Jun 092008

Zafar Alam Sarwar

What became one of the most popular socio-economic and political slogans of the masses at the close of the 1960s and helped the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) win the 1970 general elections in the west wing of the united Pakistan has now become a real socio-economic demand of the downtrodden people of the country. It is rather more than that.

Leaving five per cent of the population aside, one can frankly point out that the rest of nearly 150 million (exaggerated up to 160 million by politicians) people are in need of ‘roti, kapra aur makan’, they include the neglected masses living below the poverty line. The future of a country of such a large number of distressed people seems entrusted to two political leaders: one of whom, people say positively, is a sound capitalist and the other an intelligent ‘jagirdar’. God bless them!

What brings to light the real facts of rural and urban life is a constant interaction with people of the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad and outskirts as well. Visits to Rawat, Sihala, Karal, Charah, Kirpa, Tarlai, Sohan, Kurri, Bhara Kahu, Phulgran, Kallar Syedan and even Gujar Khan, on one side, and Wah, on the other, will reveal many things, especially what the old and young men and women think of, and how in rude words they talk about, by the way. Former heads of government General Ayub Khan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and General Ziaul Haq come under discussion as regards the then quality and prices of wheat flour, rice, sugar, meat, petrol and kerosene. Elders recall, in good faith and with respect, the devotion of the freedom fighters like Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan to the cause of the common man and his welfare.

During the last week one came in contact with at least five hundred people of government and non-government institutions, middle and lower middle classes representing different walks of life. And the result was a lot of information to determine why people are fed up with the present administrative setup. Eighty per cent of them seemed upset. They reminisced that soon after the creation of Pakistan, and until the whole political atmosphere was polluted by self-seekers, the best quality of ‘atta’ (wheat flour) sold at Rs5 per maund (about 40 kilogram), which meant a consumer could easily buy about eight kilogram for a rupee. Similarly pulses, rice, sugar, milk, vegetables, ghee and cooking oils were within the reach of the common man. A government servant with a monthly salary of Rs50 could honourably feed his family of five to six members. During the Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif regimes, from 1989 to 1999, ‘atta’ price per 20-kilogram bag gradually increased from Rs28 to Rs32, then from Rs34 to Rs40 and ultimately to Rs54. Consumers protested through print media every time there was price hike, and opposition leaders roared in support of the exploited masses. “Now it’s all topsy-turvy.” That’s the common man’s comment.

Most debated also, by the mass of people in the leisure hour, is the concept of the slogan ‘roti, kapra and makan’ which sprang up across the country during the polls in 1970. The slogan was raised by the Pakistan People’s Party and is still upheld by its leaders and ‘jiyalas’ (impassioned workers). Shall I be one of them again as I once was in the last century? Only God knows!

It seems but natural that we, very often, lose the keys to success and do not learn from the past mistakes. I’m not surprised if somebody of Tarlai Kalan and another of Gujar Khan claim that many of the PPP leaders, including the jail-yatree Co-Chairman Asif Zardari and Federal Information Minister Sherry Rehman, have not cared to remember Bhutto’s interview to an Egyptian editor wherein he explained what he had meant by ‘roti, kapra aur makan’. That was just a slogan for an election purpose although the words carried with them a practical philosophy. But who really believed in it and who wanted to translate it? That was a question then, and that’s the question today! Anyhow, let it be a matter of the past although the intellectual and the thoughtful struggler, who saw Pakistan in the making, asserts that provision of ‘roti, kapra aur makan’ is the responsibility of the State.

The assembly of the poor, being open to all victims of poverty, unemployment, injustice and ‘mehangai’, is national in the real sense of the word unlike the National and Provincial Assemblies whose membership is confined to the rich only — the big landlord, the capitalist and the well-to-do whose kith and kin also find their way to the parliament of the homeland which was achieved 61 years ago after a long arduous struggle for the objective of turning it into an independent and sovereign social welfare State. The bloody fact that millions had sacrificed their lives has again appeared on the clean slate of the mind of the living old and young generations.

The sittings of the assembly being held twice a day here and there in the streets of the twin cities and areas around them are dedicated to paying homage to those men and women who commit suicides because they have little money to buy ‘atta’ and sugar. They don’t dream rice, which now sells at Rs100-120 per kilogram. Only tomato has come down to the steps of a lower-income group of humans. A poverty ridden jobless 62-year-old father of five children hanged himself from a tree to death in Gujar Khan in April. Such soul stirring news-stories landed in newspaper offices in May — and there seems no end to it. The undivided assembly of the poor resolved yesterday: God bless our planners!
Source: The News

 Posted by at 7:20 am

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