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DAWN - Opinion; February 29, 2008

February 29, 2008

State of Indian economy

By Kuldip Nayar


IF you want to assess a country’s progress you should pick up the poorest from among the people and see how far he has gone up the ladder, so said Mahatma Gandhi. The budget session of parliament, in progress, is a stock-taking exercise, not of economy alone but of other fields as well.

With an array of ‘liberal’ measures, India has more than doubled its growth rate which was once dubbed the Hindu growth rate of four per cent.

If Gandhi’s criterion is applied, India is rich but unequal. Billionaires compete well with their counterparts in America. Millionaires in India are cheaper by the dozen. Yet the common man has made little progress.

Two reports emanating from official circles say that nearly 70 per cent of people live in dire, dismal conditions. The latest national sample survey says that the people in the countryside live on a daily earning of Rs8.00-Rs12.00.

The amount has lessened by half from the time the report was published early last year. It is quite a steep fall in some 12 months.

This is apart from the suicide that farmers are committing all over India, including rich Maharashtra and Punjab. The figure is one every half an hour. (In 2006, the number of suicides was 7,006). The villagers cannot clear the compound-interest debt because they have got enmeshed in the cash crop economy that cannot take the market’s vagaries. The humiliation of not paying the debt is too much for a respectable person to face. In comparison, even a middle class sibling spends more in one evening at a restaurant than what a villager’s family earns in 365 days.

As for the government, it would prefer importing rotten food grain to buying from the Indian farmers the same wheat at a remunerative price which in any case is less than one fourth of the world price. If Sharad Pawar is the food minister, sordid deals cannot lag behind. The Central Vigilance Commission is looking into the import of 2,300,000 tons of wheat at a far higher cost than was necessitated.

After testing the quality of wheat, it has been found to everyone’s horror that the imported wheat failed all quality tests.

Gandhi had promised that there would be no tear on anybody’s cheek in independent India. Sixty years later, tears of helplessness and hunger do not stop trickling from the eyes of a large majority of Indians. Jawaharlal Nehru’s socialism and Gandhi’s self-sufficiency have clashed to give India a hotchpotch of uneven urban progress and scotched rural betterment. These signs are not that of a soft state but of a confused state.

Neo-liberal economic policy of the Manmohan Singh government has pushed aside the common man, whether engaged in small industry or retail business.

Influenced by public opinion, the government has introduced the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act to give work or dole to a villager a minimum of 100 days of work in a year. The scheme has already been perforated by corruption. Rajiv Gandhi, when he was prime minister, said that 85 per cent of the money did not reach its intended target. However, the rural employment scheme is said to have awakened people to their needs.

The government can, however, take credit for the Right To Information Act (RTI). This has opened many doors, although the government, particularly in the states, continues to stall the information sharing process. The Act has helped to have information from official files at the asking and it has exposed reluctance to take the right decisions. Here too the arrears of applications are piling up making the RTI less effective.

But it is not only the dearth of money or employment that is tormenting the people in rural India. There is a long list of denials. The public health does not cover them. Teachers do not attend schools. Roads are few and they too are barely passable. Land records are in a mess. The politician-cum-police backed mafias have come to wield authority at several places, with the connivance of the bureaucrats.

Yet the fact remains that the middle class has expanded to some 250 million people, more than the total population of Europe. They have all the money to buy goodies.

But this class of consumers is still crazy about phoran (foreign) goods. The malls are full of them. Even those who want to buy Indians goods find it hard to get them.

A sad development is that the Indians are becoming traders and increasingly quitting the field of manufacturing. Many among them are outsourcing their production to China, a country of bonded labour. India’s economy is buoyant but the policies are not chalked out in such a way whereby the surplus is diverted to meet the basic needs of the population.

Concessions should be given to the lower half, but the current strategy is to sustain the growth rate even though it is making the rich richer and the poor poorer. The purpose of growth should have been to spread gains wide so that even the ordinary person could reap the benefit. Apparently, Manmohan Singh, once a left-of-the-centre economist, has decided to convert India into a capitalist society, not realizing that capitalism, socialism or any ism is a means, not the end by itself. The end is the betterment of the society on the whole, not part of it.

