I am a keen reader of Shahid Javed Burki’s op-ed articles as his analyses are often pertinent and make good sense. However, in one of his articles, published in this newspaper titled, “Why is democracy not delivering for Pakistan?” (June 25), he draws a variety of unconnected conclusions. On the one hand, he argues democracy has not only failed to deliver but also income distribution has worsened since 2008. In the article, he also observes that “despite all the failure, there is no rebellion in the country” and finally at the end of his article, he advises that people should wait instead of revolting against the system. In his words, it would be “much worse”.
Indian Noble Laureate economist Amartya Sen wrote an interesting article last year entitled “Quality of Life: India vs. China”. In this article, he compares India’s social sector development with China in the context of GDP growth rate of the two countries, which is almost similar. He argues that economic growth in itself is meaningless if it is not transformed into the well-being of the citizens. It will be worth stating some of the comparative data from his article: life expectancy at birth in China is 73.5 years; in India it is 64.4 years. The infant mortality rate is 50 per thousand in India, compared with just 17 in China; the mortality rate for children under five is 66 per thousand for Indians and only 19 for the Chinese; and the maternal mortality rate is 230 per 100,000 live births in India and only 38 in China. The mean years of schooling in India were estimated to be 4.4 years, compared with 7.5 years in China. China’s adult literacy rate is 94 per cent, compared with India’s 74 per cent, according to the preliminary tables of the 2011 census. This difference is an outcome of differential priorities as pursued by the Indian and Chinese leaderships. Just look at this: the Chinese and Indian governments spend nearly two per cent and one per cent of GDP on health respectively.
Sen also courageously compares Bangladesh’s social sector achievements with India’s; in this regard, even Bangladesh is ahead of India. Moreover, the population living below the poverty line in India was 25 per cent, while in China it was just 2.8 per cent in 2007. This difference between China and India; and Bangladesh and India in Sen’s opinion is due to “strong commitment of leadership to eliminating poverty, undernourishment, illiteracy and lack of health care”. It’s really an amazing conclusion. Sen, in this article though, praises democratic space and institutions as well as the people’s participation in political processes. He seems to be reluctant to acknowledge the impact of this on the Indian leadership. In other words, it means the ruling elite appears to be insulated from the poor conditions of the toiling masses. It could also be concluded that civil society and the free media has been failing in making the ruling elites accountable. Now the question arises: what makes the Chinese leadership ‘strongly committed’ to the well-being of the public without a free media, civil society and political parties? Space constraint forces me to examine this aspect here but scholars and policymakers need to investigate it thoroughly.
Coming back to Burki’s analysis, democracy is not delivering in India either despite it being a vibrant democracy, having functional institutions and a nine per cent GDP growth rate with an enormous revenue. It has failed to achieve in 65 years what China has gained in 20 years. This failure is manifested in the form of rebellion in India, where Maoists now control about 20 per cent of the area. The case of Pakistan is not different. It is rather more serious as the Pakistani state has abdicated its writ, willingly, in favour of its darling elites. Just look at Karachi, upper Sindh and Fata, where secular fascists, feudal sardars and religious extremists respectively have captured space. Swat was liberated only recently. On the political scene, the political leadership of today, including Imran Khan, are heavily dependent on local dynasties. This was not the case during 1970-77. Thus, there is no hope even for the middle classes to take part in politics.
Moreover, in the recent case of the Kohistani women, despite repeated orders of the Supreme Court, the provincial government failed to produce these women in court. The usual excuse was: the government did not want to annoy local mullahs and tribal elders, but was ready to relinquish its writ. The elite imposed its will without going into a rebellion, while the masses protest on the streets. Such protests could turn into a rebellion. Look at the Arab Spring. There are many lessons for us. Some rebellions, including the Arab Spring, were an outcome of a prolonged humiliation and not because of low social indicators or poverty per se. Most Pakistanis feel they are being humiliated on a daily basis. No one is spared here. Women by men, workers by employers, peasants by landlords, youngsters by elders, non-Muslims by Muslims, voters by representatives, representatives by the military generals and Pakistan by the US government. The most humiliated are those who own nothing — the asset-less. They have nothing to lose. Expressing rage empowers them deeply. They know that an elitist representative democracy has failed to deliver electricity, social services and has deepened inequalities and openly humiliated the public. They want to replace it with a true participatory system. If they fail to achieve it through the ballot, they may opt for bullet, civil disobedience, rebellion or revolution. Though some oppressive and corrupt rulers are trying to hijack the slogan of revolution in Punjab, I am not arguing for rebellion. However, I am not willing to deny the right to rebel if one’s dignity is attacked repeatedly and his rights are denied. The elite democracy is failing to deliver in India and Pakistan. It gives little hope at best. The best way forward is to reform the system radically and comprehensively. For a large majority, stability means continuation of loot, plunder and humiliation. This will lead to rebellion and it will be worse for the elite.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 4th, 2012.
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