Comic relief aside, what India can learn from the Pak polls

Move over stand-up comedians. Those having a voracious appetite for stand-up comedy shows on Indian TV channels need to look elsewhere to tickle their funny bones. Here is an advisory. Turn a laser beam focus on the ongoing electoral process for general elections in Pakistan, scheduled for 11 May, 2013.

The process of filing of nomination papers and their scrutiny was completed amid weird political humour. The Returning Officers put funny, at times weird, questions to candidates while interviewing them, under pressure from the pro-active Pakistani Supreme Court’s directive that only suitable and capable candidates should be allowed to contest. And the responses of the candidates were funnier and weirder.

A rally before an election in Pakistan. AFP.

A rally before an election in Pakistan. AFP.

Shaukat Manzoor Cheema, a candidate of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) party from Gujranwala, was asked by the RO to recite ABC. Cheema asked: “Choti wali ya bari wali?” (Which one? The small one or the large one?” The strange part is that Cheema is a graduate from Lahore University. He did his graduation in 2005, though he would be turning 60 next January.

Another candidate from Gujranwala, Shah Nawaz Cheema from the Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, was asked to give names of 15 fruits in English. His answer: “Apple, Orange … baki 13 kelay ker lo.” (For the rest, take 13 bananas).

In Karachi, Sunni Tehreek’s candidate Zahid Ahmad was asked by the RO to expand the abbreviation LLB and spell out ‘graduation’ and ‘superintendent’. He failed on all three counts. Sample a few more Q & A’s:

Q: Quran may kitnay paaray hai? (How many stanzas are there in Quran?)
A: 32
Q: Quaid-e-Azam kaa aslee naam kiya thaa? (What was the real name of Quaid-e-Azam?)
A: (By Maulaana Fuzool): Hazrat Muhammad Ali Jinnah Alihe Salaam
Q: Allama Iqbal kab paida hue the? When was Allama Iqbal born?)
A: 32 November 1887
Q: Dunya ke sab se pehle insaan ka naam kya tha? (What was the name of the world’s first man?)
A: Tarzan


However, all candidates did not flunk and, in fact, there were candidates who displayed stunning wit and presence of mind. The case of Aslam Khan Khattak falls in this category.
Khattak was asked perhaps the toughest question (given the level of general knowledge of politicians in the Indian sub-continent) which was also the most irrelevant. He was asked to name the first person to walk on the moon. Khattak gave the correct answer: Neil Armstrong. But then the RO chose to ask a supplementary: who next stepped on the moon. Khattak stole the RO’s thunder by replying that it was also Armstrong since he was not disabled and had use of both of his legs. Khattak’s nomination papers were approved.

The candidates were asked questions on general knowledge, history and Islam; the last one being the most important and also an overriding Constitutional requirement. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) roped in 425 ROs, drawn from subordinate judiciary, and they had to pore over some 23,000 nominations (8059 for national assembly or parliament and the rest for provincial assemblies).

The ROs’ sharp focus while interviewing the candidates was to run a random check on their knowledge of Islam as they prepare to run for parliament of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. And the candidates dared not protest the ROs’ weird and often irrelevant questions as the ECP had directed them to scrupulously implement a Supreme Court directive to conduct the scrutiny of candidates in line with two Articles inserted in Pakistan's Constitution by military ruler Zia-ul-Haq as part of his Islamisation drive in the 1980s.

The two much talked about Articles are 62 and 63. Article 62 mandates that a person will not be qualified to contest polls unless "he is of good character and... Has adequate knowledge of Islamic teachings and practises obligatory duties prescribed by Islam as well as abstains from major sins". Article 63 stipulates conditions for disqualification of an elected member of parliament.

The two Articles have been bug bears for Pakistani politicians for decades but no politician has had the courage to demand repeal of this “Zia-era vigilantism” (as Pakistani civil society describes these articles). Therefore, unsurprisingly the ROs asked most questions on Islam and the Islamic practices – even such questions as what is the Islamic practice for giving bath to a dead body.

Ghazala Khan published in The Pakistani Spectator her own list of top ten “most weird, funny, and strange questions” which were asked by the ROs from the candidates during the nomination and acceptance of the papers. Here is her selection:

In which situations, bath becomes mandatory for the married Muslims?
How many wives you have, and how many nights you spend with each of them?
Do you believe in honeymoon?
Have you been circumcised properly?
Have you stood in front of girls’college ever in your life?
Have you ever seen any censored movie?
Have you ever eaten pork?
If you are dying with thirst in a desert, and get a bottle of alcohol, would you drink it?
If in a river, a great religious scholar, your wife and son are drowning, and you can save only one, whom would you save?
If you win the elections, won’t it disturb the lives of your husband, kids and the in-laws?

What India Needs to Learn from Pakistan

Here is a disclaimer from this writer. This write-up is in no way aimed at making fun of the Pakistani laws and electoral process. On the contrary, India, the world’s largest democracy, needs to pick a lesson or two from Pakistan.

Winds of change are blowing in Pakistan. For the first time in its history, an elected government has completed its full tenure and elections are being held to pass on the power to another elected government. There is nothing here that Pakistan can teach us.

But there are two specific points where it can. These are the areas which Anna Hazare and his cohorts probably never thought of and continued to play their broken record of Lokpal. Hazare and company should have out-thought and out-acted the Pakistanis in demanding two major changes in the Indian electoral system.

1. The candidates must be grilled for their understanding (or lack of it) of the nation, the constitution and the duties of public servants.
2. The media must be permitted to be present during the candidates’ interviews and, in fact, should be encouraged to telecast these interviews live.


Anna Hazare and company unnecessarily made so much of fuss about recording of his interactions with the UPA government. He could have done better. He could have rooted for what just happened in Pakistan: live telecast of the candidates’ interviews. The Indian politicians would probably fare much worse if such laws were to be enforced here!

The writer is a Firstpost columnist and a strategic affairs analyst who can be reached at

Updated Date: Apr 23, 2013 09:13 AM

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