Daily Current Affairs for 08nd Feb 2024

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Fraught experiments with democracy: Pakistan

Why in the news?

  • Pakistan will hold its parliamentary elections  February 8 as 44 political parties will compete to get a share of the 266 seats.
  • This will be the country’s 12th general election since its independence 

Turmoil history of Pakistan:

  • The political history of Pakistan is laden with turmoil — it has had three constitutions, three military coups, and out of its 30 prime ministers, none have completed a full five-year term.

A long wait for Pakistan

  • Unlike India, the making of the constitution and holding of the first general elections — two of the key processes of building a democratic nation — were much delayed in Pakistan.
  • This happened largely due to debates over issues like the national language, the role of Islam, provincial representation, and the distribution of power between the centre and the provinces.
  • Even after Pakistan’s first constitution was finally implemented in March 1956, instability persisted. Between 1956 and 1958, three prime ministers, Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, I I Chundrigar and Firoz Khan Noon, from three different political parties (Awami League, Muslim League and Republican Party) came to power.
  • The chaos ultimately led General Mohammad Ayub Khan to carry out a military coup, putting national elections, slated to be held in February 1959, on hold indefinitely.
  • It took more than a decade, and three main reasons, for the military rule to weaken: the country’s defeat against India in the 1965 war, urban unrest in West Pakistan, and the rise of Bengali nationalism in East Pakistan. As a result, the first general elections were held in 1970.

1970’s election and broke out of East Pakistan

  • The 1970 national elections uncovered the growing regionalism and social conflict in the country.
  • The Pakistan People’s Party, led by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, emerged as the biggest party in West Pakistan by winning 81 seats, despite its defeat in Balochistan and the North-West Frontier Province.
  • In the latter two regions, Islamic parties registered victory. In East Pakistan, the Awami League led by Mujibur Rahman, who had campaigned for a six-point programme of provincial autonomy, won 160 of the 162 seats in the province.
  • The prospect of an Awami League’s government was a threat to politicians in West Pakistan who in conspiracy with the military leadership prevented Mujibur from taking the reins of power.
  • This was the final straw for the east wing who was already fed up with their under-representation in all sectors of the government, economic deprivation and then the suppression of the democratic process.
  • In March 1971, a revolt broke out in East Pakistan, which resulted in another war with India and the establishment of Bangladesh.
  • The crushing defeat of Pakistan’s military gave an opportunity to Bhutto to take the country in a new direction. He, however, failed to bring in any significant change.
  • For instance, Bhutto’s land reform plans weren’t ambitious enough, his labour policy was repressive, and his economic policies were haphazard.
  • Notably, he also relied on the military and civil bureaucracy to squash his opponents and didn’t try to build PPP as a mass-based national party.
  • The situation worsened after the 1977 general elections. PPP won the elections against its rival Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) — a coalition of nine political parties, dominated by Ismalists and conservatives.
  • While Bhutto’s party got 58.6% of votes and 155 seats out of the total 200 seats, PNA received 35.8% of votes and just 36 seats. PNA alleged the elections were rigged and chaos ensued.
  • Bhutto imposed martial law and arrested opposition leaders. This gave General Zia-ul Haq a chance to seize power and Pakistan witnessed the second military coup on July 5, 1977.

Military takes a step back, but doesn’t relinquish control

  • The next general elections were held in 1985, but no political parties were permitted to participate. Every candidate contested in his or her individual name. Zia thought this would help him build a popular support base and it would be easier to control parliament without the influence of political parties on the representatives.
  • Despite the restrictions, the elections proved to be consequential for Pakistan for two main reasons. One, after the election results, elected parliament was allowed to form political parties, which gave birth to the two-party parliamentary system.
  • It was birthed under military oversight, but assumed a character of its own over the period of its adulthood… Since 1985 Pakistan’s political scene thrived because the PPP and Pakistan Muslim League were able to accommodate large sections of Pakistani voters under their banners.”
  • Two, the Pakistani military realised that it didn’t need to execute a coup every time to control politics in the country.
  • It seems that they came to the conclusion that ‘oversight’ is better than overlordship.
  • To ensure this, Zia amended the 1973 Constitution — the second constitution of Pakistan — and changed the country’s governance from a parliamentary democracy to a semi-presidential system. The 8th Amendment gave more powers to him, including the power to remove the elected government of the prime minister.
  • Moreover, the military used the Political Cell of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to try to tilt election results in the favour of its favourites. For example, just before the 1988 elections — months after Zia’s death in a plane crash — ISI contrived the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) alliance, led by PML, to ensure that PPP, headed by Benazir Bhutto, didn’t get a majority.
  • In the 1990 elections — held after Benazir was dismissed by the President for alleged corruption and nepotism — ISI, on instructions of the military, distributed various sums of money to IJI leaders to help the party win the election. Owing to the military’s ‘oversight’, Nawaz Sharif became Pakistan’s prime minister for the first time.

