoc.
The outcome will forever remain a blot on the legal community.
Rampaging through the country’s largest cardiac facility, the attackers destroyed furniture and equipment — including ventilators — smashed window panes, and damaged cars. They also forced their way into the emergency department, terrorising and manhandling the medical staff and patients’ attendants who were forced to flee leaving the critically ill behind. At least three patients died during the mayhem. The police finally managed to control the situation after a prolonged face-off during which they baton-charged the mob and fired tear gas shells.
There have been numerous incidents in recent years where the legal community has displayed utter contempt for the law.
Ironically enough, it may have been the lawyers’ movement from 2007 to 2009 — considered a prime example of effective civil resistance — that sowed the seeds for the out-and-out thuggery increasingly on display by the black coats. For it seems that the movement’s success in achieving its objective — the restoration of then Supreme Court chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry — instilled in some lawyers a taste for confrontation coupled with a certain hubris in which there is no room for dissent.
Vicious brawls have broken out on court premises between opposing advocates; courtrooms have been ransacked; and in late 2017, a crowd of lawyers vandalised a new judicial complex.
The bench, too, is often a direct target of the black coats’ ire. Members of the judiciary have been held hostage inside their courtrooms, intimidated during proceedings, and threatened with physical violence. Wednesday’s rampage, however, plumbs new lows in its complete disregard for the basic norms of humanity.
Of course, the majority of lawyers are not cut from the same cloth, and many of them have roundly condemned their compatriots for their abhorrent actions. Nevertheless, there are among them sufficient numbers of such disorderly individuals as to bring the entire fraternity into disrepute.
So far, FIRs have been filed against over 250 advocates involved in the episode. Not only should they be proceeded against under the law that they have so shamefully trampled on, but the Pakistan Bar Council must strip them of their licences. Such lawyers do not belong in any courtroom.


Gujarat inquiry

VENTRILOQUISTS are adept at throwing their voices into puppets and mannequins. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his controversial home minister, Amit Shah, have mastered the art of making the judges investigating their alleged roles in riots and mayhem say what they would want them to say. The argument of the five-member Supreme Court bench hearing the Ayodhya land dispute case recently, for example, was leading to a clear critique of right-wing Hindu groups and their actions to illegally occupy and destroy the Babri Masjid. But even without a shred of material evidence to support its conclusion, the court suddenly upturned its own logic and assigned the disputed land to those it accused of illegal acts.
The latest evidence that Mr Modi holds critical sections of the judiciary in his thrall is revealed in the second part of the Nanavati-Mehta Commission of inquiry tabled this week in the Gujarat assembly. The commission was probing the Godhra train inferno on Feb 27, 2002, and Mr Modi’s possible role in the anti-Muslim violence let loose after that. The first part of the report released several years ago related to the burning of the train coach in which 59 Hindu volunteers perished. The report had called it a premeditated act of killing by Muslims in Godhra against compelling arguments that it was an accident. The second part of the report was prompted by a curious circumstance. The initial mandate of the commission related to the train tragedy alone. After the Manmohan Singh government unexpectedly came to power in 2004, Mr Modi, as chief minister of Gujarat, widened the scope of the inquiry to comment on his own role in the communal violence that followed. The move cleverly pre-empted an imminent step by the Singh government to instal its own investigation into the chief minister’s role. “There is no evidence to show that these attacks were either inspired or instigated or abetted by any minister of the (Gujarat) state,” Mr Modi’s handpicked commission said in its report, which runs to over 1,500 pages. It is heartening that the bevy of clean chits to Mr Modi and his assorted aides in grievous acts of commission and omission have not gone unchallenged. And as long as these noble voices remain firm and resolute, there is always hope that the darkness stalking Indian democracy will lift and the judiciary sequester itself from the ventriloquist’s lure.


Auto sector slowdown

AUTOMOBILE companies here have been reeling from contracting demand for several months now. The slowdown in the automobile industry is widespread and has affected every segment. But it is more conspicuous in the case of car assemblers who are compelled to reduce the number of shifts, shut down their plants for the better part of each month, and end jobs or furlough employees to save fixed costs. Overall, car sales have plunged 44pc during the first five months of the current fiscal from a year ago. The demand for some variants has dipped up to 75pc in spite of ‘special offers and substantial price discounts’ announced by companies to clear their growing inventories. The impact on local suppliers of parts to the manufacturers is much more devastating. Though no reliable data is available, the vendors are reported to have abolished at least 50,000 jobs since July.
The industry, especially the three Japanese car assemblers who have monopolised the domestic market for over three decades, blame the massive rise in their prices on the steep currency devaluation, spiking leasing costs owing to higher interest rates and imposing new taxes in the current budget. The trend is in line with the ongoing contraction in manufactured output in the country because of fiscal and monetary policies aimed at stabilising the economy and bridging the current account deficit by discouraging imports. Nevertheless, the automobile industry is in a bad state. Fiscal and monetary policies may have contributed a lot to the unprecedented decline in sales, but car assemblers must also share the blame for their current situation. The currency depreciation has laid bare their failure to localise their cars as they have done in India as well as exposed their dependence on imports, despite enjoying substantially large tariff protections for decades. There is a need for the government to help the industry and protect jobs. But its support should not be unconditional. The assemblers must agree to achieve maximum localisation in a specified period of time in exchange for such support.


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