Focusing on people’s problems – 05 Jul 2022

We are in the most unfortunate age of Pakistan’s political history where every political entity is trying to appease non-democratic forces. From a pliant prime minister to the ‘revolutionary’ opposition leader, everyone is trying to reach the height of flattery.

For them, appeasement is the only way to enter the power corridors of the country. Therefore, they do not want to take any concrete action that might help alleviate the suffering of more than 220 million people of this country, who are being crushed under rising inflation and poverty, falling living standards, paucity of basic amenities and the terrible spectre of hunger and starvation. But our political elite – from PM Shehbaz Sharif to Imran Khan – is not bothered about it. The former is adding to the woes of the people by opening the flood gate of inflation, while the latter is busy spending billions of rupees on holding political gatherings and protests.

It is believed that in the past, rulers and politicians were reluctant to carry out any anti-people agenda for fear of the people’s reaction. The ruling elite would not resort to frequent price hikes, fearing it could infuriate people, prompting them to take to the streets and weakening these rulers’ hold on power. Even the most popular leaders could not dare to take steps that might create resentment among the people and would keep an eye on the issues faced by ordinary Pakistanis. For instance, when, in 1953, the Khawaja Nazimuddin government was rocked by allegations that it was involved in creating wheat shortages, the then prime minister had to resign.

People’s issues also dominated the politics of Ayub Khan where not only the working class fiercely guarded their interests but other ordinary Pakistanis were also conscious of their rights and ready to protect them. When the dictator increased the prices of wheat and sugar, it created a political storm prompting the late poet Habib Jalib to criticize the ruler whose pro-rich policy had wreaked havoc with the lives of millions of Pakistanis, forcing them to live in poverty. It was during this time that the famous ‘22 families’ term was popularized by some pro-people intellectuals and poets who held the elite class responsible for the suffering of millions of citizens.

Such policy did not go unnoticed and people resisted it at all forums. Students, workers, peasants, trade unions, women’s organizations, professional groups, poets, intellectuals and several other sections of society got united to challenge the mighty dictatorship of Ayub, taking to the streets and criticizing him to the extent that he finally resigned and was sent packing in an unceremonious way.

During ZA Bhutto’s time, politics on people’s issues seemed to be everywhere, and these problems took precedence over everything else. The morale of an ordinary person was high, and s/he was ready to go to any extent to protect the few gains s/he made since the decline of Ayub. But, unfortunately, Bhutto unnecessarily dragged religion into politics, infuriating clerics and resorting to sledgehammer tactics against those who advised him to stick to the manifesto of the party. His policies strengthened the religious right-wing that managed to topple his government with the help of a dictator whose regime heralded the death of pro-people politics in Pakistan.

Zia patronized religious organizations and promoted sectarian outfits. This policy depoliticized people, prompting them to focus on the issues that were not concerned with day-to-day life. The use of religion as a political tool seemed to be the order of the day. Zia created a number of organizations that still have the potential to change the entire political discourse within no time through their militant agitation or violent tactics.

PML-N founder Nawaz Sharif and other political leaders who came after General Zia tried to follow his legacy, introducing regressive laws, and did little to undermine the religious and sectarian organisations that hampered the democratic development and growth of the country. Like Zia, they also patronized such groups in a bid to enhance their vote bank. Such policy boomeranged on the right-wing Punjab-based political party with some extremists targeting the party in a lethal way. Nawaz was attacked at a religious seminary when a seminary student hurled a shoe at him. Another PML-N leader Ahsan Iqbal nearly escaped death when he was shot at a political gathering.

The reconciliation between the PPP and PML-N in the late 2000s led to hopes that the religious right-wing would be undermined, but the advent of Imran Khan on the political horizon once again gave space to this section. Many from the Jamaat-e-Islami and other religious factions joined the PTI during the last 20 years, especially after 2011, stuffing the party with obscurantist forces. Khan started employing religion as a tool for political purposes. He undertook a number of measures that appeased the religious right – from Darul Uloom Haqqania to the urban middle class with conservative inclination.

Political discourse once again shifted from day-to-day problems to religious topics. Instead of coming up with any concrete policies that could have extended support to millions of Pakistanis who were condemned to live a life of abject poverty, Khan, as the PM of the country, offered religious sermons at a time when his party members and allies were allegedly siphoning off taxpayers’ money right under his nose.

From the PTI to PML-N, ANP to PPP, JUI-F to JUP, all political parties seem to have given up plans to serve the people. None of them is interested in solving the myriad of mundane issues that matter in the lives of millions. All of them want to raise religious, national or ethnic issues that cannot address poverty, inflation, shelter and unemployment. It is this attitude of the mainstream political parties that has disappointed the people.

The Awami Workers Party, Haqooq-e-Khalq Party, Communist Party of Pakistan, National Party, Red Workers Front, the Struggle Group, the International Socialist, Pakistan Mazdoor Kissan Party, Pakistan Mazdoor Ittehad and a few other left-wing groups are among those political entities that are still raising the basic issues of the people. From land-grabbing in Karachi to climate-related catastrophes in Gilgit-Baltistan and from unbearable inflation to privatization of state-run entities, they are vehemently opposing the policies of the government which is creating problems for the people. Also, these parties are also trying to address gender- and minority-related issues, but, unfortunately, none of these parties is part of mainstream politics.

The policies of the current government are likely to increase resentment among the people. Before any religious right-wing group creates chaos on some petty matter, left-wing parties need to mobilize people and launch a movement to turn politics towards basic issues like poverty, hunger, starvation, lay-offs, privatization, deregulation and unemployment. They must join hands with women and minority groups to mount opposition to the government’s anti-people policies and the regressive agenda of groups like the TLP. Only a politics focusing on people’s issues can transform the country.

The writer is a freelance journalist who can be reached at: egalitarianism444@gmail .com

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