STRAIGHT TALK by Hafeez Khan

I was talking to Barkat Bibi. She goes around different households to cook food on a contract basis. Formerly she was a primary school teacher, raising four kids with her husband, Hanif, who owned a motorcycle repair shop. COVID hit her with a double whammy. She lost her job when her school closed due to the pandemic and her husband contracted COVID and passed away. Her life was turned upside down; her husband’s brothers forcibly took over his repair shop and she was jobless with a young family to feed.

Like millions of toiling folks who adapt to realities she found ways to survive; Barkat Bibi found this work niche to move on. She and her husband were staunch supporters of PTI in 2018 in a locality full of PML(N) diehards. I wanted to know where she currently stood. She is upset. I told her about all the good things happening like reduction of deficit, improved remittances, increased tree cover and hydro dams being constructed.

With a wry smile she responded “Khanji you travel on planes and see things from a height, we go around in “chinchis” and buses and face the real life. To me what matters is the price of atta, daal, ghee and sugar.” Said politely, yet it felt like a punch in the gut.

Then she reminded me of the oft repeated PTI promise to provide justice. She narrated that when her in-laws forcibly took over her husband’s business, she ran from pillar to post, including the police and lawyers to no avail. With a cynical smile on her weather beaten face she said “they were more interested in me or the money I could offer, than securing me justice”.

I reflected on what she said about dispensation of justice. No one can approach the Courts without a lawyer. A community whose moral compass has sunk to the bottom of the pit and their greed has shot through the roof. How does a common man access justice? Getting relief is a distant cry. What happened to reforms to provide “Justice for all?”

The politicians have degenerated into party hacks blinded by hate and partisanship, incapable of finding middle ground. The opposition are prophets of doom and gloom. The treasury benches project themselves as the saviors. In such conflicting assertions the truth is that common man is deprived; he is suffering inflation, injustice and rampant corruption. The attitude of the bureaucracy reminds me of lyrics of a popular song “Seems everybody got a price, I wonder how they sleep at night; when the sale comes first and the truth comes second…”

The snapshot is that everyone still believes that PM IK is incorruptible, as do I; but what about the state of affairs under him? The bureaucracy has run amok weaving circles around their incompetent political bosses. Bribery rates have gone up and progress is stifled. I know at least three businessmen who were motivated by PM IK’s call to invest in energy, real estate and tourism. Their projects are worth hundreds of millions of dollars; yet they are blocked every step of the way. They are unwilling to grease palms and are struggling for months, even years to progress. Mafias are more powerful than the Government.

Inflation is eating the guts out of PM IK’s popularity. Price control is a provincial subject; however we have been lumped with the most incompetent Chief Minister in Punjab. He hides behind musical chairs of ever changing Chief Secretaries and IGPs. A bad workman quarrels with his tools. PM IK’s political future is hostage to a leader incapable of delivering.

Drastic actions are required to control staple food prices. Price control should be front and center for any political strategy. How can it be implemented? Yes, the prices in the world of commodities have shot up; yes, the Dollar has strengthened against the rupee; yet there is unbelievable profiteering.

There is an urgent need to bring in an Ordinance setting up Summary Price Control Courts to break the back of Mafias raking in unbelievable profits. Convictions under this system will be extremely popular among the masses and knock some sense into these leeches.

Another option to provide relief can be through giving the management of Utility Stores to the Army. They are always brought in whenever there is a national disaster or calamity. The spiraling prices of essential food items are nothing less.

A third option is to induct technology that can provide a way out for those living in urban areas or have access to internet. Globally, e-Commerce is overtaking retail sales. We have abundance of talent amongst our youth in IT. Programs should be introduced to encourage entrepreneurs to link the producers and importers directly with the consumers. The success story of Amazon is a prime example. It has cut layers of middlemen deleting their margins to benefit the end users. Difficult times require bold initiatives.

PTI came to power on the promise of change. The common man has yet to see the fruits of this change of guard. The Punjabi saying “Rab naray kay ghusan” is most relevant in this struggle to maintain hope amongst the masses. Nobody has seen God but the reality of atta, daal, ghee, vegetables, and sugar prices are faced everyday by the common man. This is the master key for the hearts and minds of the electorate. It needs to be tackled with utmost urgency PM IK, before it is too late.

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