What hurts one the most is that the rich do not even feel embarrassed in flaunting their wealth. Some leaders of the political parties have their birthday bashes in public, spending crores of rupees.

The questions before India still are: State versus people, urban versus rural, unbridled development versus human needs, blind laws versus natural justice. If only some people gain at the expense of a vast majority, it is a development of sorts. But poverty stays.

India can have vast farms, large industrial houses, huge laboratories and tall buildings. But if in the process the country loses its soul or allows disparities to yawn, the result is nowhere near the dream of freedom fighters. A state with perpetual inequalities may find it difficult even to retain democracy. People’s involvement — and their confidence — strengthens the system. Disparities weaken democracy and make people desperate.

Frankly speaking, in a poorly developed country, the capitalist methods offer no chance. The alternative that the Manmohan Singh government is offering is no alternative. It is sheer exploitation. It may be that we are not strong enough or wise enough to face the real problem. We have again failed. Another budget, another exercise of stock-taking has gone awry. Why are we afraid to admit that our fight against the haves lacks commitment?

The writer is a leading journalist based in Delhi.

Tackling the future

By Ayesha Siddiqa


NOW that the elections are over the next step is to think about what the political parties will do next. There is a need for institutionalising politics and improving the overall health of state institutions so that they could support strengthening of democracy in the country.

Unfortunately, a major issue with all democracies in transition is that they get so bogged down in constitutional issues in the beginning and in getting rid of the mess of the past that they have little time to concentrate on real issues. The fate of the incoming government will be no different. They have two serious issues at hand. First, what to do with Pervez Musharraf who could be a source of instability?

The president has been godfather for so long that he might not be able to become a benign and considerate father figure to any incoming prime minister. He must go but the question which the new government will face is how to make his departure possible with minimum cost to political stability in the country. There are many a people who might feel angry if he is allowed to go easily. But then the priority is improving the system and not just punishing a dictator.

The second issue relates to the huge financial burden which the new regime will inherit from the Musharraf-Aziz government. Islamabad has a huge budgetary deficit which was created due to problematic policies of our previous Citibanker-premier. The required price adjustment will make life miserable for the common man, especially in the short to medium term. Not making the adjustment, of course, will also create greater problems such as inflation.

Let’s imagine that these problems have been solved and the new government has started to strategise about what to do next. What are the issues it must focus on?

Firstly, the political leadership has to focus on correcting the civil-military imbalance. In many respects, this is the mother of all issues. The fact that these elections were relatively free and fair was due to the impartiality of the army. Although the impartiality did not necessarily extend to Balochistan, the fact is that the armed forces did not interfere in the process in other federating units like it was done during the 2002 elections or earlier. The fact of the matter is that Pakistan has always had free and fair elections when ever the military has chosen not to interfere. The other two occasions when this was possible was 1971 and 1988. A corollary of this argument is that the military has stepped back from politics every time it was in a crisis. The situation was not favourable in 1971 and in 1988 it had lost the bulk of its senior management and did not enjoy a good reputation. In 2008 again, the defence forces suffered from a crisis of credibility.

The new army chief chose to remain impartial because of his interest in improving the much-tarnished image of the military. Gen Kayani has taken a few measures to improve the image. However, such short-term measures may not necessarily translate into a change in institutional behaviour, as is obvious from the past. The space left empty by the death of Gen Ziaul Haq was occupied by Gen Aslam Beg, who despite his political ambition, was forced by circumstances, to stay away from direct control of the state. He was followed by three professional generals: Asif Nawaz Janjua, Abdul Waheed Kakar and Jahangir Karamat.

Since the de-politicisation of the army was not institutionalised, the tables were finally turned by Gen Musharraf. The very fact that an elected prime minister had to indulge in a questionable act of not allowing a plane to land reflects the severe institutional imbalance. Having sacked the army chief, which he constitutionally and legally could, the prime minister was so unsure of his ability to do so that he engaged in extra legal measures to implement his decision.

