Clive had convinced himself that the Company’s trade in Bengal could only be truly safe when Siraj had been dethroned and replaced by a puppet….Clive was abetted by two colleagues….men of quick wit and elastic conscience who acted as emissaries ….Siraj grudgingly agreed to make peace in February…. he was glad to hear that the Company were now his friend and would come to his rescue…..Siraj had been gulled.

 

Lawrence James, Raj: The Making

and Unmaking of British India

 

Such is the nature of politics built on economic exploitation. The political system inherited by Pakistan is an offshoot of the exploitative colonial system. Though the British have long gone and atoned, their legacy planted in men of ‘flexible conscience’ continues to ail Pakistan. Worst hit are over 70% Pakistanis. Riding the slogan of change and egalitarianism, this is a God sent opportunity for the present government to close doors of exploitation forever. 

History is a magnificent teacher if its lessons are read objectively and heeded fervently by the posterity. If not, it keeps avenging itself in cycles. Ignoring history is not bred by incompetence or ignorance. In modern times, history is deliberately ignored and mutilated to protect elites and their interests. Since the evolution of modern democracy, the working classes have faced discrimination and exploitation world over. In the third world, they remain the most oppressed and discriminated. 

Modern democracy was first practiced by Caesar. Daring as it was, it was overshadowed by a group of vested interests murdering him. Democracy evolved and grew after the renaissance on slogans of ‘liberté, égalité, fraternité’.  It continued to be checkmated by vested interests that never wanted to lose the grip on governance. Consequently governance models continued to be exploitative at the cost of serfs, farmers and labour. 

A capitalist and liberal system by its nature is exploitative. It cannot survive if it does not draw a line between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’. But the communist system was far worse as it created glass houses. In the West, Scandinavian countries, Britain, Germany and France have evolved effective systems to cater for farmers, labour and small businesses. Today they reflect the best system that benefits and empowers working classes. In USA, the system still remains exploitative, controlled by corporates and large financial houses with deep tentacles spread internationally. A big part of third world is influenced and impoverished through socio-economic juggernauts. Agriculture in Northern India is a case in point.       

Czars of Russia were amongst the first who made repeated but failed attempts to liberate the serfs and poor masses through experimentations. Yet notions of such liberation ultimately became their undoing. The methods adopted to introduce these reforms were always vulnerable to intrigues of elites. Failure led to repeated anarchies. The Bolshevik regime after dismantling the complete apparatus went on to do the same in another way. The disfranchised majority was only fodder. 

Pakistan can be duly proud of the struggles of its working classes. Blessed with rivers, abundant rainfall, basins fed by glaciers and every conceivable season, it has the potential to be a breadbasket for the region. It has a rich resource of minerals and hydrocarbons. It has the richest history of law making outside Europe. But this is where it ends. The state intertwined within tentacles of elites has failed to provide succour in interests of its masses. These are the men of elastic conscience. 

In South Asia, there were two turning points to liberate the people from the grip of exploitation. Land reforms in East Pakistan were enforced by Fazl e Haq even before independence. In Pakistan, he became a threat to elites and was systematically sidelined. The awareness that he created amongst the working classes galvanized them into very strong political groups. 

Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto picked most of his ideas and introduced land reforms in 1972. He also strengthened labour and trade unions. Being used as tools for political motives, these became disruptive and destructive. 

By 1973, Bhutto was already deviating from his slogan of ‘roti, kapra aur makan’ and falling back to elites he had marginalised. Islamic Socialism soon gave way to a united Muslim block. Elites with religious right were back in business. As a parting shot, Bhutto introduced progressive tax on agriculture that soon became a dud. Thereafter, though the common man has remained the major subject of political canvassing, his presence is seen nowhere in political elites or governance. He has been exploited but never empowered. 

Besides European countries mentioned above, Pakistan is the most legislated country on trade and labour unions, working classes and tillers.  All political parties are required to have their representations in intra party structures and parliamentary representation. Local bodies have their representation at all levels. Despite existing laws, the country has persistently failed to devise an enabling system. This is evident from absence of housings for farmers, a nonfunctional local body system, absence of farmer markets and exploitation of their produce by middlemen and upstream agriculture industry.  

Over time, despite legislations, it has gone worse. The parliamentary system with overlap of legislative and executive powers facilitates elites to subvert ‘rule of law’ and creates bypasses to disempower the workmen. The most damaging during the 70s was the rapid ‘coalescing for a common cause’ between the feudal and industrial elites. This created a ‘corporate complex’ that ‘fends for itself’ while it exploits farmers, labour and workmen. 

This corporate complex has now assumed major controls over Pakistan’s economy. The feudal parliamentary system facilitates them to tighten the noose. Too keep their hold, they buy cheap raw materials, enforce crop patterns and run the mid and upstream agriculture industry that gives no benefit to the working classes. As a result they have retarded agriculture growth while their cartels control the entire consumer cycles from eggs to poultry, livestock, sugar, fertilizer, pesticides and the list goes on. The system is growth unfriendly and in no way boosts exports. 

For long time agriculture and textiles were considered the backbone of Pakistan. With closure of growth led industry, its contribution is receding. Even farmers in South Punjab whose major earning were once cotton and wheat are now helpless before the sugar industry. Precious agriculture water and land is being sacrificed for a monopoly that is highly subsidised.  

Perhaps the worst hit by such exploitation are the farming classes that own over 70% of Pakistan’s agriculture land with holdings less than 12.5 acres. Too small to make their presence felt, they are constantly exploited by bigger farmers, middlemen, fertilizer and pesticide cartels and the irrigation department. 

Tragically, in Pakistan’s history, not a single housing system has been provided to them. They are exploited by a ‘Kotha System’ that makes them untouchable and sustains poverty. The system cuts across the moral fibre whose nature is becoming more visible due to the high cell phone density. 

But Pakistan’s true potential must not be overlooked. Some of the way points to this revival could be: -

•      Liberate the poor masses through policies that benefits grass roots through a representative and effective local self-government.

•      Evolve a cooperative farm management system that cuts out middlemen, modernises agriculture and insulates against upstream agricultural industry. 

•      As part of Prime Minister’s housing initiative, develop new village complexes on modern lines. 

•      To obviate inside trading and mal practices, treat all businessmen running farms and related upstream industries as one business entity. 

•      Revive trade, labour and farmer unions. 

 

The writer is a political economist and a

television anchor person

 samson.sharaf@gmail.com