Saturday July 13, 2024

Remembering Bhagwan Das

By Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani
February 24, 2023

On February 23 eight years ago, the first Hindu chief justice of Pakistan, Rana Bhagwan Das, passed away. Bhagwan Das was my mentor and taught me to knock on the door of the judiciary to protect the rights of the minority community suffering from various problems. There was a time when we used to walk together in the evening and discuss various issues.

Justice Bhagwan Das was born on December 20, 1942 in a Rajput family of Larkana, Sindh. His family was one of the Hindu families who, following Quaid-e-Azam’s August 11 speech, decided to not migrate from their motherland. After receiving his primary education from various educational institutions of Sindh, Rana sahib not only obtained a post-graduation degree in law education, but also did a master’s degree in Islamic studies. He was greatly influenced by the good deeds of the last Prophet (pbuh) and always highlighted the importance of high social values, equality, brotherhood, religious freedom, patience and tolerance.

He was a firm advocate of interfaith harmony and respect for all religions. I remember that when Rana sahib was asked a question about religion, he surprised everyone by replying that his religion was humanity. When Rana sahib assumed his duties as a judge, he always stood by the right and the truth, and made decisions according to the law – regardless of religion, sect, caste and social status.

During the peak days of General Musharraf’s rule in 2007, a constitutional crisis emerged after the ouster of chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry. At that time, Bhagwan Das was on a visit to India for a religious pilgrimage. Being the most senior judge, he was appointed as acting chief justice. I was approached to convey a message from a member of the powerful elite. When his plane landed on Pakistani soil, I was the first person to greet him. However, when I informed him about the presence of a special plane and that some people were waiting for an important meeting with him, he replied in a polite manner that he was on leave till Sunday. “Let’s see this matter in court on Monday.” “We can walk together in the evening,” his words still echo in my ears.

I think that had Rana sahib wanted, he could have become chief justice at that time, but he demonstrated his high character, principles and supremacy of law by restoring Iftikhar Chaudhry. On this occasion, a post went viral on social media, which said that 200 million people of Pakistan were looking up to Bhagwan (Das) for justice. The bold decision was widely appreciated all over the world.

After his retirement in the judiciary, he was appointed as the chairman of the Federal Public Service Commission of Pakistan (FPSC) in 2009. He ensured the promotion of merit for the development and prosperity of the country. I was part of parliament when all political parties agreed to appoint Rana Bhagwan Das as the head of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), due to his honesty and principles.

When Bhagwan Das was offered the chairmanship of NAB, he refused to accept by saying that he would not be able to sit on any controversial seat. In 2014, I, as the patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council, demanded from the government of Pakistan to appoint the undisputed former chief justice of Pakistan, Rana Bhagwan Das, as the chairman of the Evacuee Trust Properties Board (ETPB). I had convinced him enough on my own, but unfortunately, Rana Sahib passed away on February 23, 2015.

Today, on the occasion of his eighth death anniversary, I have nothing but these memories which give me the courage to move forward in the difficult journey of life. In my eyes, he was always a role model and will always be. The history of Pakistan will remain incomplete without mentioning him. Even today when I appear before the Supreme Court for the rights of the community, I feel the just soul of Rana Bhagwan Das around me, encouraging me to carry on the struggle. Miss you, Justice Rana Bhagwan Das!

The writer is a member of the

National Assembly and patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council.

He tweets @RVankwani