In the aftermath of Panama, let’s not lose sight of matters just as significant
Agriculture Sector has been in crisis for the last 3 decades regardless that it is the most dominant factor of the Pakistani economy, employing around 40 percent of the labor units of the country. The global inflation of food prices summed up with weak demand for export, and swift fluxes in Cotton and Sugar production over the years has led to a stagnant state.
Even if we rule out the natural challenges faced by the farmers, which can be reduced by better technological advancements, there are incentive issues led by mill owners backed by the political elite. One of the recent variations; the switch from Cotton to rigorous Sugarcane production, is to be accredited to Sugar Mill owners.
To the dismay of the Pakistani public, 60 percent of who are rural inhabitants, the policy making of the central influence of our economy is in the hands of the 2 percent of the country. Especially in rural Punjab, the mid-sized landowners determine the political scenarios. They create their own blocs responsible for negotiation with the political elite on behalf of their people. Even the large landowners, who usually are part of the political elite, cannot ignore the interests of their fellow farmers if they deem to do well during election time. The ritual being the mid-size landowners support their candidate and his/her team in the General Elections, and later in the Local Body Elections, to cement better services for their people till the next election.
The current government’s agenda of sustainable growth and development has lost against their own greed of electoral power. The Local Body Elections (LBE) of 2015 in Punjab, the ruling party’s stronghold, showed just how irritated the rural class had grown with the Independent candidates bagging nearly 45 percent of all rural seats. The once adamant rural class took a stand for themselves, changing this orthodox tendency of voting for the already ruling party. The agricultural commodity crisis is still intact and is becoming the cause of increased aggravation between the PML-N and political landowners.
Rollback a few years to the General Elections 2013, PML-N crushed their political opponents by gathering a two-third-seat majority in the House. Syed Ashiq Hussain Shah of the ruling party, recorded a huge victory over his competitors in Renala Khurd, also has a powerful voice in these corridors of power. That largely being due to this area being known as an agricultural bliss for sugarcane and rice growers due to the supplies by the lower Bari doab canal & smaller water channels. What is unknown to many is that a chunk of this land is denied of underground sweet water, which causes crop destruction. Since the General Elections, calls for better water channels for all parts of the district have only fallen on deaf ears. The locale, being an actively agricultural population, made sure they were heard during the Local Body Elections by voting against the ruling party, paving way for an Independent Municipal Committee Chairman, Malik Tariq Javed Nanha, who later formally joined Pakistan People’s Party along with six other Independent candidates. This was unprecedented for such a rural populace or even the candidates to choose voting for, or running against the ruling party. These mishaps, adding up with long-standing issues of security from homicidal robbers and lack of Sui-Gas provision to the masses, have forced the farmer majority voter-base to show such drastic concern.
With General Elections, just a year away, the ruling party has started working on “agricultural” policies. Knowing that it cannot alienate the rural elite, pumping money into the constituency-based development schemes is their way of keeping the already resented candidates and supporters intact. Provision of subsidies and exemptions only for the elite and upper-middle class farmers may keep their electoral position safe for the next election, but it has pushed for a much bigger rural crisis which has already been plaguing the country for years. Reduction in farm sizes due to family inheritances has mainly struck the small cultivators and landowners, even pushing most of them into wage work. This has been building up for years and has left nearly 80 percent of the rural population landless.
Apparent at the time, introduction of the Kissan Package by the administration seemed as if the government finally had its priorities sorted for good. But soon it disappeared into thin air like most of the real social development projects of the recent past. The vindicated demands of relief and subsidies by the farmers went unheard at all public forums, leading them to take to the roads as their last option. In 2016, sit-ins were carried out in most parts of the country, focally in front of the Punjab Assembly. The situation worsened with the arrest of farmers by the officials. Opposition parties went to the extent of claiming the PM’s policies dangerous for the farmers and the whole nation. A year later we saw the same offensive government force applied on the protestors of Pakistan Kissan Ittehad Group who were objecting to electricity overbillings and lack of subsidies in the budget proposed.
Crippling rural poverty seems to be a non-issue for the ruling party, as not even half an effort is made towards any social protection measures. Apart from Benazir Income Support Program and some minor aids, there is not much that this or any previous government has done for the landless wageworkers of the rural areas. With the added pressure of the current political turmoil they find themselves in, the walls of our leaders grow higher, barring voter contact. Instead of organising these rural tenants and giving them a voice in policy decisions, they are oppressed and overlooked for “the political dichotomy” they portray for the ruling class.
Soon, the election season would be upon us. The Lion, despite the consequences of the SC ruling, would be trying to land blows at the seemingly unrelenting Tiger and the Arrow trying to pierce through them somehow. Raising slogans of poverty and fake promises might put one of them into the driving seat of the country, leaving us with the hope of the next one being slightly, if not greatly, better than before.