Recovering the national self

Historic decision by PM Imran Khan to use state houses for other purposes.

Rasul Bakhsh Rais October 03, 2018
Historic decision by PM Imran Khan to use state houses for other purposes. Pictured here is the Punjab governor house. PHOTO: FILE.

Territorial freedom that many of the former colonies like Pakistan have achieved requires more than reclaiming territorial sovereignty. It requires decolonisation in every aspect of culture, values, and social institutions. There are two equally important areas of recovering the true national self, that is, coming out of the cultural inferiority complex—and changing the style of governance. My focus for now is on the style of governance, hence leaving other subjects for some other time.

K-P governor house opens its doors

There are, and have been, two very distinctive styles of governance, the colonial and the post-colonial. The latter is about reforming and restructuring governance in public interest, for the good of society and for nation. This has to be free from extraction of national resources for either private ends or for foreign interests. Then comes bringing governance closer to people, solving their problems, and more importantly the government acting as trustees of the public goods and public funds. The colonial style of governance, endless stories of corruption of our rulers—the bureaucratic class of all hues and the political elites—have been worse than the British colonial rule.

Not only have they maintained the colonial palaces, like the governor’s houses, the palatial residences for civil servants, but have added a lot more to the colonial grandeur and opulence. Just think of the Prime Minister House in Islamabad, the Governor’s House in Murree and hundreds of many other such places around the country. This is not the way to express national pride, assert dignity or show to the world that we are now an ‘independent’ nation.

Actually, when visiting dignitaries, diplomats and foreign scholars see the life style of the ruling classes, they are quick to assert that it is not a developing, poor country with millions living in poverty. Same is true about the rich, upper layer of society that takes pride in entertaining foreigners in their homes and showing off their riches: instead of ‘impressing the guests, they end up creating an impression of inequality, exploitation, and dominance of a narrow band of power families over the economy, state institutions and politics.

PM House to host higher learning institute

The true liberation lies in ending the endless privilege of the privileged. It is truly a historic decision by Imran Khan to convert the state houses into other uses. The big question is what uses will be appropriate? Witnessing thousands of people lining up to enter the Punjab Governor’s House on Sunday, I felt the public aspiration in claiming back the national heritage. Yes, whatever good or bad the colonial powers have left, it constitutes part of our collective, national heritage that needs to be put to public use. Converting them into public parks, museums and centres of entertainment and public activities will be the best use.

Being an educationist myself, I oppose any idea of altering architecture, buildings and green open space for establishing universities. Universities are purpose-built, require much large space as they grow over time. It was a bad idea to house Women University in the Presidency in Rawalpindi. Populism and politics of emotions like this decision can only destroy the national heritage.

More caution is needed when recovering the public spaces, in order to avoid driving this spirit too far. For sure, all the Governor’s Houses must be changed into public parks and museums. However, the idea of using land and building of the Prime Minister House for establishing an institution of learning and research sounds too radical, unnecessary, and would rather end up being costly at the end, if done so.

Lastly, it will be a myopic view to confine ‘change’ to few building: It must include governance, justice, rule of law, and performance of state institutions.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 3rd, 2018.

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