My photo

Anshul is a Political Science and Law graduate from the University of Delhi. He is interested in political, legal and policy developments and frequently writes on related themes. You can contact him on anshulkumarpandey [at] gmail [dot] com.

Monday, May 5, 2014

What Shahid taught Me

As a law student, you are often taught that your duty is to defend your client and it is the judge's duty to determine whether (s)he is guilty or not. You look at the legal high society and find people like Ram Jethmalani, who have made an illustrious career for themselves by strictly adhering to this maxim. Any law student would know that in litigation you cannot afford to be choosy as clients are hard to come by and establishing a successful practice is dependent upon your argumentative skills and not judgemental ones. Many young and honest lawyers have to swallow their rightfulness and pride to defend those clients whom they know to be guilty simply because of the nature and pressures of the business.

Gradually, you begin to internalize and rationalize these ideas and the humanist within you starts giving away to the realist. You begin to question the veracity of your judgements and the foundations of your assumptions. You cannot decide whether this change taking place within you is for the good or for the bad. You do not know whether your questions and endless queries are just arrows in the dark or purposeful taunts on a conscience unaccustomed to such piercing interrogation. When you read the law it is fairly simple and straightforward and as soon as you start reading the cases, a maze of ifs and buts and whys and why nots crops up. Every day, you find yourself sinking deeper and deeper into the ideological morass of your own creation.

It is when you are still fighting with these questions that you see Shahid, a movie based on the life and times of Shahid Azmi, a noted lawyer and human rights activist who was killed for successfully defending many innocent muslims falsely implicated in cases of terrorism. You see Shahid as a vulnerable, sensitive young man trying to find his feet in the world with the help of the law. He is passionate and hard working individual who believes in the fights that he is fighting and quotes Roy Black with impunity:
“By showing me injustice, he taught me to love justice. By teaching me what pain and humiliation were all about, he awakened my heart to mercy.  Through these hardships I learned hard lessons. Fight against prejudice, battle the oppressors, support the underdog. Question authority, shake up the system, never be discouraged by hard times and hard people.  Embrace those who are placed last, to whom even bottom looks like up.  It took me some time to find my mission in life – that of a criminal defense lawyer. But that ‘school’, and that Teacher, put me on my true path.  I will never be discouraged. Even thorns and thistles can teach you something, and lead to success.”  
Slowly, as the movie progresses, the humanist within you starts fighting back. The ability to distinguish between white and black is called common sense, it retorts. Sure, defending the guilty will bring great rewards and recognition but what about the idea of law as a public service? What about the moral compass of the society which operates by the fundamental belief of everyone that justice will be done, truth will prevail and that the guilty will be punished? What about the corruption of that moral compass by the agony of countless irreproachable paupers pitted against the might of the state?

Throughout the movie, you see Shahid as a lone warrior fighting against the legal system, the media, the society and even his own family to stand for what is right and what is correct. You cheer as victories come his way, you froth with indignation as wrongs are heaped upon him. Gradually you realize that more than just being a tool for making money, law can actually be used for serving the cause of social justice - a cause for which it was promulgated in the first place.

Long after the movie has ended and you realize that Shahid is no more, you sit thinking about the role of law and its practitioners in the society. You think about all the questions and counter questions that cropped up in your mind during those brief two hours and realize that you won't be able to stand a lifetime of such questions. The ideological dilemma solves itself, the mind is unburdened and sleep creeps its way inside among the thoughts of justice, equity and good conscience.  

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Lessons for the Aam Aadmi Party

The general elections are in their full swing and everybody is looking forward to the May 12 battle of political behemoths in the Uttar Pradesh in the last leg of the elections. The results are to be announced on May 16.

Regardless of the outcomes of the elections, the Aam Aadmi Party is to emerge as a debutante national party experienced with fighting its first general election and which is here to stay. What are the lessons that it will have to learn to continually relevant?

#Lesson 1: Rational decision making: One of the major criticisms that was hurled on the AAP by the opposition parties was that it ran away from its responsibilities of running a government in Delhi. AAP national convener Mr. Arvind Kejriwal too has accepted this criticism labelled against him and has called his decision to quit as Delhi CM a 'mistake'.

Maybe this mistake could have been avoided if the AAP leader had not acted in haste. The Delhi CM could have called a press conference and given the opposition parties a deadline to reconsider their stance regarding the Jan Lokpal Bill. He could have threatened to quit if the stance of both the parties remained unchanged and he could have made political villains out of the Congress and the BJP. In short, through rational decision making, he could have actually gained from the resignation.

One wishes that Mr. Kejriwal has learnt his lesson and would act more rationally than emotionally in such situations which can have bearings for the electoral fortune of his party.

#Lesson 2: Muscle Power counts: The many physical attacks on AAP leaders all over the country have been embarrassing and have become issues to be concerned about for the party. It has made them look like infantiles who have wandered by mistake in the political arena. People see them as a party which talks about protecting the country and yet is unable to protect its own leaders.

The AAP will need to worry about such an image. People do not want a mob to rule the country. They want genuine leaders, who not only think like one but also act like one. Party leaders need to be and appear to be strong, with a mass appeal across different sections of the society. Being pelted with eggs and ink is hardly helping.

#Lesson 3: Allies are important: One cannot remain forever secluded in politics. Democracy is all about resolving differences and coming together to find a solution.

The Aam Aadmi Party will need to fine tune its allegations for maximum political effect. It will need the backing of other political parties to be able to exert uneasy political pressure in order to emerge as a politically astute alternative worth being given a chance to govern the country. Allies will be important in this regard as they will add to the strength of the party and help them win over hostile segments of the population. They will also be important as the alliance can give a chance for the party to play the clean politics v/s dirty politics dichotomy to their advantage to a wider section of the society.

#Lesson 4: Media Management: One unforgettable lesson that the rise of the AAP has provided contemporary Political Scientists is that the media is crucial part of any election campaign. In the west, the newspapers and television channels do not pretend to be objective and openly declare their support for a particular political party before the general elections. The rise of a biased media can either be criticised endlessly, or can be supported for the best interests of the political parties and to improve the level of debate and discussion in television and print journalism.

The Aam Aadmi Party cannot dump the media like it dumped Vinod Kumar Binny for 'anti-party activities'. Instead of leveling allegations against the media, it would be prudent if the AAP learns to manage it. This is a liberal argument and the Aam Aadmi Party is free to accept it or reject it.

If the Party is able to learn some of these lessons and bring about change within it, it would greatly improve the prospects of it standing a realistic chance of acquiring power in the next general elections. It can also choose to ignore these suggestions at the risk of its own peril.