Monday November 28, 2022

The way to the future

July 21, 2022

The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor.

Things are looking rather grim for Pakistan. Despite attempts by the State Bank to control inflation, with some degree of success, and a change in government policies on a number of issues, there is still a lack of stability and certainty in the country.

The degree to which the country is divided was seen before the by-polls in Punjab, with scuffles and exchange of abusive words reported between the two parties ahead of the balloting. But this of course is not our main problem. We need to look a little beyond immediate policies and think in terms of ideology and leadership. Until there is a clear-cut direction in which to move, we will move nowhere at all but only end up wrangling between the political parties which play their separate roles in our political hemisphere and push forward their own agendas – all of which are remarkably similar.

We need a new party which can offer something new. This process may, of course, take time given the deliberate depoliticization of people which began chiefly under General Ziaul Haq but which has continued in one way or the other since then. But we no longer have time to wait.

In a recent talk show, examples were presented examples of countries such as Colombia, Mexico and even France where ordinary peoples such as school teachers have opted to stand for polls and put forward an essentially socialist agenda, mimicking to some degree the kind of policies we see work so effectively in Scandinavia, and the other countries of northern Europe. This is a landmark in itself at a time when fascist tendencies in the form of Donald Trump and Narendra Modi are taking over the world. We also have our own Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan, and its own right-wing fascist extremism, which so many people are following with an astonishing amount of commitment, judging by the vote counts. Of course, we cannot be certain if these vote counts are accurate, but certainly there is support for the TLP, its leader, and for other ultra-right wing religious leaders in the country. This is one ideology that continues to exist in our territory.

The question is: how to offer people an alternative. The decision they make regarding what they choose is up to them. It is interesting that a socialist such as Bernie Sanders could gain so many votes in a country like the US, where people such as Donald Trump and a harsh anti-communist agenda has been pursued for years. But had Bernie run for the Democratic leadership in place of Hillary Clinton, he may well have gained enough popular support to take over as the president of the country. Leaders who stand in the middle have really achieved very little at all for all their pretence of liberalism, and a desire to help people. Bilawal Bhutto, Barack Obama, Rahul Gandhi and others count among these.

Putting forward a leftist agenda is possibly not as difficult as it seems. While the collation between Colombia and Pakistan is not perfectly precise and not quite accurate, the fact is that people in our country face a similar situation with the elite consuming the bulk of national wealth and leaving very little for the impoverished who are malnourished, have no access to education, and no access to opportunity. The elite and those who hold real power in the country have known this for years, but are not willing to do anything at all about it. It is therefore more ordinary citizens, journalists, lawyers, teachers, activists, and labourers or farmers who will need to act.

A person who aspires for the leadership of a country does not necessarily need to be highly educated, or the graduate of an Ivy League school. His/her task is simply to build a team which can devise policy and work out problems. The leader requires charisma and ability to convince people that their lives do not need to go on as they are today for ever and ever into the future and beyond.

So how is this to happen? In the first place, we need a group of people or a vanguard, which can make people more aware of their ability to bring change through the vote. This first of all requires a ballot which is fair and not manipulated. Ensuring this in itself will be a difficult task but one that people can once again play a role in perhaps by setting up committees of citizens who are not influenced and are well respected in their own localities to look into polling and help establish a fair and violence free poll count as far as is possible. More arduous is the task of persuading people that a move towards a more socialist leaning change could benefit them enormously by ensuring a more equitable education for children, better healthcare for those who cannot afford private hospitals and basic facilities for those who live in shanty towns, where there is no sanitation and certainly no access to safe water. Indeed, the majority of people in the country cannot acquire safe water to drink. The most basic necessity of life is denied to them.

So, how do we go about what is a mammoth task? It will not happen in one go or in one round of campaigning. The effort needs to be built up slowly and with devotion. A charismatic leader who can influence people as Bhutto did in our country or Peron did in Argentina would be of immense benefit. People need to be convinced that the Maliks, the Nawabs, the Sardars, the Nawabzadas, and the others who form the highest level of the elite in the country, including those who wear a uniform of one kind or the other do not necessarily need to rule forever.

They also need to be convinced that as citizens they have rights which are being stolen from them and taken away piece by piece and in huge bulks by those who are more interested in developing hotels and building societies or putting money into places where it is of no benefit to the poor or those who cannot afford even a home costing a few lakhs of rupees. They also have no access to bank loans or other sources of money to acquire this sum and must live generation after generation without a shelter they can call their own.

There are groups already working to alter what our reality is. To them goes enormous credit and enormous praise for their courage and dedication. This is especially so since many of them could have enjoyed cushy jobs in the West, but chose to come back after higher studies to try and better the future of their own country. We can only hope and pray that they succeed and can take us forward even if it is one step at a time.

The effort must begin at the grassroots level by persuading peasants, farmers and the lowest income workers that things can change if they want them to change. This has happened before in other countries and it has happened in our own country too. The time has come for it to happen again before the disparity between the very rich and the very poor increases still further.