Without getting into the past, the important question is to permanently negotiate a solution for the continued imbalance. Bangladesh is another case where the military’s withdrawal from politics has not been institutionalised. One of the important steps that the new government must take is to initiate a civil-military dialogue which might be kept away from public eye (certainly in the beginning) to be held between serving military officers and a group of civilians. Furthermore, a code of conduct must be adopted by all politicians in which they agree not to use the armed forces for activities that could also be done by civilians. Since all militaries help civilian authorities in natural disasters, such tasks are not included in the list.

There should also be a critical analysis of the military’s economic ventures. The Nawaz Sharif government installed in 1996 had analysed the various foundations and had recommended that at least two — Fauji Foundation and Army Welfare Trust — be merged together. The proposal must be reviewed again. The government must also look into the violations of the various foundations which have been pointed out in the several reports of the Auditor-General’s department.

A critical move will be to bring all these organisations under the net of public sector accountability. Moreover, the state must take control of its land and not allow a single institution to sell it or use it for commercial purpose. Such activities indicate indirect subsidies which are generally more costly than direct subsidies. The government could perhaps consider renegotiating direct subsidies with the officers and soldiers.

The political institutions will not be strengthened unless they take a lead in determining the grand strategic goals of the state. This means that all critical issues must be debated by the parliament. There is no evidence to suggest that Pakistani (including civilians) do not care for the country and so should stay away from strategic matters.

A second and related priority should be to strengthen other institutions such as the election commission, delimitation commission (organisation responsible for determining the size and area of a constituency), supreme audit institution, planning commission, finance commission and the judiciary.

One of the reasons that the condition of India’s democracy is better than ours is due to the autonomy of the aforementioned organisations. In India, the heads of these institutions might be inept but they have impeccable reputation which is essential for these bodies to become strong.

The health of the judiciary is an extremely important issue. Although the PPP and PML-N have talked about an impartial judiciary they need to consider the good reputation issue as well.

What the political parties and the civil and military bureaucracy, in fact, the entire Pakistani elite should realise is that institutional strength serves everyone’s purpose. The rule of law will not necessarily diminish the strength of the elite but will ensure that they enjoy the benefits for a longer-term. This is because justice, equality and fair play keeps the masses happy as well and ensures stability which is necessary for both the haves and have nots.

The writer is an independent strategic and political analyst.

ayesha.ibd@gmail.com

An observer’s observations

Dr Paul D. Scott

IN Cambodia, ‘the night of the barking dogs’ is the name given to the hours immediately before polling day.

It is at night when threats, intimidation, and bribes are made.

Village leaders, political agents, factory owners, elements of the military and police, and gangsters prey on the helpless voter. Polling day is usually rather quiet as no one would be stupid enough to openly rig an election, tamper with a ballot box, or use direct violence in front of observers. After all, it is more efficient to fix an election in silence. Only the dogs bark.

We can all be thankful that the recently held elections in Pakistan were judged a success. Polling day violence was not as high as anticipated, massive polling day fraud did not take place, and post-election violence has been largely absent. The relief was palpable as polling day progressed.

I was fortunate to be an international election observer. Representing The Alliance for Reform and Democracy in Asia (ARDA) and The World Forum for Democracy in Asia (WFDA) I had requested to go to Multan, a city I was very familiar with. But my host Pattan Development Organisation (PDO) deployed me in Islamabad and Rawalpindi.

It was insulting to read that one columnist from a major Islamabad newspaper had called observers ‘election tourists’. Tourists do not volunteer their time to be trained to observe, attend a variety of briefing on the election situation, read almost countless reports, spend all the daylight hours at polling stations, fill out countless forms, scrutinise the environment, observe the counting process, and report back. Safety is a concern and all observers are instructed to not put themselves at risk. On Feb 18 over 30 people were killed, local observers were attacked and at least two were kidnapped. Polling day was certainly not a day at the beach for any involved in the election process. In the months before the election over 60 people were killed in suicide bombings.