Dictatorship returns

  • Although the military backed Nawaz Sharif in the elections for the longest time, fractures emerged in their relationship once he started to become a mass leader.
  • As prime minister, Nawaz put forward a “popular agenda and a populist image”, according to the report, and used television to “promote his image as a forward looking person to deliver economic development”.
  • That’s why in the 1993 elections, the military helped Benazir get the top job. But they failed to thwart Nawaz in the next elections, held four years later, as his party PML-N got 46% of votes and 136 out of the total seats — PPP got just 18 seats.
  • The electoral outcome of 1997 incapacitated the most potent instrument in (the) tool-box of military oversight. If the two major players were neck and neck, minor acts of favour or its denial could tilt the balance in either direction. But if the gap between the two was massively in one’s favour, then this method was no longer effective.
  • As the oversight system crumbled, the military returned to the ‘overlord’ system and once again orchestrated a coup in 1999. This time it was General Pervez Musharraf who seized power. Musharraf, as the army chief, had planned and executed the 1999 Kargil War against India. His quest, however, turned out to be a catastrophic military failure.

Another shot at democracy

  • The next general elections were in 2002 — three years after the coup and a year after Musharraf declared himself as the president (before he met then Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee).
  • To maintain his grip on power, Musharraf established another faction of PML, known as PML-Q, and promoted it as the real Muslim League. His plans didn’t come to fruition as PML-Q didn’t get a majority. So, the president then created a wedge among the elected PPP representatives and formed the PPP-Patriot group to establish a military government at the Centre.
  • Musharraf’s exit came in 2008 after he locked horns with the Supreme Court and particularly Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry for criticising the army’s repression in the country.
  • The president tried to oust the chief justice, who resisted and mobilised support throughout Pakistan, according to ‘The Pakistan Paradox: Instability and Resilience’ by Christophe Jaffrelot. On November 3, 2007, Musharraf declared a state of emergency but had to announce a general election due to protests and pressure from other countries.
  • The elections, however, were delayed as Benazir was assassinated on December 27, 2007 — Musharraf was accused of getting her killed and later faced trial for her murder.
  • The PPP got the most seats in the 2008 general elections and was followed by Musharraf’s PML-Q. The PPP formed the government in coalition with PML-N. While Yousaf Raza Gilani of the PPP became the prime minister, Benazir’s husband Asif Ali Zardari was elected as the president. Meanwhile, Musharraf had to resign in August 2008 and leave for London.
  • The 2013 elections gave a reason for Pakistan to rejoice — it marked the first time that a democratically-elected government was able to finish its tenure and hand over the reins of power to the one elected next.
  • The elections were also significant as they witnessed the rise of cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf.
  • But it was Nawaz Sharif’s party which outperformed everyone. Out of the total 272 contestable seats in the National Assembly, PML-N won 126. It was short of a majority initially but once a handful of independent MPs joined the party, it formed the government.

‘Oversight’ system resurrected

  • The military’s intervention in Pakistani politics again came under the spotlight when Nawaz Sharif was ousted from power in 2017. The Supreme Court dismissed him from holding public office for life in the Panama Papers case.
  • Nawaz alleged that the military had got rid of him through a “judicial coup”. The PML-N chief fell out with the military for challenging its foreign and security policy.
  • In the run-up to the 2018 elections, Pakistan’s Army propped up new parties to take away PML-N’s votes. Most importantly, it backed PTI’s Imran, who was widely referred to as “Laadla” (favourite son). To not much surprise, PTI won the maximum seats and formed the government.
  • But Imran didn’t remain the for long. Like Nawaz, he fell out with the military and was removed from the government in April 2022.
  • He is currently in jail over charges of corruption, treason, etc. and has been barred from contesting the upcoming elections. On the contrary, Nawaz seems to be back in the army’s good books — he returned to Pakistan from self-imposed exile last year and has been allowed to run in the elections.



