POLITICIANS will never die of starvation; they can always survive by eating their own words. What causes them indigestion, however, is not having to swallow their own speeches as much as being made to ingest the promises made by their elders.
Few office-bearers in today’s Pakistan Peoples Party would want to be reminded of Mr Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s dramatic proclamation on Jan 2, 1972, when he announced that “the control and command” of 10 key industrial sectors would pass into the hands of the public. These included basic metal, heavy engineering and electrical industries, assembly and manufacture of motor cars and tractors, basic chemicals and petro-chemicals, cement plants and basic utilities.
“I am determined to see that the common man enjoys the true benefits of industrialisation,” he declared, adding his conviction that “the wealth of the nation must be for the benefit of all the people and cannot continue to be concentrated in the hands of a few individuals.” With a stroke of a pen, Mr Bhutto dispossessed most of the 22 over-rich families who, according to Dr Mahbub-ul-Haq, owned or controlled “about two-thirds of industrial assets, 80 per cent of banking and 79 per cent of insurance assets in the industrial domain”.
Mr Bhutto’s action came as a surprise only to those who had neglected to read his party’s manifesto, issued two years earlier. Its Article IV could not have made his intentions plainer: “All major industries will be nationalised.” Many a dispossessed industrialist must have rued not having paid more attention to the fine print in the manifesto, just as many European Jews regretted belatedly not having taken Hitler’s Mein Kampf more seriously.
Since then, these nationalised industries have been gradually privatised — some being returned to their previous owners, others sold to employees, and many to entrepreneurs with deep pockets. Those which could not be sold (mainly loss-making units) remained rotting at the bottom of the government’s barrel.
Were Mr Bhutto, by some miracle, to return to this country whose wealth he sought to bring into the common weal, he would be startled to discover that, instead of the public exchequer becoming richer over the years, members of his own party have become individually wealthier than many of the 22 families he had displaced. Their assets include flats in London’s Edgware Road and plush properties in Bishop’s Avenue, chateaus in scenic France, shops and businesses abroad, unseemly amounts in numbered bank accounts. “There, I have made you rich,” a PPP leader apparently once said to her MNAs as she doled out largesse masquerading as development funds. “No, Mohtarma,” a wit amongst them replied. “You have only made me richer.”
Playing politics, like playing polo, is not only a dangerous game; it is an expensive one. Every politician is either paying off the price for the last election or collecting a war chest for the next one. The general elections of 2013, thanks to the purgative applied by Dr Tahirul Qadri, are likely to be announced earlier than the incumbent government intended. The latest discussions between the maulana and the government coalition indicate that the date will be announced by Feb 6.
After that, the market will open for trading. These forthcoming elections are likely to be contested less on policies than on price. Predictably, each seat will become a commodity. Fidelity will be expressed in currencies, and selection indexed to a basket of past performance and future deliverables.
Are electoral practices in Pakistan any different to those in India? Not really. If there is any palpable difference, it is in the scale of operations. We make the same mistakes they do, only cheaper. We too have a Rahul Gandhi, only ours is raw and underage.
Less than a month ago, no one would have doubted the longevity of the present PPP-led coalition government. A second term was as good as in the bag. Today, no one is sure anymore. Dr Tahirul Qadri’s spirited ventilation of the public’s grievances has released doubts that cling like wet mist, dampening once crisp prospects.
Forty years ago, Mr Bhutto declared: “This is now a people’s government, and the people are the ultimate masters of the country’s destiny. They must be ever vigilant against all those who attempt by force or fraud to misguide the workers who produce the wealth of Pakistan.” He could not have foreseen that the culprits one day would be members of his own party.
Commentators have complimented the present parliament for having completed its full term. Many voters across the political spectrum would have been happier had it served a shorter span and achieved more during that briefer tenure. They would not have been the first in history to express such discontent with sterile parliamentarians.
Oliver Cromwell once professed that he preferred the company of sheep to a government by men. Disillusioned and disheartened, he dissolved his first protectoral parliament with the remonstrance: “Weeds and nettles, briars and thorns, have thriven under your shadow, dissettlement and division, discontentment and dissatisfaction, together with real dangers to the whole.”
And in 1653, dismissing the rump parliament, he exploded: “You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!” And they went.
Yesterday’s Cromwell is today’s voter. The electorate should not be taken for granted. It has the power and responsibility to take parliament to the cleaners.
The writer is an author. www.fsaijazuddin.pk