Nov 22, 2010

Politics of the common man

Ours is a case of lack of focus on the right issues

By Salman Abid

The poor and marginalised sections of society face discrimination in one form or the other. Understandably then, people belonging to marginalised groups are more vulnerable to disparities in the country.

According to statistics posted on the Australian government website’s Pakistan section, almost one third of Pakistan’s 170 million people live below the poverty line and more than 60 percent live on less than 2 dollars per day. National health and education systems in Pakistan are under-resourced. Public health expenditure is around 4 dollars per person per year.

Statistics on the website say, only "1.8 percent of GDP is invested in education, compared to a global weighted average of 4.9 percent. Progress towards the achievement of education and health-related Millennium Development Goals has, as a result, been slow. Social indicators are poor, even by comparison with other countries in South Asia. Women and girls are particularly disadvantaged. Infant mortality rates remain amongst the highest in the region. One in ten children dies before age five."

It is unfortunate that our concentration is on the development of main cities as compared to others districts. A majority of the common people do not have basic infrastructure, especially education, health, water, sanitation, food, security, and justice.

The state is responsible to provide basic fundamental rights and facilities but has totally failed to fulfill expectations of the poor people, especially women, children, minorities, and labourers. Actually, the role of the state has been minimized due to increasing privatisation in the country and thus fails to provide basic facilities to the common man. Due to bad governance; state and government policies, people are being compelled to become marginalized and the number is increasing.

We should admit open-heartedly that the state, government, and political intelligentsia have failed to invest in the poor people for their welfare. We are spending more money on non development expenditure as compared to development expenditure. If the state and government face any challenge or disaster then ultimately the development funds are cut down in the name of national interest. People are more frustrated when they see the ruling elite’s social life and their living standards. This is in sharp contrast to the common people.

Our political parties and their leaders are very good at claiming they cater to larger public interest issues. But results are totally different, ignoring the poor peoples’ agenda at large. Unfortunately, we did not develop issues-based politics in the country emphasizing more on non issues in agenda. Political parties’ manifestoes and their commitment towards poor people are not implemented when the parties come in powers. This is because political parties are not accountable to the masses about their own performances.

Perhaps they believe in the conspiracy theory that political power is acquired through the establishment and not from people’s vote. That is why people do not feel strongly associated with their representatives. The question is why the poor and marginalized people have failed to strengthen their own role within the available political framework in the country?

The overall development paradigm focuses on some specific groups and individuals already getting more benefits from different actions. People are still dependent on the ruling elite, and power-based groups like feudal, industrialist and a strong bureaucracy. People have more expectations from political parties and their leaders about good governance and transparent and accountable system in the country.

People also have expectations from institutions for getting some services. Our state, governments and their civil leadership lay more stress on unimportant issues than on common people’s problems. This results from an absence of prioritisation of issues by the institutions.

We have some good laws and policies for the common man but we do not implement them and people feel abandoned. This attitude of the government makes people feel further isolated from the political process. Politics in rural areas is also questionable. Most of the basic health units are not functioning and the basic support structures are not there. Poor people are more vulnerable in society due to the ruling elite’s policies.

One major reason for this political chaos is lack of accountability of government’s policies for the common people. Then there is also lack of participation by the common man in the decision-making process. If the common man is organised, he can challenge injustice. Sadly, most of the time media is also part of the power-based political dynamics and reflects their interest in the name of poor people.

The ruling elite should realise the seriousness of this issue and also avoid political slogans because at this point people need actions and not just commitments. Some of our prominent leaders have raised the issue of disparity among the common people and have publicly warned the government that if it fails to perform its duty a revolt is eminent. But, unfortunately, these leaders have major contradictions and do not come up to people’s expectations.

We should admit that non state actors — militants and extremists — have consolidated their position due to the government’s poor policies. This is perhaps the last chance for our ruling elite to mend their ways and restructure their politics in line with the people’s expectations.

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