Syed Mustafa Kamal, Mani Shankar Aiyar, Shahzad Arbab and Ahmed Bilal Mahboob in a session. — White Star / Aun Jafri
Syed Mustafa Kamal, Mani Shankar Aiyar, Shahzad Arbab and Ahmed Bilal Mahboob in a session. — White Star / Aun Jafri

LAHORE: Mani Shankar Aiyar, eminent Indian politician and former minister for development of north eastern region and Panchayati Raj, has urged both Pakistan and India to break the deadlock on various issues by opening inter-government relationships for welfare of the people.

“I just say if and when both India and Pakistan are able to break this stupid deadlock on various issues. If and when we will have inter-government relationships... I hope that through such discussions / gatherings, India and Pakistan can go together and can have strength for an effective development for the people at the grassroots,” he said at a session titled “Another Local Government Law” moderated by Mr Ahmad Bilal Mehboob of Pildat at ThinkFest event.

Shahzad Arbab (adviser to the PM on establishment) and Syed Mustafa Kamal (former Karachi nazim) also joined the session and spoke over the subject.

He (Mani Shankar Aiyar) said India’s local government system reflected a full-fledged democracy as envisaged and desired by the late Rajev Gandhi. He was of the view that the effective local government system leads to an efficient functioning of the institutions at district, tehsil and union council level. He recommended establishment of a local government finance commission.

“This commission must be a permanent body too for smooth functioning of all local government departments,” he added.

Talking about women representation in the democratic system in India, the former minister (also a journalist) revealed that there were almost 1.4 million women representing people in the entire political system of his country. “It is the biggest ever women representation in the whole world so far. Even you cannot find such a huge number of women representation in the political system anywhere in the world. As many as 1.4 million women are representing the people of unprivileged class in the entire democratic systems’ tiers including local government (village panchayat) in all category of seats -- general, reserved, scheduled cast and others.

“These elected women, many of them are poor, were elected by the poor and hungry people,” he added.

He disagreed with a system of direct elections for municipal or metropolitan mayors as practiced in Pakistan. “I think that by coming into power through direct elections, a mayor or chairman becomes a local dictator,” he said.

He said political ownership was key to an effective local government system. He said various amendments were made in the Indian constitution for the explanation of the local government system.

Pak Sarzameen Party chief Mustafa Kamal complained that a particular mindset never accepted the local government system wholeheartedly.

“You can just imagine the local government elections in Sindh were held in 2015 instead of 2010 -- the year they were due under the law and the Constitution. It clearly reflects that mindset I am talking about,” he said.

Talking about funding to the system that is considered the last tier of the government in Pakistan, Mr Kamal said though there was National Finance Commission (NFC) that transfer funds to provinces under the law, the trickle down impact reaches to the local government through the provincial finance commission (PFC). He said Pakistan should follow India by introducing amendments related to explanation of the local government system.

Earlier, Shahzad Arbab claimed that the local councils system in KP proved to be the best ever in Pakistan as it not only gave due role to women but also provided developmental benefits through massive funds transferred under the Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP).

“From 2002 to 2012, KP received only Rs11 billion. But after we introduced this new system, the province received over 100 billion in first three years (2013 to 2016) that is 30pc of the total PSDP allocated for KP,” he claimed.

“Similarly, women representation in the remote districts such as Dir where the women were even restricted to cast votes, massively increased in village councils. The same KP model is being introduced in Punjab,” he said.

GOD’s KINGDOM: In another session titled “God’s Kingdom in Pakistan”, which was organised for the launch of Dr Farhat Haq’s book “Shariah and the State in Pakistan”, the speakers were unanimous to make the country free from the religious extremists who claim themselves authority on religion in Pakistan.

“Frankly speaking, Shariah in Pakistan has been hijacked by some extremist groups,” said Dr Farhat Haq, author of the book.

Ms Amber Darr moderated the session. Ms Haq was of the view that Pakistani people were in a state of confusion over implementation of Shariah, role of the state, religion etc.

On one hand they talk about love and affection of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) and, on the other, they don’t pay Zakat.

“I think there are some groups who present an ugly picture of Islam,” she said.

Lawyer Salman Akram Raja explained Shariah in the post-colonial context. Maulana Waheed had a different view over Shariah with Maulana Maudoodi in 1950s, he said. He also explained the current general banking system in Pakistan that was declared against the religion of Islam by the courts of law.

“A final decision on this matter is still pending despite 18 years,” he said.

Published in Dawn, January 12th, 2020