Few men enjoy almost universal respect and an unchallenged reputation for integrity. Former acting chief justice of Pakistan, Rana Bhagwandas, who passed away in Karachi on February 23 as a result of cardiac arrest aged 73, was among those who did. During his career as a jurist, he earned the highest standing as a man never willing to compromise on principles and one whose competence was recognised both within and outside the country. He acted as the country’s chief justice from March to July 2007, when Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry had been made ‘non-functional’ by General (retd) Pervez Musharraf, and also on occasions when Justice (retd) Chaudhry travelled abroad. By serving in this capacity, he placed non-Muslims under the spotlight in a country where they have faced increasing bias.
The rise of Justice Bhagwandas to the top of the superior judiciary, as a member of a minority community, is a triumph in itself. As such he served as a role model, and as a strict constitutionalist, fought consistently for equal rights for all citizens regardless of their beliefs. Ironically enough, his own elevation to the Supreme Court in 1999, after five years as a Sindh High Court judge, had been unsuccessfully challenged in a petition, which raised the question of his religion.
Justice Bhagwandas was among the judges who refused to take oath under General (retd) Musharraf’s Provisional Constitutional Order in 2007, and as part of a Supreme Court bench, wrote a dissenting note stating that the dictator should step down as army chief. After his retirement from the Supreme Court, he headed the Federal Public Service Commission with the same determination to act correctly and professionally. Justice Bhagwandas passed away at a time when we need more persons of his calibre and standing. He leaves behind a shining example of what can be achieved through determination, courage and conviction. This should act as a source of inspiration to persons of all faiths in the country. We certainly need such inspiration and such examples.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 24th, 2015.