Nationalisation: a mistake?

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani termed the nationalisation of educational institutions in 1972 a ‘mistake’. Speaking at the death anniversary of Zamindar College founder Nawab Sir Fazal Ali in Gujrat, Mr Gilani said that “it was a wrong move, and we cannot move forward without admitting our mistakes”. There is indeed nothing wrong in admitting mistakes committed by his party in the past, but talking glibly or superficially on this subject is not doing justice to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s nationalisation drive either. Nationalisation may not have succeeded back then but we cannot consider it a failure without closer examination. It was not nationalisation that failed but the way it was implemented led to its failure.

Bhutto’s party, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) swept West Pakistan on the heels of the euphoria of the late 1960s when socialist ideas and even talk of revolution were in the air. The PPP came up with a socialist manifesto, which appealed to the masses who were looking for social change. In 1971, ‘gharibi hataao’ (eradicate poverty) was the slogan used by Indira Gandhi during her election campaign in India. Bhutto’s ‘roti, kapra aur makaan’ (bread, clothing and shelter) slogan was an imitation of Ms Gandhi’s slogans. Mr Bhutto also tried to copy the Nehruvian model of development. He was under the impression that since it was a success in India, the same would be the case in Pakistan. But we faltered because of a number of reasons, more so because of the second round of nationalisation.

The first round of nationalisation was a relative success when Bhutto’s government nationalised the commanding heights of economy – insurance, banking and commerce sectors as well as heavy industry. The mistake that Bhutto made was handing over of these entities to the bureaucracy instead of professional corporate management. Our bureaucracy was the steel frame of the British Empire but has always been incapable of running businesses. By not bringing in professional people to run the nationalised sector, the first round of nationalisation failed due to the corrupt bureaucracy and pressure of trade unions. In the second round of nationalisation, Bhutto made the mistake of nationalising small and medium industry. This led to annoying the small trader who then became the backbone of the Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) movement, which also included the propertied class who were already against Bhutto because of land reforms and nationalisation.

Nationalising schools and colleges in 1972 was a good move by Mr Bhutto. It was the haphazard way in which it was done that unravelled a good policy. Most private schools and colleges in Pakistan were run by missionaries. Once they were nationalised, most missionary teachers left and we were unable to replace them with qualified staff. The lack of teacher training programmes was another factor that contributed to the fall in the standard of public education. Some of the nationalised institutions have either been completely or partially privatised in recent years, leading to an increase in fees. Lack of planning resulted in chaos. Education is the right of every child but the low literacy rate in Pakistan is proof that our state has failed in making it either free or at the very least affordable to all. High literacy rates can lead to an end of child and bonded labour and development.

The wave of neo-liberalism in recent decades has infected the PPP, which is why Prime Minister Gilani and his ilk talk about the benefits of privatisation. Instead of dubbing nationalisation of schools and colleges as a mistake, the prime minister should think of the negative effects of private sector education. It has created a disparity between the rich and the poor. We need to abandon our elitist mindset and come up with social welfare policies in the interests of universal literacy and education.

(my editorial in Daily Times)


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