The new process for picking Election Commissioners

Why in the news?

What prompted the change?

  • It was the Supreme Court that forced the government’s hand. Four petitions were filed before the apex court in 2015, 2017, 2021, and 2022, which broadly called for a fair and transparent system to choose Election Commissioners.
  • On October 23, 2018, while considering the 2015 petition, a two-judge bench felt that the matter required interpretation of Article 324 of the Constitution, which deals with the role of the Election Commission of India.
  • This issue hadn’t been discussed before in the Supreme Court, and so it was referred to a Constitution bench. In September 2022, a five-judge Constitution bench led by Justice KM Joseph started hearing the petitions.
  • The petitioners pointed out that Article 324(2) specifies the President’s role in appointing Election Commissioners, with the caveat that this appointment is subject to any law passed by Parliament. However, successive governments had not shown any inclination to enact such a law.
  • They criticised the current appointment system for being opaque and said it raises doubts about the institution’s independence.
  • They called for a consultative process in which a collegium or a body of persons is tasked with the responsibility to select the Election Commissioners.

How were Election Commissioners appointed then?

  • The power to make appointments rested exclusively with the Executive. The government maintained a database of serving and retired officers, primarily Secretaries to the Government of India and Chief Secretaries, from which the Law Ministry would create a shortlist.
  • The Prime Minister held the power to decide the appointment, with the President formally appointing the chosen candidate.

Centre’s stand

  • The Centre opposed any intervention by the Supreme Court in the appointments. The government argued that while Article 324 (2) mentions the appointment being subject to a law by Parliament, without such a law, the President had the constitutional power to appoint them.
  • Furthermore, the government stated that the existing procedure had been consistently relied upon by different governments, and that a “utopian model cannot be the premise” for making changes.
  • The Centre’s legal representatives also argued that the petitioners were unable to demonstrate that the independence of the Election Commission is under threat, and hence, there’s no immediate trigger to warrant judicial interference. Essentially, the government asked the court to show judicial restraint.

 Supreme Court’s ruling

  • The Supreme Court delved into the legislative history of Article 324, including the discussions in the Constituent Assembly regarding the role of the Election Commission and the appointment of its members.
  • The Court observed that it was evident that the founding fathers of the Constitution did not want the Executive to have exclusive authority in appointing Election Commission members.
  • Therefore, the inclusion of the words “subject to any law to be made by Parliament” in Article 324 (2) was representative of the need for Parliament to legislate on this matter.
  • The absence of such a law, the court noted, left a vacuum. Taking note of the “devastating effect of continuing to leave appointments in the sole hands of the Executive’’, the court deemed it appropriate to lay down a process for the appointment of election commissioners.
  • Accordingly, it ruled that “the appointment of the Chief Election Commissioner and the Election Commissioners shall be made by the President on the advice of a Committee consisting of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition of the Lok Sabha, and in case no Leader of the Opposition is available, the leader of the largest opposition Party in the Lok Sabha in terms of numerical strength, and the Chief Justice of India.”
  • However, the Court was careful to specify that these norms were “subject to any law to be made by Parliament’.
  • In other words, Parliament was free to enact a law on the appointment process in the future.

Dinesh Goswami committee

  • The consultative process ordered by the Supreme Court wasn’t unprecedented. It echoed a similar proposal from the 1990 committee chaired by the then Law Minister Dinesh Goswami.
  • This committee recommended that the President consult the Chief Justice of India and the Leader of the Opposition, or the leader of the largest Opposition group, for appointing the Chief Election Commissioner.
  • For the other two Election Commissioners, the consultation was to involve the Chief Justice of India, the Leader of the Opposition, and the Chief Election Commissioner.
  • In 2015, the 20th Law Commission’s 255th report also emphasised the need for a consultative process.
  • It suggested the President make appointments after consulting a three-member collegium or selection committee, comprising the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition or the leader of the largest Opposition party in the Lok Sabha, and the Chief Justice of India.

