The politics of hunger – Pakistan

The current government seems to have a very simplistic idea of ​​the welfare state. Its highly proclaimed slogan of "change," which the government continues to infuse with religious narratives, utopian dogmas and mantras, also seems to be simply for public consumption.

The Ehsaas-Saylani Langar scheme is another reflection of the government's obsession to show something "big" to reflect the "change." Addressing the opening ceremony of the plan, Prime Minister Imran Khan protested against people's criticism of his vision of the state of Madina, which said "it could not be done in just 13 months."

Read: PM Imran launches the Ehsaas-Saylani Langar scheme in Islamabad

There is nothing new in the prime minister's complaint regarding this criticism or even in his approach to poverty alleviation. Many countries in the developing world, especially Pakistan, have been trapped in faulty plans to reduce poverty.

Just a week after the launch of the langar plan, or free kitchen, an economist of Indian origin, Abhijit Banerjee, and his French wife, Esther Duflo, along with another economist Michael Kremer, won the Nobel Prize for their experiment. approach to alleviate world poverty. His historical work, Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty, challenges conventional approaches to poverty alleviation and examines the real nature of the problem, and also how the poor react to incentives.

Giving more food or money to the poor is not a remedy for the curse of poverty.

Experts spent time in the countryside, living with the poor in 18 countries, to discover that developing countries are not doomed to fail because they are poor or because they have had an unfortunate history, but that these nations need to fight against ignorance, ideology. and inertia Your work must be an essential reading for the prime minister and his socio-economic managers and policy makers. It will help them understand that giving more food or money to the poor is not the remedy for the curse of poverty.

Allama Iqbal wrote an introduction to a book on economics in 1904. The preface provides an interesting assessment of Muslims' views on the economy, still relevant to some extent in the context of Pakistan. Challenging the dominant vision of his time, Iqbal argued that knowledge of wealth did not make nations greedy, but should make them capable of controlling their war ambitions in order to live in peace and harmony.

The preface reflects that for the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent, subjects such as science and economics were not an intellectual search. In the absence of a structured thinking process about the economy, the state of Pakistan is still based on medieval narratives such as opening free kitchens for the poor, opinions that are extremely simplistic and will hardly lead to the desired social change.

Pakistan occupies 94 of the 117 countries that qualify in the recent Global Hunger Index and has been described as facing a "severe" level of hunger. The latest poverty estimates show that 24 percent of Pakistan's population lives below the poverty line. This is a great challenge that can only be faced through a comprehensive and structured program.

The Chinese poverty alleviation program, which greatly inspires Prime Minister Khan, is part of China's overall development strategy. The Dibao program focuses primarily on low-income housing, health reforms, emergency education and temporary support for families facing sudden disasters. However, one of its components for rural areas includes conditional food assistance to people without livelihoods. People are expected to work for government projects and, in return, get food in addition to their income. Most importantly, local agencies play a leading role in carrying out such initiatives, against Pakistan's centralized approach.

India is another example. International organizations have recognized India's efforts to reduce poverty, but the pace of change is slow. India ranked 102 out of 117 countries and, according to the Global Hunger Index, has the highest percentage of children with acute malnutrition. India may lift 3{7be40b84a6a43fc4fae13304fce9a2695859798abfc41afd127b9f8b21c5f9c5} of its population out of poverty in the coming years, but experts have pointed out that its model for poverty alleviation programs smells like what they call "development nationalism." These programs give priority to the constituencies where the ruling party has won or wants to expand its support base.

This could also be described as & # 39; hunger policy & # 39 ;, since extremist and hard-line Hindu groups like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) have come to the aid of the government and are systematically targeting slums occupied by Hindus from Low caste to take them to the fold of the general Hindu identity. The RSS is expanding its network of schools, medical camps and other social assistance schemes in these slums to stop religious conversions that Hindu groups see as a threat to Hindu nationalism.

In Pakistan, some religious charities, primarily associated with banned militant groups, have followed in the footsteps of radical Hindu groups, especially in the towns of Sindh and Punjab with religious minority groups. However, the scale of the charity programs of these groups is quite small compared to the RSS and the initiatives of their affiliates. Another problem is that these groups are under greater global scrutiny.

In the last elections, the BJP government in India effectively used the hunger card and attracted the votes of the poor. On the other hand, poverty was not a major political problem during the 2018 elections in Pakistan, and the ruling party instead focused on the eradication of corruption. The issue generates popular support, but it is an uphill task for developing nations to find structural responses to fight corruption. On the other hand, maintaining political support simply in the fight against corruption has a short lifespan.

To relieve the pressure of realizing and diverting attention from their real challenges, governments tend to take populist measures such as opening langars and providing sasti roti, but all this does not contribute anything to a country of more than 200 million. The Nobel Prize winners have good advice for countries like Pakistan and India: they have to fight against ignorance, ideology and inertia if they really want to eradicate hunger.

The writer is a security analyst.

Posted on Dawn, October 20, 2019



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