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How revolutions happen —Mohammad Jamil

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When feudal culture and outlook pervade all strata of society, when politicians consider their parties as personal fiefdoms and the state apparatus falls victim to the personal whims of the ruling elite, the people start pinning hopes on anyone who promises to emancipate them

Pakistan has been endowed with enormous resources and, given a visionary leadership, it could have been one of the most developed countries in the world. But today, due to the ineptness, profligacy and corruption of our leaders, more than 40 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. One can listen to their shrieks of despondency, frustration and disappointment at joblessness, inflation and lawlessness, whereas the ruling elite continues with its power games. Recently, the incidence of suicides has increased due to abject poverty and hunger, which is a sad reflection on the part of our leaders — both ruling and opposition. In fact, all the governments in the past have shown insouciance to the woes and problems faced by the people, with the result that today Pakistan’s social sector indicators, i.e. education and health, are worse when compared to even other countries in the region. Our ruling elite does not realise that small islands of opulence will be washed away in the vast ocean of poverty.

The situation is so alarming that even an optimist like Abdul Sattar Edhi — a legend in the field of social service — has warned that a bloody revolution is around the corner because of socio-economic injustice in society. On Tuesday, while addressing party workers, Mian Nawaz Sharif said that a soft revolution could solve the country’s problems. He, however, should bear in mind that when a revolutionary movement starts, it takes its own course. The big question is who will lead the revolution when all the political parties in Pakistan stand for the status quo? Historical evidence suggests that whenever an effort was made to bring about a basic change in the system of any country, the ruling elite resisted vociferously, and, more often than not, they had to meet the wrath of the people. If one cares to glance through the comparative study of revolutions, one will reach the conclusion that an ideological party with dedicated leaders and cadres could bring about a successful revolution. Without this combination, there was anarchy, bloodshed and destruction.

Nevertheless, some similarities with the prevailing circumstances exist wherever revolutions occurred. At the time of the French Revolution in 1789, France practised feudalism, and the nobles and clergy enjoyed special privileges and were not obliged to pay taxes. France’s economy was in dire straits, and it was difficult for the majority of the people to keep body and soul together. The ideas and writings of Enlightenment thinkers like Montesquieu, Voltaire, and Rousseau had inspired the people of France to go against their king. The hungry Parisians, who suffered from a bad harvest, attacked the Bastille prison for political prisoners. The fall of the Bastille started the French Revolution and spread to other parts of France. In 1789, the French Revolution overthrew the monarchy and absolutism. Of course, Napoleon learned a lot from the revolution: the Napoleonic Code was established under Napoleon I in 1804, which did not allow privileges based on birth, ensured social welfare of the people, allowed freedom of religion and stood for giving government jobs on merit.

In 1776, more than a decade before the French Revolution, there was an American Revolution — a change from the condition of British colonies to national independence, declared by the 13 states of the American Union — which had profound influence over the French. The second para of the declaration of independence started with these words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” These words had a profound influence on the French and people throughout the world at large. In 1917, the world witnessed the October Revolution under the leadership of the Communist Party, which replaced the monarchy and the economic system in Russia. Scared of the revolution in Russia, European countries introduced reforms in their societies by adopting a reasonable wage structure and providing social security to the workers. By pursuing pro-labour and pro-people policies, they were able to create a balance in their societies and avert bloody revolutions.

In a society imbued with democratic traditions and values, and where social justice prevails, nobody entertains ideas of having an autocratic or military set-up. But when a feudal culture and outlook pervades all strata of society, when politicians consider their parties as personal fiefdoms and the state apparatus falls victim to the personal whims of the ruling elite, the people start pinning hopes on anyone who promises to emancipate them from their economic misery and want. It has to be mentioned that in Pakistan, elected leaders and military dictators disappointed the people in equal measure. After the February 18, 2008 elections, the people of Pakistan had hoped that the PPP and the PML-N would leave the past behind and focus on the welfare of the people, but that did not happen. Recent demonstrations against the price hike and electricity outages indicate the mood of the people, which is indeed furious.

The way out is to take extraordinary measures to deal with the extraordinary situation. Our leaders are asking the US and other countries to invest in Pakistan. But with the present law and order situation, and electricity and gas tariff, who in his right mind will invest? There is a perception that Pakistanis living abroad and foreigners will not invest in Pakistan unless the Zardaris, Sharifs, Chaudhrys and others, who have stashed their money in foreign banks and invested in real estate, steel mills and pharmaceutical companies abroad, bring their wealth back to Pakistan, which will help in getting rid of the IMF’s conditions that add to the miseries of the people.

The writer is a freelance columnist. He can be reached at

Article originally published in Daily Times, republished by permission of DT\06\26\story_26-6-2010_pg3_5

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