KARACHI: Recently, Raja Pervez Ashraf, minister for power and perennial promises (PPP), admonished the heat-scorched Pakistanis to show some patience!
He mocked their ridiculous desire for a little power in their lives by saying that if demonstrations and processions could generate energy he would be marching at the head. Two plus years since the dawn of the new government, hapless and power-less people of the country are still waiting for the promised day to arrive it was supposed to happen on December 31, 2009. We are still waiting anxiously.
The Raja’s sarcastic remarks are not unlike the royal advice to eat cake if there is no bread, or the former finance minister’s wisdom that people should use invisible public transport instead of private vehicles to curtail the use of petrol! The government raised the cost of transport to persuade people to relinquish private vehicles.
This understandably led to protests by students in Islamabad who could barely afford the previous prices. Incensed by the audacity of the people to protest, the government rained down baton blows and tear gassed them for daring to speak up for their rights. Predictably, the protestors against the disappearance of electricity were batoncharged by the police, who were faithfully performing their only duty in Pakistan beating people to a pulp if they dare raise their voices for the provision of the most basic facilities.
From Lahore to Hyderabad people are up in arms against a state unwilling to keep up its end of the bargain. The daily wagers are the worst hit, as are tailors, plumbers, electricians and carpenters who earn their keep on a daily basis through electricity.
With inflation hitting new heights, the rulers appear oblivious, asleep rather, in their comfortably air-conditioned rooms enjoying an uninterrupted supply of electricity paid for by the poor from whose lives it has vanished. The palaces of the president, prime minister, chief ministers and governors remain perpetually lit up with thousands of bulbs paid for by the poor taxpayer.
The government insists on retaining the army of 95 ministers, half of whom have no portfolios or any work to do. Their salaries and perks, amounting to around Rs 6b annually, are paid for by those who are taxed in more ways than one and pay their bills regularly. The MNAs, the people’s representatives, who seem to forget their existence once in the assemblies, enjoy a hefty dose of perks and privileges.
Many citizens may not even know what is about to hit them in the form of the value added tax and raise in non-available electricity prices once the IMF conditionality is met by a profligate government that adamantly refuses to curtail its own lavish expenditures to create fiscal space for development or anything else.
The relation between the citizen and the state seems to have been completely reversed. The contractarian state was conceived as a collective will of the people that would ensure their rights and protection in return for the surrender of some powers which would be exercised by the government in the name of the people.
Instead of the government existing for the people, it is the latter who exist in order to toil so that the rich and powerful, both civil and military, may live in peace and royal comfort. These ‘wretched of the earth’ are to move aside to make way as the motorcade of the rulers whizzes by, another luxury provided by the people through their taxes.
Perhaps, the unseemly presence of these citizens (or cattle as the government may prefer to believe) should be removed altogether; as the Marxist dramatist Bertolt Brecht once wrote sarcastically, "wouldn't it be simpler for the government to dissolve the people and elect another?" The government may just go for this option.
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