Cover Story

1% > 99%

Each new occupant in Islamabad brings a new recipe for economic growth, and each new initiative brings results worse than the previous ones.

By Sirajuddin Aziz | January 2023

The title of this piece isn’t a riddle or a puzzle; it is merely an arithmetic expression of which number is higher than the other. In mathematics, the greater than symbol > is used to represent the inequality between two values. In ordinary circumstances, arithmetically speaking, it should be the converse of what appears as the title to this piece. But, it is the way it is, aptly for reasons of the iniquitous nature of the society we live in. We are not living in a country of all ‘Adams children’. Love of fame and a rapacious greed for wealth and money is the route of all evil. In any society, the unrelenting quest for these elements is the cause for the creation of the privileged class. The sun doesn’t shine alike upon all; human blood has here (Pakistan) many colours and the rain of wealth falls upon only a few roofs. The 1% of the society acts as the wisest and thinks they are commanding fools, constituting the 99%. Against this background, regrettably it is the 1%’s dining table that is spread the soonest; against the teeming millions of the ......These few have the goose and hence get more of the geese. Muck and money go together. Recently, a former finance minister, who now is out of favour of the current political dispensation, had said, that Pakistan is ruled by the “Elite”, belonging, to a few selected, educational institutions. The affiliated ones are the select few. Despite wholesale poverty, we too have our Eton’s and Harrows and Harvard and Stanford. The products of the elitist institutions flock together.

Since the independence of the country, the poor little fish are the fodder for the big fish in our society. This 1% privileged class has the whole of 99% on toast. They rule the roost while the 99% are toothless members of a vulnerable society. There is a general attitude of subservience to wealth and power, both of which, mostly, are ill-gotten gains. Donkeys with laden gold on their backs can easily climb into top leadership positions. In fact, belonging to this 1% elite status precipitates the unnatural rise to the top. It is wealth that changes even wise men’s manners and is an aspect so pre-dominantly reflected in our everyday transactions. The show of virtue or the display of virtuous behaviour is a very distant relative of the wealthy and the powerful. This imbalance in society has given the powerful 1%, the key to all gates, except Heavens. They are the ace of the society -- they are the ‘elite’ of our beloved country.

A society, led by the elite, is referred to as elitism --- a superior attitude or behaviour that is associated with few members of the society. A belief, a notion that those individuals who form an elite class, are a select group of people who are wrongly perceived to have better intrinsic quality that is of high intellect, matched by wealth, power, notability, specialised skills and experience. They may most likely also be considered more constructive to the society as a whole, and, therefore, are those, who deserve the right to influence or have greater authority over all others. Elite are dominant in, the field of politics, economics and our feudalistic inclined social setup.

People elect the ‘elites’ who believe that the handful can truly change the society. The elites are essentially egoistic and presumptuous and this is made known very loudly by them with their uncouth behaviour and attitude. This feeling of superiority over all others is not only egoistic in nature, but is also a stark reality that permits the elite to render, a death blow upon, any signs of independent thinking, by the 99%.

Meritocracy is sacrificed due to concentration of power. This unjust, dominant, dictatorial, prejudiced and biased minority encourage and promote human inequality. Feudalism and tribalism, coupled with illiteracy, promotes and renders a sizeable dosage of oxygen to the development of an elitist society. The contra position or juxtaposition between the populous and the elite is stark naked. The primary objective of elitism is to ensure and preserve power through force and fraud. The aristocratic tendencies of the human mind come into full play.

That after three Scores and 15 years of independence we are an elitist society should come as no surprise. India post independence under the leadership of the socialist democrat, Jawaharlal Nehru, adopted the socialist economic model. On the contrary, Pakistan went on to adopt unfettered capitalism. India completed its first 5-year economic plans successfully. With unbridled and unrestrained capitalism, Pakistan soon found concentration of wealth in the hands of the chosen few. It is then that Dr Mehboob-ul-Haq coined the infamously famous term ’22 families” who had in a very short span, managed to gather control over 87% of the country’s total assets, including banking and financial assets.

Junaid Zubairi CEO NAPA
Junaid Zubairi

Well over five decades ago, Habib Jalib wrote his famous poem
Bees Gharanay
Bees gharanay hain aabad
Aur karoron hain nashaad
Sadr Ayub Zindabad

It was a reference to the 22 families, highlighted by the economic wizard of the time Dr Mahbub-ul-Haq, that apparently controlled 66% of industries and owned over 85% shares in banking and insurance. One percent phenomenon is not new for Pakistan. The 22 of the 60s were replaced by new ones in later decades and today we are no different. Even taxpayers are roughly 1% of the total population, uncanny as it may seem. We stand at a figure of 2.2 million active taxpayers against a population of 220 million (Express Tribute, 02 March 2021).

The stark reality is that wealth is heavily concentrated in the hands of a few, a fact that has remained unchanged since the country came into being. These few control a significant portion of the GDP and have inroads in almost all the key pillars of the society – governance, business, military, bureaucracy and media. The remaining 99% are struggling to survive. The gap between haves and have-nots has widened significantly over the years. Educated young people from the middle classes are striving to move out of the country. As a result, brain drain over the years has been excessive and thousands of qualified people are leaving the country in search of greener, safer and brighter pastures. With economy nosediving and reaching new lows, the one percent enjoying lion’s share of the cake are least concerned, least bothered, least affected. It doesn’t hurt them and their lifestyle.

Is there any hope? Yes and no. Yes if there’s a bottom up mass movement emanating from the have-nots and no if the upper cluster currently holding the reins of the country keeps such a movement a dream only, crushing the voices of dissent which we have been seeing in the past 75 years. In spite of the doom and gloom, one tends to stay positive while keeping one’s faith strong. The tunnel may seem darker and light may not be showing all the time, the glimmer of hope for better days remains there. As Faiz sahab said, “lambi hai gham ki shaam magar shaam hi to hai”. The evening of despair will eventually give way to a new dawn.

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