Democracy has its vices and virtues. One of its greatest vice is its susceptiblity to demagoguery, a craft employed by men to tap into fears, hopes and emotions of others to win votes, as Greek dramatist Aristophanes said, “ [demagogues] are like the fishers for eels; in still waters they catch nothing, but if they thoroughly stir up the slime, their fishing is good.”

Every kind of democracy has some element of demagoguery in it, but in some political systems, such as ours, it is far more prevalent. In such polities, slogans are raised and votes are cast on the basis of short term electoral interests, rather than what is good and durable. That is why, sixty six years after independence, we are still struggling for the basics, as our politics have been about power, whether it is obtained by a gun or misleading electorate.

If PPP made a name in corruption than PML-N excels at demagoguery. It’s leadership knows the psychology of masses and are master manipulators. It has never worked on the fundamentals but always on cosmetics. During their twenty years or so rule, Sharifs have introduced one scheme after another, with no economic rationale. From yellow cabs to the sasti roti, PML-N conceived schemes that were short sighted, wasted tax payers’ and borrowed money, bringing little or no gains other than obtaining an electoral advantage.

A signature of PML-N’s demagoguery is its yellow cab scheme. It appears that for Mian Nawaz Sharif, the best way to employ educated youth is to make them taxi drivers. During his first tenure as Prime Minister, billions were spent on the import of thousands of Daewoo and Hyundai yellow cabs, that eventually ended up in private use, causing billions in loses to banks.

The same is the case with the taxi scheme launched by Punjab government for which 4.5 billion was earmarked. According to news reports, the real beneficiaries of this scheme are the political workers of PML-N, students of MSF and the car manufacturer that received the production order of 20,000 vehicles.

Another project that was conceived for political motives was “Sasti roti” scheme. It was financed by 7.85 billion, mostly borrowed from the banks, to provide subsidized flour to 14,500 tandoors in Punjab, many of which were located in posh localities. Because of bad economics, this scheme was opposed by many officials, some of them even got into trouble for questioning its utility, including two provincial secretaries, one commissioner and three DCOs.

Sasti roti was finally scrapped owing to food department’s failure to service debt accrued from commercial banks, causing substantial losses to tandoors that have upgraded their facilities.

Then came the laptop bonanza for the Punjabi youth. A scheme launched against the backdrop of surging popularity of PTI amongst youth. To lure this significant segment of electorate from PTI’s banner, PML-N deceided to distribute nearly 100,000 laptops at the expense of Rs 4 billion.

Immediately after distribution, many of these machines ended up in markets, where they were sold at discounted price. These laptops suppose to bring IT revolution in a country that is haunted by illiteracy, disinvestment and lack of electricity - a commodity required by even laptops to function.

In education sector, another showcase project initiated by PML-N is the establishment of Danish schools. According to some experts, Punjab government spent 3 billion on Danish schools that was enough to upgrade 660 schools across the province.

In Danish schools, government is sponsoring each child at the expense of 16000 per month, whereas 21 percent of students in Punjab don’t have access to basic facilities at schools such as toilets, and 30 percent children in south Punjab are out of school because of poverty. It is hard to comprehend the sense of spending billions on few mega schools, when general education system is decrepit.

Imitating the Benazir Income support program, Punjab government has now announced it’s own Rs 6 billion income support program, which will offer Rs 1000 per month to 1.3 million families. When government is withdrawing subsidies from essentials such as electricity, gas and fuel, it is wasting money on income support programmes. Instead of fighting inflation and fixing economy so that per capita income rises, PML-N is taking away subsidies from one sector and giving it to another.

Last but not the least is the youth loan program launched by Mian Nawaz Sharif. The scheme makes sense, since many entrepreneurs face difficulty in raising financial capital for their ventures. Despite numerous revisions, the requirements for the loan are still stringent. It would have been wise, if government offered smaller loans with easy conditions.

Demagogues win votes by playing on electorate’s emotions. When they launch showcase projects such as sasti roti or yellow cabs, and voters vote for them, reinforcing the demagoguery. In this way, demagogues indulge in more profligacy, jeopardizing the economy and eventually the public feels the squeeze. To discourage demagogues, and to change the current state of affairs, we have to vote conscientiously and with responsibility.

 The writer is a freelance columnist and has worked as a broadcast journalist.

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