What happened after the SC judgment?

  • The Centre introduced a Bill in Parliament in August last year, outlining a procedure for appointing Election Commissioners. Since the Court had specified that its appointment norms are “subject to any law to be made by Parliament,” the government was well within its right to bring a Bill.
  • However, the appointment process proposed in the Bill raised concerns regarding its potential to undermine the reforms sought by the Court.
  • The Bill, passed by Parliament in December 2023, establishes a committee comprising the Prime Minister, the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha, and a Cabinet Minister nominated by the PM.
  • The selection will be made from five names shortlisted by a screening panel headed by the Law Minister and comprising two Union secretaries.


  • The composition of the committee was criticised by the Opposition. This is because, as per the intent of the Constitution’s framers, the Election Commission should be an independent body.
  • The proposed committee’s composition effectively sidelines the Leader of Opposition, who could be consistently outvoted by the Prime Minister and the Union minister.



Uttarakhand UCC Bill

Why in news?

  • Uttarakhand assembly on passed the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) Bill, 2024 by voice vote after a debate spanning two days to become the first state in India to pass such a law, with chief minister Pushkar Singh Dhami terming it a “historic moment” for the country.
  • The bill would be sent to President Draupadi Murmu for consent.

Provision of the UCC?

  • The proposed law overrides several national laws on marriage and provisions for equal property rights for sons and daughters, elimination of the distinction between legitimate and illegitimate children, inclusivity of adopted and biologically born children, and equal property rights after death.
  • The bill mandates the registration of live-in relationships.
  • Children born of live-in relationships will be considered legitimate, and deserted women will be entitled to maintenance from their partners.
  • The major recommendations include a complete ban on polygamy and child marriage, a common marriageable age for girls across all faiths, and enforcing similar grounds and procedures for divorce.
  • The hill state’s small tribal community is exempt from the proposed law.
  • The passage of the Uttarakhand Uniform Civil Code Bill marks the fulfilment of a key political agenda by the BJP with just months left for the Lok Sabha elections.
  • The Uttarakhand government has cleared that the members belonging to the Scheduled Tribes (ST) community will remain out of the purview of the Uniform Civil Code.
  • The UCC will not apply to “members of any Scheduled Tribes within the meaning of clause (25) of Article 366 read with Article 142 of the Constitution of India and the persons and group of persons whose customary rights are protected under Part XXI of the Constitutionof India.”

Government view on UCC

  • Officials said that once the bill is approved by the President and notified, the state government will frame the rules for its implementation.
  • They, however, refused to give a time frame for implementation, saying drafting of the rules will start only after President approves the bill.
  • Chief Minister Dhami said with the passage of the bill they have fulfilled the promise made to the people before the 2022 assembly elections.
  • In his address to the house before the passage of the bill, Dhami said it was a “historic opportunity” to frame such a law that provides a “common legal framework” for all hope other states will also table the UCC bill.
  • Every person in the state must be feeling proud today… This bill will strengthen our age-old slogan of unity in diversity,”.
  • Dhami said the panel that framed the bill held 43 public consultations and nearly 10% of households in the state participated in the interactions.
  • He said 232,000 people gave suggestionsHe said this bill will bring in several changes in peoples’ lives. Today the time has come for us to rise above vote-bank politics and build a society in which there is equality at every level.
  • The same equality, the ideal of which is the supreme being, Lord Shri Ram…we are talking about the truth which has been suppressed till now despite it being in Article 44 of the Constitution.
  • This is the same truth, which was not accepted even after the Shah Bano case of 1985.



PM Netanyahu rejects Hamas’s Gaza ceasefire offer

Why in news?

  • Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected a proposed Gaza war truce by Hamas, stating that only the total defeat of the movement would ensure Israel’s security.
  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday rejected a proposal for a Gaza war truce by Hamas, saying victory was within reach and only total defeat of the movement that rules the blockaded strip would ensure Israel’s security.

What is Netanyahu view?

