We Can Not Break The Begging Bowl Without Rising To Break The Cycle Of Apathy

We Can Not Break The Begging Bowl Without Rising To Break The Cycle Of Apathy
Amid back-breaking inflation and a surging cost of living crisis, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, while recently addressing a ceremony to lay the foundation stone of the Faisalabad Satyana bypass, made the hollow, hackneyed pledge to “break the begging bowl” if voted into power again, while also vowing to “fight for Pakistan.”

For the prime minister of a country that barely managed its way into IMF’s resuscitating program, having just received its first eleventh-hour tranche to escape the looming possibility of default, making such a tall claim is hasty, to say the least. In addition to the IMF bailout, in the face of the recent roll-over from China, redeemer deposits from UAE and Saudi Arabia, the premier’s trite remarks harped on what has, to date, been an unattainable target for the country. More so because ridding the country of the begging bowl has never been a goal or a priority for our rulers in the first place.

An indebted, dependent, regressive Pakistan perhaps suits the preferences of the most powerful. This is why there has always been an egregious gap between the words and actions of those in charge. Instead of eliciting anything close to the desired effects, hyped-up proclamations by authorities, lately, have only added to growing doubt about the viability of a system that has never really flourished into a stable, self-sustaining, institutionalized democracy within the 76 years of our existence.

The cognizant among us may respond to such sweeping statements by those in power with a tell-it-to-the-marines retort, but one may lament that for the greater majority of the Pakistani populace, it is easy to be repeatedly fooled by such lofty pre-election enticements. Remember how Khan totally stumped even erudite segments of the society (and still does) with his chants of a Naya Pakistan that not very long ago awaited all of us.

An indebted, dependent, regressive Pakistan perhaps suits the preferences of the most powerful.

How PM Sharif could make such a claim without having a well-thought-out or planned strategy to support his assertion, as he also declared that if given a mandate, “within a decade, the former prime minister (Nawaz Sharif) will transform the country and enable it to compete with India on the economic front.” This sounds more like wishful thinking or a jingoistic outburst aimed at enticing an emotive response from the public. Again, without rigorous economic input, political policy or a record of past performance to back these declarations, such statements only ratify the emptiness of the reckless routine utterings that can easily befool and bewitch an ill-educated electorate.

For an old player vying to ascend to power for the 5th times, one may ask the PML-N how many times similar claims were made during previous election campaigns and how far did the party fare in its attempts to shatter the begging bowl during any of the maestro political party’s previous tenures. All that every successive government ever does in Pakistan, whichever political party it might be representing, is to take fresh loans to pay off previous ones, followed by unanimously blaming the last government for all that ails the country and its people.

Imran Khan, the one most vociferous in his claims to never go to the IMF, couldn’t break the begging bowl in his four years of premiership either and kept up the long-held tradition of creating new economic burdens to ease former loads. Not to put a dent in their popularity, all of our governments take the easy route out instead of opting for tougher perhaps politically unfavorable decisions that are beneficial for the country in the long run.

Grossly disadvantaged due to low literacy and an even worse education quotient, not many among the masses have the insight or the ability to analyze the maneuverings and machinations of the ruling elite. Raising alarms and questions over the latter’s promise versus performance ratio is, hence, rare. The fruits of keeping the masses ignorant come in many forms as the rulers continue to relish, rising further from the gains of the ignominy and ignorance that those being ruled are destined to forever. Not equipping and upgrading the populace with knowledge and critical thinking benefits those in power, while it renders the country powerless and penurious.

Which is why we repeatedly and hopelessly witness every government’s apathy towards education, human welfare, poverty alleviation, mental health issues, rising crime, unemployment and the people’s general suffering, because a people consumed by their daily battles for safety and survival will be left with no wits, time or energy to question those at the helm of affairs. The rank hypocrisy of our governments is evident here while their claims ring hollow, as without nurturing and uplifting the populace to become a useful human resource, especially when it comprises such a high percentage of youth, how can we develop the ability to generate adequate finances, become self-sufficient and independent enough to shatter the “begging bowl”, a target that the authorities apparently aspire to achieve every election cycle?

A people consumed by their daily battles for safety and survival will be left with no wits, time or energy to question those at the helm of affairs.

This is why allocating resources towards education is never any government’s priority. That the nation remains illiterate and undiscerning is what suits the latter well, while the whole system is geared to propagate only what the rulers dispense, desire and design. Mainstream media gives enormous time and space to political developments, more so, within the current volatile, polarized and a very happening political landscape, while alternative media follows suit. Social or human-interest stories hardly ever make the headlines or subheadings even if the scale of these stories is much bigger than most political developments and meaningless, redundant statements uttered by the rulers. That strong social stories make good political stories is a lesson unlearnt.

Take an example. Not by holding out begging bowls, but by winning awards for their highly impactful work, a Pakistani education venture Taleemabad is bringing in hundreds of thousands of dollars in foreign exchange as prize money into the country to carry out the work that our governments should have been doing. A recipient of multiple international honors, Taleemabad is enroute to making education accessible to every single child in Pakistan and has made it, as the only initiative from Pakistan, to the London School of Economics 100x Impact Accelerator’s first cohort of 8 social unicorns chosen from all over the world. The ed-tech enterprise, having taken over what should have been the state’s responsibility, is making laudable efforts to make quality education universal in Pakistan and has also been recently selected as a finalist at the University of Pennsylvania’s 2023 Milken-Penn GSE Education Business Plan Competition. Both of these achievements never made it to the news pages here.

Faring from a country with the highest number of out-of-school children in the world, these accomplishments give us reason enough to make them worth a share. But the cycle of systematic apathy towards the real issues that afflict Pakistan is too entrenched to be broken easily. Hence, any private efforts at fixing those issues go unrecognized and encounter absolute apathy as well.

Political maturity still eludes us while decorum has vanished. Inundating precious media time and space with blame-shifting, allegations and counter allegations that have no worth or benefit for the common man’s hapless life, politicians and political players continue to fight among themselves non-stop, inside the Parliament and out on the streets. So far, their fight is only for themselves, not for Pakistan.