What is important about widespread observation is that isolated incidents should not be confused with widespread irregularities. But enough isolated incidents do add up to patterns that must be corrected. Most importantly, every observer must be absolutely impartial and neutral. At many polling stations I saw women and men in brown caps bearing the logo of The Free and Election Network (FAFEN). They sat inside the polling stations observing and filling out forms. This information, collected, collated, and analysed would form the basis of the most methodical look at polling day results in the history of Pakistan. FAFEN had trained 20,000 local observers.

The recent polling day in Pakistan was a success as far as the observation process is concerned. But the election still remains conflicted, contested, controversial, and constrained. Here are some of the more basic problems observed by FAFEN:

Violence and conflict at polling stations; changes in voter identification rule at polling stations; bogus votes; late opening of polling stations; restrictions on observers; absenteeism of polling officials; closed women’s polling stations or booths; restrictions on polling agents; unauthorised persons inside polling station

The Pakistan of 1998 remains almost unrecognisable in many ways. In these ten years there has been a widely applauded and accepted military coup, war in Afghanistan, increased sectarian violence, a stabilised situation in Kashmir, the suspension of the Constitution, the arrest of judges (including the Chief Justice), the political assassination of one former prime minister, the return of a former prime minister to political prominence, an increased role and participation of women at both the local and national levels, more media access, an expanding and vibrant civil society, and a growing economy just to name a few.

This election was also blundered into by the ruling party and the president. They waited till the last minute to hold a referendum on their performance and by then they had painted themselves into an ugly corner. They must be kicking themselves for not holding an election two years ago. Perhaps for this reason alone, the leadership should resign for taking responsibilities for tactical political blunders.

The best outcome of this election is that all parties and all leaders publicly acknowledged that they would respect the results of the election. This alone points to a democratic maturity that everyone in Pakistan should be proud of. At future meetings of ARDA and WFDA I will certainly point to Pakistan as a positive example for the region. Walking around Rawalpindi on the day before the election, people in groups of three and four would tell me that they were voting for different parties but respected each others opinions. This was internalised democratic values at work. Again, Pakistan should be proud.

The Feb 18 elections have raised the standard for all future elections. FAFEN, supported by the expertise of Pattan Development Organisation and other dedicated NGOs, have created a mechanism to insure trust, confidence and civil society certification of the election process.

As someone who has observed many elections, my concerns are not just with one isolated event. In Pakistan, local elections are scheduled for 2009 and national elections set for 2013. All those who laboured hard have earned a short and well deserved rest. Yet, at a minimum the task ahead must include:

1. A continually updated and verifiable computerised voters list must be prepared. 2. The Election Commission must take a proactive role in control, accountability, and transparency.

3. District returning officers and returning officers must be consistently trained and held accountable under a revised and strengthened civil service law. 4. The ECP must have effective and clear and fast mechanisms for enforcement of its code of conduct for political parties and contesting candidates.

5. Campaign expense limits must be revised to express reality. This revision must then be vigorously enforced. 6. State resources for campaigning must be adequate, transparent, and fair.

7. Political parties must educate their candidates on the need to adhere to election rules and codes of conduct. 8. Democracy education should be strengthened at schools.

9. Pakistan should take steps to make sure that all polling stations meet minimum standards. 10. All candidates should sign a democracy charter that expresses principles, standards and codes of conduct.

Will their leadership once again disappoint the people of Pakistan? The clarion call for all citizens to the legally elected representatives and the chosen prime minister should be ‘We have put our hope in you!’ The nation still faces a daunting list of unresolved problems. Within ten years will Pakistan once again be another cycle of military leadership? Thus is difficult to predict. Nobody likes to hear the barking of dogs.

The writer, a Professor of Asian Studies at Kansai Gaidai University, Osaka, Japan, is steering committee member of ARDA and member of WFDA.

Towards meaningful devolution

By Jamil Nasir


THE Social Policy and Development Centre (SPDC) recently launched its report with the title Devolution and Human Development in Pakistan. The report, inter alia, has analysed the impact of the devolution plan on the poor and marginalised sections of society.

