I am always fascinated by the manner in which genuine democracies respect the feelings of their people and hold their leaders accountable, no matter how much of a superstar they may be. One such event is playing out in Britain as I write this – no, I do not refer to Brexit (which is a done deal) but to the Chilcot report on the Iraq war, more specifically on Britain’s role in it. Vast millions in Britain had opposed this war but Tony Blair (now known as the Bliar), the then Prime Minister and pet poodle of George W Bush, had rail- roaded the UK into it, resulting in the deaths of more than 200 British soldiers (and 150,000 Iraqis who of course don’t matter).
In a remarkable report running into 3 million words Lord Chilcot has finally nailed the lie that Blair and Bush had been peddling for the last 15 years. He has unequivocally held that Blair had decided to go to war “come what may” in blind support of Bush, that he made no effort to verify or establish the authenticity of the reports that Saddam had developed weapons of mass destruction, that he deliberately disregarded the warnings of eminent and knowledgeable experts that these reports were false, that he was aware that the war would result in thousands of civilian casualties, that he had prepared no contingency plan for the post war phase, that he supported Bush in not waiting for a UN mandate before rushing in. The report just stops short of stating that he has blood on his hands – Muslim and Christian.
It is a singular report in many ways. Not many countries would have commissioned such an inquiry, let alone make the report public. Few inquiry officers would have been so independent and forthright in their conclusions. Even more remarkable, however, have been the developments following the release of the report. For one Mr. Bliar who once described himself (in an unwise but prescient moment) as “an animal” in bed, is now running for cover like said animal, trying to explain his position, but neither the British press nor the public are buying any of his self-serving bullshit, especially as he continues to make millions as an advisor to assorted dictators.
The real significance of the Chilcot report, in my view, is that it will become a watershed in the process of sovereign decision-making and the accountability of those who take such decisions. In other words: can the citizens of a country challenge the decision of its government to go to war, and can they hold the Ministers of that government answerable and culpable for the consequences?
Such a question has never been asked before (legally, not politically) in any country. Till now the doctrine of eminent domain has preempted accountability, but by asking this question now the citizens of Britain are pushing the frontiers of jurisprudence to unfamiliar but welcome areas. There is no law in the UK which can validate such a challenge but demands are now growing for bringing in such a law, so that no Prime Minister in future can convert his personal prejudices or sycophantic fawning into state policy for declaration of war. This is a huge step forward in citizens reclaiming their sovereignty from their leaders.
Secondly, there is a distinct possibility that the families of the British servicemen who were killed in the war may take Blair to court for criminal and civil liabilities. Legally, it will be a difficult struggle for two reasons: [a] the Chilcot report does not accuse Blair of lying or deliberately concealing or falsifying the facts advanced by him before declaring war, and [b] there is no specific provision of law that can be invoked against him to hold him personally culpable for the deaths. But law is a dynamic and evolving subject, its interpretations can be innovative, and the case itself (even if it is unsuccessful) can be another path-breaking warning signal to future leaders. It may even result in the enactment of a law for just such a contingency in future.
And finally, a muted question that will be posed in the days to come is: should, or can, Bush, Blair et al be hauled up before the International War Crimes Tribunal ? It may be sacrilegious in the western world to even think of this, given that the Tribunal has so far hauled up only African and east European leaders, but the Chilcot report will force the world to ask this question. After all, there is no longer any doubt that the war, and the consequent destabilisation of half a dozen countries and the slaughter of hundreds of thousands, was a crime of the highest magnitude and its perpetrators should be tried for it. This is unlikely to happen, however, but the very attempt will be a victory for human rights. Some battles have to be fought, even though defeat is assured.
* * * *
Indians take death too seriously, notwithstanding their spiritual faith that it is just a transition from the body to the eternal soul, a release – “Moksha” – from all mortifications of the flesh. We remember the dead with sadness and despair and ourselves descend into despondency, and relive the depressing memory every year by holding grim functions. No doubt, some of this is due to the Brahmin pundits who make a better living the longer they can keep you in this miserable state. But it is also due to our taking ourselves too seriously and refusing to lighten up or letting go.
We lack the god-given gift of humour which is the best antidote to misery and sorrow. In a funny way it reinforces the love we had for the departed, and imbues our memories of them with fondness, which tempers the inevitable sadness, and makes the latter more bearable. This is not to decry the loss of a loved one but to remember him/her the way they would have liked us to: surely, they would like us to be happy, not moping all the time ? We should learn something from the western / caucasian civilisations who can chuckle at themselves even in death – or at death. There is a whole genre of graveyard jokes and I would like to share some of them with the reader. For these I am indebted to my brother-in-law Colonel (retired, but not hurt) Amit Shukla who has promised to relate a few at my graveside in the highly likely event that he out-lives me ( being a fauji, he has pickled himself in liquor from a very young age, and we all know the preservative qualities of hooch):
EPITAPHS TO REMEMBER
 In a New Hampshire cemetery:
“Tears cannot restore her
therefore I weep.”
 In a London cemetery ( about a spinster):
“Here lies Ann Mann,
who lived an old maid
but died an old Mann.”
 In Kilmurry churchyard, Ireland:
“This stone was raised by Sara’s Lord
Not Sara’s virtues to record,
For they are known to all the town.
This stone was raised to keep her down.”
 A lawyer’s epitaph in London:
“Sir John Strange.
Here lies an honest lawyer,
And that is strange.”
 On an auctioneer’s grave:
Jeddiah Goodwin. Auctioneer.
 On an Attorney’s grave:
“John E Goembel. 1867-1946.
The defence rests.”
 In a Uniontown, Pennsylvania cemetery:
“Here lies the body
0f Jonathan Blake
Stepped on the gas
Instead of the brake.”
I am fairly inspired by these epitaphs to want to have one for myself when, in the goodness of time, the lord decides that I have inflicted enough misery on the reading public and orders me off this planet. But, knowing that my friends are too lazy to attempt anything but an SMS, I have prepared my own epitaph for my grave at Purani Koti, Mashobra. It goes like this:
AVAY SHUKLA. BORN- 1950. BRAIN DEAD – circa 1995. LEGALLY DEAD- 20XX
“Here lies an unrepentant IAS soul.
One we were wary, but proud, of.
It was his boast
He could handle any post,
But he’s now in a hole
He can’t dig himself out of!”
We come into this world crying; lets leave it laughing.