It was clear from the earliest that Quaid-i-Azam Muha­mmad Ali Jinnah had envisioned Pakistan as a welfare state for Muslims; one where the state would take responsibility for the well-being of its people, be it in relation to health, education, financial or social needs. Socialist thought has, at its base, the concept of service towards and the welfare of the masses. The Quaid’s view was not very different from an economic standpoint, nor necessarily in terms of his political ideology. He stood for democratic norms, justice and fair play in every aspect of statecraft, including economic policy. Mr Jinnah desired that each citizen be allowed the freedom to earn as per his skills, talent and abilities. Essentially, this was a subscription, though perhaps not in entirety, to the concept of ‘free enterprise’ under a ‘laissez-faire economy’.

Being both the nation’s founder and a people’s man, he was greatly concerned for the man on the street, whose needs and abilities were either not compatible with or considerably different than of those around him. Therefore, full-blooded capitalism, with its exploitative underpinnings, was not the economic creed of the Quaid.

In sharp contrast, in India, Jawaharlal Nehru — who preferred to be recognised as a die-hard socialist despite an aristocratic upbringing and background (he went to Eton and Cambridge) — was focused on giving his country a centrally planned economy. Whilst he pursued a socialist economic agenda, he did not harm or put to peril the capitalists. They were allowed to work in full freedom, the only caveat being enhanced productivity with no damage to the rights of the workforce. Under Nehru, India achieved sustained industrial progress, and both ‘free enterprise’ and a ‘directed and planned economy’ were pursued in harmony.

The light to heavy industrial base under state control did well, just as much as the Tatas, Birlas, Godrejs, etc. India was able to achieve and implement its economic vision due to the political stability it enjoyed — with no dilution, aberration or derailment — for seventeen years from 1947 to 1964; that is, till Nehru passed away.

Being both the nation’s founder and a people’s man, the Quaid-i-Azam was greatly concerned for the man on the street

On the other hand, we were extremely unfortunate in that we lost two stalwarts of the Pakistan movement — the founder and his trusted lieutenant, Liaquat Ali Khan — very soon after the country came into being. Pakistan then fell to less-talented and even-less-intelligent individuals, who struggled to develop a coherent economic vision for the nascent state.

The country had also been made to suffer for its birth. At the time of Independence, the division of assets between the two new countries was done unequally and unjustly, with intended malice, under the supervision of the departing British administration. They weren’t shy about openly taking sides with Jawaharlal Nehru’s India, who enjoyed a rather ‘personal’ relationship with the Mountbattens.

At Partition, most industries were owned by the Hindu majority and largely domiciled in territory that was to become India. The Hindu merchants of Punjab and Sindh migrated to India en masse. Therefore, Pakistan, in its initial years, had almost no institutions to build upon. Everything had to be done from scratch, including resurrecting a new economy. Money was short and expenses far outstripped revenue streams — a problem that has continued to plague the country till today.

The first twenty-five years were, therefore, quite difficult. Still, all of the trials and tribulations they brought did not yield economic independence simply due to the fact that political instability plagued the country throughout this period. Our five-year plans were better than India’s; however, differences soon arose out of our collective inability or unwillingness to implement those plans. India resolutely followed its vision with action; the Quaid’s vision for a welfare state floundered and was relegated to files to gather dust.

The politicisation of administration by successive governments led to a serious collapse of governance. An inability to collect taxes was matched by the unwillingness of both taxpayers and collectors to do their share. This inability to generate revenue impacted the availability of financial resources for development activities. Economic growth hence remained stunted and poor.

Being a low-income country, we were not able to design and structure social welfare programmes across cities. The efforts were piecemeal, and hence even good initiatives decayed thanks to neglect and unavailability of financial resources. As corruption became endemic, there was little hope for Jinnah’s economic vision of a welfare state to take off at all.

The Quaid had feared this outcome; hence, in his very first speech to the Constituent Assembly, he had spoken at length about how the vices of corruption, bribery, jobbery, and nepotism impair the economy and ultimately eat into the social fabric.

And, thus, against the economic vision of Mr Jinnah, our economy gradually came to represent the affluent. The private sector continued to become wealthier, while the public sector remained perpetually poor. This led to income disparities, as we see in today’s Pakistan, where resources for developing social and physical infrastructure remain scarce.

Much to the chagrin of the founder’s soul, successive governments contented themselves with merely rocking the nation in its infant’s cradle. The challenges that the Quaid had enunciated at Independence remained unsettled. In his speech at the inauguration of the country’s central bank, he had referred to the significance of a well-thought-out monetary policy. He belaboured upon the need to fight inflation, enhance trade, etc. Clearly, we did not pay heed to his vision.

Independent India found dominance through the belief that it should progress and develop, especially its industrial base, through a centrally planned economic system. The Indian political leadership, unlike Pakistan’s, had prepared much before Independence for what economic policies the new country would pursue. Vallabbhai Patel, who later became a home minister in Nehru’s cabinet, knew the importance of sound policies to encourage private sector investments. As early as 1940, he, alongside the Hindu industrialists, had developed the Bombay Plan, which spelt out a mechanism for private-state partnerships.

History moved at lightning speed between 1940 and 1947, leaving Muslim League leaders very little time to spend on creating the economic, financial and social structures/policies Pakistan would eventually need. In a speech, the Quaid had called Pakistan’s founding an “unprecedented cyclonic revolution”. Clearly, the preparation needed was just not there. This, ultimately, became the real cause of the economic disparity between Pakistan and India today.

It is apparent that while our Quaid was focused on carving a Pakistan for us, his colleagues could not keep up with the task of foreseeing and planning a workable economic model for the new country, especially when its creation was imminent. This is said more in sadness than as an accusation — the followers ultimately failed their leader, both politically and economically.

The need today is to revive the spirit of the 1940s so that the Quaid’s dream of a welfare state can be realised. To get there, we must find out own Deng Xiaopeng, Lee Kuan Yew or at least a Mahatir Muhammad. The youth of Pakistan must lead the way.

The writer is a senior banker and freelance contributor

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