Tuesday November 30, 2021

Challenging anti-people policies

December 23, 2020

The writer is a freelance journalist.

Imran Khan’s rhetorical speeches before coming into power made people believe that he was a messiah for the hapless of this country. The gullible thought that the Kaptaan would rid them of poverty and illiteracy, and put an end to cronyism and profit mongering. They thought the champion of change would make Pakistan prosperous and ensure nobody dies hungry.

But unfortunately this all seems to be a mirage now. The PTI government is bent on reneging on all its promises. It seems to have no clue about how to run state affairs. Despite the repeated shuffling in the federal cabinet and the bureaucracies in Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Islamabad, it has yet to translate its tall claims into actions. Corruption, mismanagement and cronyism are some of the elements that define this government. Its detractors blame the government for destroying state-run entities to justify their privatization instead of coming up with a plan to revitalize them, and turn them into profit-making entities.

The recent statement of Railways Minister Azam Swati clearly reflects the anti-people’s approach of the incumbent government. The minister declared that the railways would have to be closed down like the Pakistan Steel Mills. Just a few months ago Shaikh Rasheed, the former minister for Railways, was euphoric over the performance of this state enterprise that is on the verge of destruction now, according to the new minister. The statement also reflects the callousness of the incumbent minister towards a common citizen whose journey is still dependent on this means of transportation. Nobody seems to be thinking what a common worker, toiling in Karachi and other parts of the country, will use to commute to his/her city of birth if the Pakistan Railways is closed down or outsourced.

During the time of dictator Musharraf large chunks of Railways’ land were doled out to private capital. Despite this plundering of these assets, no significant improvement was witnessed in the performance of the Railways. The tenure of Shaikh Rasheed witnessed a number of terrible accidents that caused the loss of many lives, speaking volumes about the efficiency of the former minister.

The Railways offers one of the highest employment percentages in the country. Shutting it down would mean that tens of thousands of these workers would be rendered jobless. They will also be evicted from the Railways houses. Railways school and other departments will no longer serve its poor employees. The decision will overall badly affect millions of people – not only the Railways’ employees but millions of commuters as well.

Imagine: an economy class ticket from Rawalpindi to Karachi is for less than Rs2000 while if you undertake the same journey in a private bus, it could cost you more than Rs4000. Imagine you are a working class man or woman, with six children – would you ever be able to afford the bus with your meagre resources? So, if the Railways is sold, it would go down in history as another anti-people’s decision by this government.

It is unfortunate that the wounds of PIA were still fresh when this announcement was dropped. The alacrity that this government has demonstrated in pushing the national flag carrier towards total collapse clearly indicates appeasement of private capital. One would like to remind the prime minister of his tall promise of turning loss-making entities into profit-earning concerns. The Kaptaan was right in declaring that Nawaz and Shahbaz’s steel factories were thriving but the Pakistan Steel Mills was suffering huge losses. He was correct in pointing out that the PML-N people run their own businesses in an efficient way but when the same people were appointed as heads of state run entities they plunged into huge losses. Today the detractors of the PTI are hurling the same allegations against the incumbent government, claiming state concerns will be doled out to the cronies of the government in Pakistan and abroad.

And it is not only these two state-run entities that are being sold out but the government has also introduced the principles of profitability everywhere. The much-vaunted health insurance may extend a few benefits to the poor but in reality it will appease the private profit mafia that does not believe in serving the people but rather making a huge profit out of people’s miseries. The billions of rupees that have been pumped into health insurance could have been used to recruit thousands of doctors and paramedical staff that would have been instrumental in improving the performance of state-run health facilities.

The recent decision of the Higher Education Commission to abolish college degree classes speaks volume about the hostility that this government seems to harbor against the common citizens of this country. Millions of Pakistani students work during their studies. Two-year bachelor and master degrees for external candidates was one of the ways for these working young men and women to continue their studies through self-efforts. Mandatory semester classes would deprive tens of thousands of students of such opportunities. But it seems the incumbent ruling elite is indifferent to these hapless souls.

The PTI claims to take on the big fish but in reality – from the introduction of fees in hospitals to the privatization of state-run entities, from price hike in medicines to increase in gas and electricity bills – every action of this government is making life difficult for the common people. The much-vaunted rise in exports is not beneficial from an economic point of view. If our capitalists compete in the global market and bring profit home then it makes sense but if industries thrive on bailout packages, concessions in power bills and incentives by the government then economically it is disastrous because at the end of the day it is the common people who have to pay for it. For instance, let us say if the government has lost Rs100 billion in revenues after granting power supply to industrialists at concessional rates – from where will it recover this lost amount? Of course, it will resort to a general price hike in electricity charges that the government is now routinely doing.

It is unfortunate that from the PPP and the PML-N and the JUI-F to PkMAP and ANP, no party is ready to take on the government for the privatization of state run-entities and other anti-people decisions. They are more concerned with constitutional matters, which is not bad, but they should throw their full support behind those who resist this anti-people agenda. Imran Khan’s government is like those in Latin America who have left everything at the mercy of market forces, plunging the states into a deep crisis. It is time that political parties, trade unions and civil society got united, waging a joint struggle against this anti-people agenda. One of the potent tools in battling these anti-people policies would be to lobby for a piece of legislation that declares privatization, deregulation and liberalization illegal or at least anti-people.

As long as there are ways to sell out state concerns, anti-people decisions will continue to dominate the power corridors. Therefore, it is important to declare this very process against the interests of the country and the people. This could be the most devastating blow to the vultures of capital who have been eying our national assets and the lands that were developed in decades but could be destroyed in years or even months.