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Opinion

October 23, 2018
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Who cares for the people?

Opinion

October 23, 2018

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Imran Khan’s victory in the general election this year had triggered a ripple of excitement among many sections of society. Millions of people, living in abject poverty and on the bottom layer of social stratification, pinned many hopes on him. They were led to believe that his policies would prove to be a panacea for the ills of society. However, after more than 50 days in power, the actions of the government have dampened the hopes of the people.

People sincerely believed that PM Imran Khan was genuinely concerned about the extreme poverty that has plagued the lives of millions in the land of the pure. They thought his rule would rid the country of inflation, unemployment, homelessness, crimes, corruption, nepotism and cronyism. The rapaciousness of the police and of private capital would have no space in Naya Pakistan. Tyrant feudals and greedy capitalists would face the wrath of the oppressed masses. Corrupt bureaucrats would be thrown out and the rule of merit would prevail in all walks of life. They voted Khan into power with the belief that he would come up with a pro-people policy.

But to their utter surprise, the PTI government has unleashed the ruthless forces of market and private capital that are bent on destroying the lives of the people that had imagined a life of peace and prosperity under this leadership. Instead of providing shelter, this government has rendered thousands of people homeless by demolishing their little abodes and petty work places that were helping them survive. In the name of anti-encroachment, the lives of the poor have been shattered. The heart-wrenching crying of a mute man, whose sugar-cane juice machine was thrown out by anti-encroachment staff in Punjab, reflects the contempt the rulers have for the poor. The cries and appeals of those whose little houses were razed in Karachi, moved every sensitive person in the country but those sitting in the power corridors of Islamabad have no time to think about the plight of these people.

The mantra of legality is employed here as a pretext to remove small businesses and thatched houses built on state land. But can this excuse be used to recover more than 39,000 acres of land in the Ghotki district of Sindh from powerful feudal families who were bestowed this fief by an illegal and usurper colonial British government. Can the tool of legality be used against the feudal of southern Punjab, who were awarded large swaths of land for spying on freedom fighters, and being loyal to the British government (some of them are part of government now)? Can this question of legality be raised about the acres of land acquired by state institutions during various democratic and non-democratic tenures?

Will the sword of legality fall upon those bureaucrats who acquired various expensive plots in the federal capital and other parts of the country? Is there any chance that this onslaught of legality will be directed against powerful and influential housing schemes that have encroached upon thousands of acres of forest and common land in various parts of the country? Can the legality of large chunks of land doled out by various governments to private builders, real-estate developers and politicians be discussed by the federal cabinet? It seems the answer is no to all these questions.

Imran Khan repeatedly talked about the stunted growth of children and the lavish spending on mega projects like the metro bus. He lamented the malnutrition of women. He bemoaned the non-supply of pure drinking water. He cited the miserable conditions of slum-dwellers in his speeches. He lambasted the Nawaz government for Pakistan’s shameful ranking on the Human Development Index. He criticised past rulers for going to the IMF with begging bowls. He claimed to bring back looted public money stashed in foreign banks. He vowed to carry out police reforms and put an end to political interference in the police and other departments.

But all these points appear to be no more than empty slogans. How will the razing of the petty abodes of poor people address the issue of stunted growth? How will rendering thousands of people jobless by demolishing wedding halls, road-side pushcarts, small kiosks, little shops and other meagre means of livelihood help feed the malnourished?

Khan seems to have failed on other fronts as well. The transfer of the Pakpattan DPO created a big embarrassment for the PTI government. The change of the Punjab IG flies in the face of Khan’s claim regarding non-interference by politicians in government departments. The incident not only provided a propaganda tool in the hands of opposition but also forced ex-IG police KP Nasir Durrani to resign. The farce of selling buffalos and cars from the PM House also turned the government into a laughing stock, with many wondering why the PTI was going to IMF after selling the poor animals and collecting hefty money.

The PTI government has not created even a single job. The country needs around 8.5 million houses and it has not built even the one. More than 80 percent diseases are caused by contaminated water and PM Khan has not announced any plan to tide over it, let alone eliminating it. The federal government has not even filled the more than 70,000 posts lying vacant in various departments. Its claim of creating ten million jobs is still a mirage for the majority of Pakistanis. Its slogan of breaking the begging bowl has ended up humiliating it. The skyrocketing prices of essential commodities and spectre of more inflation are haunting people. The pledge to make the lives of poor people comfortable has evaporated within the first two months of PTI rule.

What people see now is a brawl between two PTI lawmakers in Karachi, each accusing the other of land grabbing. Many fear that the lands being reclaimed in the anti-encroachment drive will be acquired by real-estate investors, some of whom are also part of the PTI. The five million housing scheme is also thought to be chalked out to benefit a few capitalists. Many believe that, instead of doling out state land to construction tycoons at throwaway prices (who would want to sell a three marla house for more than one million rupees), the government should give such plots directly to the people and let programmes like the Orangi Pilot project develop such homes; this can be done at a very nominal rate.

Overall, an impression has been created that the PTI government is anti-people. If the party wants to dispel this impression it needs to drastically reduce the prices of essential commodities, stop demolishing slums and poor settlements in the name of encroachment, immediately fill vacant government posts, desist from privatising estate entities at the behest of the IMF, cut down the size of task forces and federal secretaries and talk to friendly countries for the industrialisation of the country.

No emancipation is possible without industrial development and revival of state sectors, which have the potential of providing millions of jobs. Any further hikes in utility and petrol prices will destroy the faltering manufacturing sector, rendering millions of workers jobless besides paving the way for unprecedented inflation. Such a situation will turn people against the very idea of Naya Pakistan, and paint the PTI as a party that cares little for the marginalised and the oppressed.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

Email: [email protected]

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