A pro-people agenda for PDM – Abdul Sattar


Movements and political struggles tend to rekindle hope within dejected and disappointed people about a better future. But sometimes they also further disillusion the people, forcing them to turn apolitical.

The French Revolution fascinated poets, intellectual, revolutionaries and enlightened thinkers but it turned out to be a nightmare not only for the elite, monarchists and the clergy but also for the ideologues of the radical change as well who were guillotined during the chaotic years of French history that witnessed summary trials and crackdown on dissenting voices.

Critics believe the Russian Revolution, and the Chinese proletarian takeover of the giant state did also not meet the required expectations. The Great Purges under Stalin tarnished the image of those who sought social justice through a radical change while the Cultural Revolution under Mao appalled millions. The political upheavals that swept across Central and Eastern Europe during and after World War Two, turning these countries into socialist political entities, also dashed the hopes of those who believed in the miracle of a grand ideology. Revolutions in North Korea, the fearless fight of the Vietnamese against American aggression and a number of other political changes in countries like Cuba, Afghanistan, Indonesia and many other states could not achieve the stated objectives.

Pakistan also witnessed a number of movements and political battles that appeared to be ridding the people of the exploitative system under which they have been living for decades now. The student revolt and workers struggle against dictator Ayub Khan that brought Z A Bhutto to power turned out to be a big illusion. Bhutto’s government, which claimed to serve the interests of the workers and the downtrodden, attacked toiling people in Karachi and other parts of the country. His sledgehammer tactics against opposition parties and his old comrades appalled even his admirers. The maverick politician also rescued his feudal acolytes by carrying out land reforms in a way that left the archaic feudal system intact even today. His rhetoric of emancipating the people from religious bigotry ended up strengthening obscurantist forces which in the end helped dictator Zia send Bhutto to the gallows.

The dark era of Zia’s dictatorship proved to be worst in the history of the country during which political workers were jailed and flogged, women discriminated against, minorities reduced to the level of third-class citizens, fanaticism projected to serve political interests and sectarian bigots encouraged to greatly harm the social fabric of the South Asian country. His oppressive tactics fueled a backlash, prompting people to summon enough courage to challenge the military potentate. The PPP and other political parties sprang into action forming the Movement for Restoration of Democracy. During the movement, political workers, poets, intellectuals, journalists, women rights activists and minorities’ leaders offered tremendous sacrifices, opting to go to jail instead of bowing to the dictator.

But unfortunately Bhutto’s daughter opted for the economic policy of her tormentor, launching the much-vaunted privatization that has rendered millions of people jobless since the 1980s. All her successors with different ideologies continued this anti-people agenda, appeasing the free market economy, ignoring the fact that it is economic policy of a political leader that makes him or her different from others. It is this policy that greatly affects a layperson.

This policy led to naked cronyism, with the rulers doling out national industrial and commercial assets besides triggering an exponential rise in foreign and local debts. The initiative may have enriched a few but contributed to extreme poverty with over 60 million people living below the poverty line, and paving the way for an uncontrollable inflation that now seems to be playing havoc with millions of lives.

Now, the opposition parties have launched the Pakistan Democratic Movement vowing to uphold the sanctity of the constitution. Their aims are grand and impressive but would it not be better if they include a pro-people agenda in it? A sustained campaign against politicians and massive corruption has badly damaged the reputation of national leaders. People have been lured into believing that all politicians have a tainted reputation and none of them has an impeccable character. Although it was these politicians that abolished the One Unit, gifted the nation with the constitution of 1973, penned the Charter of Democracy, empowered federating units through the 18th Amendment and tided over the menace of religious militancy by offering great sacrifices, yet it seems the people are not ready to trust politicians’ promises.

Therefore, it is important that the PDM prepare a people’s charter featuring the solutions of their problems. For instance more than 20 million children are out of school, eighty percent of the Pakistanis do not have access to pure drinking water, more than 65 percent do not have a concrete roof over their heads, millions of youth are entering the job market every year, thousands of women and children are sexually assaulted or killed. So the people wonder if the PDM has any effective mechanism to deal with these issues on a war footing if they manage to dislodge what they call an undemocratic dispensation. They want to know if the PML-N, PPP, National Party, JUI-F, PkMAP, ANP and other members of the alliance have any concrete plan for the revitalization of the economy or if they will also want to offer the panacea of privatization, liberalization and deregulation.

People want to see the children of parliamentarians or national leaders study in the same dilapidated government schools that the majority of Pakistanis are condemned to frequent. They want to know if our political leaders’ loved-ones will also go to the overcrowded government hospitals that have been suffering due to lack of funds. They want to make sure that our leaders’ families also drink the water being supplied to the majority of this country. The people of this land want low-cost housing schemes and would love to see an end to this practice of showering large swathes of state land on real-estate barons and construction tycoons.

Over 220 million hapless souls of this Islamic Republic would also want political workers, especially in the N League and the PPP, with untainted reputation to take a lead position in their parties. They abhor the very idea of dynastic politics and would like to see an end to this personality cult that has reduced political parties to personal fiefdoms.

People would want those who demand fair elections in the country to have the same in their own political parties, as well as a solemn pledge to devolve powers to local bodies that are said to be the nurseries of democracy. They want the restoration of students and trade unions in practice and would like political parties to kick out any industrialists who may have been in their leadership and who do not allow unionization of workers and other legal rights. If the PDM really wants to make a difference in the lives of Pakistanis, it must come up with a pro-people agenda.

The writer is a freelance journalist.