What is politics about? Is it just a squabble between political parties and politicians? Is it only a tussle between different institutions of the state for power? Is it only the conflict between the fascists and pro-democracy liberal forces? Is everything a manifestation of class struggle?
The answer in a developing society like Pakistan would be: It is all of the above. But more importantly and urgently the prime objective of all politics should be to fight poverty and growing inequality. From a common man’s perspective political democracy struggle should be primarily focused on achieving economic democracy. Economic growth and equitable distribution of its fruits should be on the top of the agenda of political parties.
So far the political parties’ focus is more on political issues like the presidential election, pressurizing him to part ways with his real constituency and future power alliances. Real issues of the people like poverty alleviation, education, health, unemployment, the challenges and opportunities of globalisation are not given serious thought by the political parties. For the poor it’s sympathy and promises only. The poverty of discussion on poverty in the political circles is pathetic.
Most of the leaders in the opposition criticise the government for its short-comings in these areas, but fail to offer any alternate plan. Even the majority of the government party leaders have little to say on this issue except claiming that the economy has turned around and the country is managing a handsome growth rate.
Leading political parties have never cared to establish research and policy cells in their respective parties. Those who have such resource-strapped cells, their leadership do not pay much attention to their recommendations.
There is also no tradition in this country to have a shadow cabinet, which keeps some senior leaders in the opposition focused on the subject assigned to them. Once when I raised this issue with a senior leader of PPP, he said that creation of a shadow cabinet would alienate many and may also result in defection of many party leaders. The message was loud and clear that many leaders stay with the party to become a minister and not because of its policies.
Occasionally, one hears a political leader on TV saying they will eliminate poverty and the government claim that poverty rate has dropped by almost 10 percent is false. Even if the World Bank figures are accepted poverty rate has dropped by 5 percent in the last 7 years, which means eight million people have climbed out of the poverty quagmire.
To my journalist friends I would request to question the political leaders on what would be their party’s strategy and tactics to step up poverty alleviation process. Don’t let them beat around the bush, pin them down to give the people of Pakistan detailed strategy and tactics on the issues of health, education, unemployment, sustaining economic growth, etc. Viewer and readers have had enough of debates and statements of these leaders on esoteric political and constitutional issues. They would also prefer to hear from the political leaders how their party will solve these fundamental problems. Not just sloganeering.
Let’s take some of the chronic issues:
(a) Everybody knows that there is direct linkage between education and poverty alleviation. While according to the government figures 92 per cent children enroll in public and private schools, almost 40 percent drop out before completing primary education. The enrollment at secondary level drops drastically to 44 per cent only. The reasons for a high drop-out rate given by the educationists are lack of teachers, poor infrastructure conditions, low priority given to female literacy and distances to school. Add to this harsh teaching methodology used by untrained teaching staff at the government schools.
(b) Unemployment and underemployment is another issue which no political party talks about. They have no plan to establish linkages between the education system, career counseling and the employment market.
(c) Nobody has ever discussed the push factors which are forcing rural population to migrate to the cities resulting in unemployment and serious urban infrastructure problems.
(d) They have never given a serious thought on how to integrate madrassa students in the economic main stream.
(e) (e) We have never heard any senior political leader telling people that how they plan to bring down the infant mortality rate down from 83 per 1000 live births and 450 maternal deaths on every 100,000 live births. So on and so forth.
Interestingly, while the Ministry of Finance has extensively discussed the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper II with the government officials and some civil society organisations, the political parties have completely ignored this discussion. Even the ruling party PML (Q) leaders have not expressed their views on this document, although frankly speaking these documents should be used as a working paper to write manifestoes by the political parties. All the data and documents are available on the website of the Ministry of Finance, but I doubt any political leader has cared to download this for working out their own strategy or a critique.
The other view of my journalist friends could be that issues related to restoration of real democracy and army’s exit from politics are important at present and ultimately affect the welfare of the common man. It’s true. Amartya Sen’s thesis says freedom (democracy) is interlinked with the development but foremost priority of this struggle should be economic welfare of the dispossessed.
Media can play an important role in pushing the politicians to start thinking and committing on such basic welfare issues. Let’s talk about concrete workable poverty alleviation plans now. Remember politics is noble, if it is done for the people and not for seizing power for the sake of power alone. So no rhetoric please! (firstname.lastname@example.org)