The forgotten articles of the Constitution

The truth is that 50 years on, socio-economic and political monopolies have captured Pakistan’s state

Sarwar Bari July 27, 2021

The architects of the 1973 Constitution seemingly valued social justice and abhorred exploitation of humans so much that they placed this clause right at the top of the sacred document and passed it unanimously. Today, it appears that it was not an outcome of any humane conviction. Rather, it was incorporated in the manifestoes of political parties merely to translate rising discontent of the labour, peasants and students against feudal and capitalist exploitation and oppression during the late 60s, into victory which ultimately helped the so-called secular and socialist parties to win the 1970 general elections. It is worth reminding that socialism and end of the feudal system was the common point of the manifestoes of PPP, National Awami Party (NAP) and Awami League. The next generation of political leaders not only conveniently forgot their forefathers’ promises but also destroyed and corrupted the forces that could have demanded the implementation of pro-people and progressive articles of the Constitution.

Consider Article 3. “The State shall eliminate all forms of exploitation and the gradual fulfillment of the fundamental principle, from each according to his ability to each according to his work.” Article 38 elaborates that the “State shall secure the well-being of the people… by preventing the concentration of wealth and means of production and distribution in the hands of a few.” It further states in 38(e) the “State shall reduce disparity in the income and earnings of individuals.” Article 37 promises “end of illiteracy, just and humane conditions of work.” While Article 32 and Article 140(a) guarantee establishment of local government and reserve quota to women, peasants, workers and minorities.

Half a century on, forms and degree of exploitation have become cruder and starker and suppression of the above-mentioned articles continues with impunity. The corrupt, greedy and self-serving elites shamelessly hide their wrongdoings behind noble slogans such as democracy, supremacy of parliament, independent judiciary and freedom of media.

The truth is that 50 years on, socio-economic and political monopolies have captured Pakistan’s state.

For instance, according to a recent study by Dr Nadeemul Haq and Amin Husain, “Thirty-one families dominate the financial markets (KSE-100) as well as boards of corporations.” The study finds “representatives from the corporate sector, the business community, retired civilian and military officers” in the list. The authors also find “haphazard privatisation and relatively lax multinational regulations” responsible for creating such a dire situation.

One of the best ways of hiding the truth is either denying its presence or giving it a different name. The other day, Ms Nafisa Shah was found arguing in a TV talk show that there were no more feudal lords in the country. When one hears such denials from a highly educated and ‘enlightened’ person, one is convinced of how vested interests could blind people of stark realities. Facts are facts. According to 2010 Agriculture Census “in Sindh and Balochistan, the share of large landlords is highest among all four provinces”. Today, in 2021, the feudal control in Sindh has become uglier.

A few years ago, a newspaper reported, “Disparities between rich landlords and poor peasants in terms of wealth, rents from land, capacity to grow cash crops and ability to obtain education remains stark.” It further observes, “Land ownership is highly concentrated and feudal lords are obstructing any meaningful reforms towards fairer distribution of land. What is there is a perpetual deprivation of the majority and a huge income inequality.”

Another study reveals similar findings: “The land distribution is highly inequitable and skewed in favour of large landlords. Currently, about 50% of rural populations own no land, while top 5% own over a third of all cultivated area. It recommends redistribution land to minimise the inequality and poverty. As large landlords gained more political power due to capture of more constituencies and seats in assemblies, poverty and marginalisation deepened. No wonder, according to many studies rural poverty is as high as 40%, which is highly responsible for political disempowerment, backwardness and illiteracy.”

The Pakistan National Human Development Report of 2020 clearly explains how inequalities have created two different Pakistans. The UNDP report observes this. “In many ways, structural inequity in Pakistan is both exacerbated and reinforced by powerful groups, whose aim is to accumulate wealth, power, and privileges at the expense of others. This driver of inequality reflects the alignment of powerful forces. It intends to persist, and grow, unless fundamental changes are made in power structures and a radical transformation takes place in political ideology towards a more egalitarian system.”

The report also notes, “The corporate sector is the beneficiary of the greatest privileges, including both industry and the banking sector. The feudal class is next, followed by high net worth individuals. In 2017-18, most powerful groups enjoyed equivalent to 7% of the country’s GDP.”

So, what is to be done? Article 29(3) of our Constitution provides a remedy. Under this, the president and provincial governors are bound to ask their respective governments to prepare and submit progress reports on Principles of Policy.

Since 1973, the reports were submitted and discussed only thrice (once in parliament, Sindh and K-P). Moreover, it is imperative to note here that political party manifestoes, and reports by UNDP, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, bilateral donors and NGOs most likely and conveniently ignore mentioning these articles. Labour leaders, human rights defenders and op-ed writers too appear to have forgotten these articles.

The highly privileged elites have very successfully divided the masses on the lines of ethnicity, caste, sect and religion. Most TV talk shows only talk with or about politicians and the civil-military divide. Hardly any anchor holds debate between haves and have-nots. There must be some mischief behind this neglect. The national discourse must talk about the rising exploitation, monopolies and deprivations of toiling masses. This will happen only when the marginalised and disempowered get organised, reject the exploitative structures, and claim their space.

Since the Constitution doesn’t allow higher judiciary to intervene in the matters of ‘Principles of Policy’, citizens can ask the president and provincial governors under Article 29(3) to order their respective governments to submit progress reports on the ‘Principles of Policy’. It seems imperative the civil society makes these articles the foundation of Pakistan’s national discourse. In this regard, recently more than 200 marginalised associations, trade unions, CBAs, community-based organisations, social groups and NGOs have formed Coalition 38, which is aiming to make ‘Principles of Policy’ and Article 3 as a driver of social change in the country. Through this platform, they could help reverse the process of two different Pakistans. The war that is being waged by the elites against the citizens for decades must be fought through wiser and democratic means. The first step of this path is to make the unknown known.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 27th, 2021.

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