  • “We are on the path to total victory. Victory is within reach,” he said at a televised press briefing, adding that triumph was months away.
  • “Only total victory will allow us to restore security in Israel, both in the north and in the south.”
  • Calling Hamas’ position “delusional,” Netanyahu renewed a pledge to destroy the Islamist movement, saying there was no alternative for Israel but to bring about its collapse.
  • Netanyahu is under competing pressure from far-right members of his coalition government, who say they will quit rather than endorse any deal that fails to eradicate Hamas, and from families of hostages who demand a deal to bring them home.
  • Israel’s air and ground offensive in Gaza has killed at least 27,500 Palestinians, displaced most of the strip’s 2.3 million population and plunged the blockaded coastal enclave into a humanitarian catastrophe, prompting a charge of genocide, denied by Israel, at the International Court of Justice.

What was Hamas offer?

  • Hamas’s response offered a ceasefire in Gaza for four-and-a-half months, during which all hostages would be released, Israel would withdraw its forces from the Gaza Strip and an agreement would be reached on an end to the war.
  • It included the exchange of hostages for Palestinian prisoners and the reconstruction of Gaza, which has been devastated by the Israeli strikes. Hamas also seeks a complete withdrawal of Israeli forces and an end to the ongoing war, proposing a ceasefire plan consisting of three phases, each lasting 45 days.

Reason behind the war:

  • On the morning of 7 October, waves of Hamas gunmen stormed across Gaza’s border into Israel. Hamas also fired thousands of rockets.
  • The gunmen killed 1,200 people on the day and more than 100 later died from their injuries.
  • Those killed included children, the elderly and 364 young people at a music festival.
  • Hamas took more than 250 others to Gaza as hostages.

What is Hamas and why is it fighting Israel?

  • Hamas became the sole ruler of Gaza after violently ejecting political rivals in 2007.
  • It has an armed wing and was thought to have 30,000 fighters before the start of the war.
  • The group, whose name stands for Islamic Resistance Movement, wants to create an Islamic state in place of Israel. Hamas rejects Israel’s right to exist and is committed to its destruction.
  • Hamas justified its attack as a response to what it calls Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people.
  • These include security raids on Islam’s third holiest site – the al-Aqsa Mosque, in occupied East Jerusalem – and Jewish settlement activity in the occupied West Bank.



Quota policy should be organic and evolving: Supreme Court

Why in news?

  • Reservation policy should be “organic and evolving, not static”.
  • The Supreme Court observed while hearing a reference on whether Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) can be sub-classified for providing affirmative action benefits.
  • The Centre told the court it favoured this sub-classification, saying it was “key… to achieve” the “actual objective” behind reservation to those “who have had a history of discrimination for centuries” and “ensures there is a trickle-down effect”.

Why this situation arose?

  • A seven-judge Constitution bench is examining the validity of its 2004 judgment in E V Chinnaiah vs State of Andhra Pradesh, which held that SCs form a homogenous group and there cannot be any sub-division among them.
  • Headed by Chief Justice of India D Y Chandrachud, the Bench comprises Justices B R Gavai, Vikram Nath, Bela M Trivedi, Pankaj Mithal, Manoj Misra and Satish Chandra Sharma.
  • The court’s observation, from Justice B R Gavai, came as Senior Advocate Shekhar Naphde, appearing for Tamil Nadu, sought to highlight what he contended were the errors in the 2004 judgment and said reservation policy must keep pace with “rapidly changing” social dynamics.

Views regarding the classification:

  • The reservation policy which was there 50 years back, it will get fossilised. It will lose its connection with the contemporary situation,”
  • Lack of sub-classification perpetuates the zone of inequality within the reserved category and stops the State from framing appropriate policy in this regard”.
  • “Reservation benefits available are” also “limited in nature… and therefore required to be re-distributed rationally”.
  • In order to achieve the actual objective behind reservations, rationalisation is key (while maintaining the levels and extent of reservations) and proliferation and deepening of the reservation benefits is necessary.
  •  The “concept of “equality” and “equal treatment” under the Constitution had evolved over the years.
  • The legitimate state aim behind reservations is to support the backward classes who have had a history of discrimination for centuries. 

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