The finding of the report is that the system of local government introduced in 2001 in the country is plagued with the phenomenon of ‘elite capture’ and has not delivered well on enhancing the participation of ‘the voiceless and the marginalised’ sections of society in decision-making. The report further says that the influence of family, caste, tribe and other political affiliations permeates the fabric of local government institutions with the result that the political landscape of Pakistan is still dominated by the elite.

The idea of devolution per se is globally recognised as an effective arrangement for empowering people at the local level. Many countries in the world have either undertaken or are in the process of devolution by transferring political, fiscal and administrative responsibilities to the lower levels of the government. In some countries, devolution is considered a natural corollary to democratisation while in others it is spurred by the failure of the central government to deliver basic public services.

Devolution is premised on the principle that all decisions by the state concerning its citizens and those related to their social environment should be taken at the grassroots level with the citizens enjoying a high range of freedom and autonomy in decision making at the local level. It is primarily a social process and matures with time.

In order to translate the concept of devolution into real empowerment of people, certain building blocks are of paramount importance in the context of Pakistan. The first and primary ingredient is the supremacy of the rule of law, which guarantees the equality of all citizens before law and thus forms the basic foundation of the social contract between the state and its citizenry.

Historically, the poor people are caught up in a ‘dependency culture’ as the colonial authorities preempted the empowerment of the common man by incorporating tribal and local elites into the power game as junior partners. Over time this power paradigm transformed itself into impregnable fiefdoms in which ‘dividends’ were amassed by the minority at the cost of the majority. This created a ‘dependency culture’, an outcome of extreme helplessness and a sense of insecurity among the marginalised sections of the society.

So in order to seek access to the service delivery at the local level and escape the coercive apparatus of local administration, the poor and marginalised sections of society were compelled to look up to the local elite. This situation is still persisting today. There is a need for moving beyond this inherently disempowering relationship which has led to the domination of the elite and is a major hindrance to successful devolution. It calls for a redefinition of the relationship between the elite and the common man strictly within the ambit of the rule of law. The state institutions need to be sensitised to the rights, dignity and self-respect of a common man. The dominant perception that the local government institutions are handmaidens of the local elite should be dispelled by taking concrete steps by creating public awareness about social, political and economic rights.

The second building block for meaningful devolution of power is the economic empowerment of the people especially the marginalised sections of society by facilitating their access to resources and economic opportunities. Traditionally, lack of ‘initial conditions’ like literacy, human capital and equitable access to resources has hindered the development and empowerment of people. The economic policies adopted since independence have resulted in an ‘elitist economy’ where key resources were concentrated in the hands of a small minority.

The marginalised sections of society have limited choices available to them resulting in a daily struggle to simply survive. The limited employment opportunities, lack of basic economic and financial services, and limited recourse to state-sponsored system of justice make it almost impossible for them to participate in the local decision-making process that affects their life in ways more than one. The people suffer from acute inequality in terms of power to change their lives and escape poverty.

It is thus imperative that effective measures are taken to empower them economically to make devolution a real success. Addressing the basic issues like illiteracy, poor health facilities and human resource development can go a long way in causing the empowerment of the people. The third important ingredient to counter the challenge of elite capture is the presence of a vibrant civil society. A vigorous civil society is considered a symbol of democratic and pluralistic values. Rural participation for political and social construction of civil society is equally crucial to achieve the aims of devolution. So there is a need to thicken the civil society by increasing its outreach to the grass roots level.

Another important requisite for empowerment is the broad based participation of people in the decision-making processes. The system of elections is a globally recognised practice to broaden the level of people’s participation in governance matters. The poor people are not well organised and remain unable to articulate their choices and interests due to several handicaps. Social mobilisation can be a proactive policy instrument to bring about the articulation of collective interest. Effective participation in local governance and giving a voice to ‘the traditionally voiceless’ can thus be achieved through wide scale social mobilisation.

Steps like fixing quotas for women, peasants and labourers in local bodies, though well intentioned, have not delivered on the promise in empowering them. It is merely a number game and cannot be a substitute for massive social mobilisation. It is, thus, required that social awakening is created among the disenfranchised components of the local community to avert elite capture of the state institutions.



© DAWN Media Group , 2008