As per the promises made to the IMF, the Nawaz government has started extracting the many pounds of flesh needed to satisfy its creditor. So we’ll pay more for electricity and petrol, pay more GST for a list of commodities and our family silver is to be auctioned. What happened to the brilliant economic management that we were promised? Do people figure anywhere in the scheme of things or is it all about numbers?

While it is for the economists to use their theories, jargon and assessments to justify or trash the government steps, some things are obvious. It is clear, for instance, that our elected government has no control over our economic policy. The brilliant brains and economic wizards that the PML-N had all along boasted about while in opposition, are little more than clerks to the IMF, dutifully implementing its commands. Their ‘negotiations’ with the Fund do not involve any discussion on the policies prescribed by it but hover around how much time and money they need to do as their boss tells them.

It is also obvious that those who need the government the most, the less privileged segments of our society, figure nowhere on the government’s radar. They are expected to swallow the bitter-most pills. The popular rhetoric about the back-breaking inflation and how it is making it impossible for the ‘common man’ to make ends meet was just that-- rhetoric. Clearly, the emotional speeches delivered by the PML-N leaders and the protests staged by the party when it was in opposition were only meant to discredit the previous government, and the anger and the gusto on display did not reflect the party’s desire to do something about the disastrous trend.

Had the party been serious about turning things around for the ‘common man’, it would have done some homework during all the time it had while in opposition, especially since it was confident about forming the next government. The formulation of a comprehensive economic strategy aimed at rehabilitating the economy without hurting the ‘common man’ too much and without relying on IMF loans should have been the PML-N’s top priority, especially since it was shouting from the rooftops about breaking the begging bowl and crying tears of blood for the ‘common man’.

The PML-N had also projected its previous stints in government as an indicator of its strength and ability to manage the affairs of the state. And of course, it did not tire of boasting about its economic team, brilliant wizards and all. The pastures we were shown were very green. But once in government, it seems the party has no use for the genius of the party’s economic planners, the experience of running the government, the loud compassion for the ‘common man’ and the equally loud promises of breaking the begging bowl. All of this has been thrown in the gutter for getting an IMF loan.

We are being told once again that we must swallow an assortment of bitter pills, that all this is for the better and one day we will taste the fruits of these unpopular measures. The problem is that the fruits keep dangling somewhere in the future while one bitter pill after another is shoved down our throats. Many ‘common men and women’ have been driven to suicide or crime due to these bitter pills and many more have been brought to a point where one more pill would push them over the edge. Can we ask them to find comfort in the fruits that they’d taste one day?

The other day I started talking to three young men collecting garbage from my colony. They were the perfect example of the ‘common man’ our leaders keep talking about. They told me that they report to work at 6 am and finish around 6 pm. They have to push a rickety cart that takes double the effort to move because it has not been repaired for years despite many requests to the administration of the colony. They sort out the garbage without gloves. And how much do they get for their labour? What they told me made me wish I’d not started talking to them because it sits heavy on my chest even now, days after our brief conversation.

For twelve hours of labour, six days a week, they take home Rs 4,000 every month. If you think that is bad, consider this. Their salary has not been raised for six or seven years when it increased from Rs 3,500 to Rs Rs 4,000. These are the ‘common men’ who must swallow the bitter pills, who must not lose the nerve and keep dreaming of the fruits dangling somewhere in the future. But how long must they, and millions of other ‘common men’ like them, wait? How many pills will they be able to swallow before they snap, commit a crime or suicide?

Our leaders and their creditors live in a bubble of numbers that is not meant to be pierced by the ‘common man’. The ‘common men and women’ sneak in unnoticed to clean their homes and cook for them, grow food for them in farms and work in their factories, drive them around and attend their jalsas. And when some alms are thrown their way, whether through the Benazir Income Support Program or in the form of a laptop or moped, they are supposed to double over with gratitude.

The ‘common men and women’ are supposed to get all excited about the infrastructure development and the boon that it will bring, a boon that is endlessly around the corner. They must be patient and cut corners from their moth-eaten budgets while all the wonderful plans devised by those in charge of their destinies mature. They must wait while our leaders create the surplus to give them some relief.

These ‘common men and women’ are in the speeches of our leaders but not on their minds. For if they were, our leaders would think twice before asking them to swallow another bitter pill-- even a small one.

The writer is a freelance columnist.