WEB DESK: A visible obsession displayed by our political parties is to rename streets, airports, historical and prominent buildings, social and infrastructure development projects funded from the taxpayers’ money, with a name associated with their party/leadership. Their objective: gaining political mileage.
The name most used that has generated zero controversy is that of Jinnah, the father of the nation. And such is the reverence accorded to Mohammad Ali Jinnah that Benazir Bhutto during her first stint in power was severely criticised for displaying the photograph of her own father instead of the father of the nation during her first press conference subsequent to her electoral victory. Iqbal, the national poet, as well as Liaquat Ali Khan, are names that have been acceptable by all parties. The spate of renaming after the recent death of the nationally revered social worker Edhi has also evinced no negative comment.
Names commemorating the memory of slain leaders, for obvious reasons, are limited to the Pakistan People’s Party Parliamentarians (PPPP) – a party that lost not only its founder Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to what is widely acknowledged as judicial murder but also his political heir and daughter Benazir Bhutto was assassinated on 27th December 2007 as she was leaving the venue of a successful jalsa in Rawalpindi.
There have been no convictions yet, even though the PPPP was in power from 2008-13 that continues to provide fodder to the imagination of conspiracy theorists who variously accuse the then President Musharraf, the Taliban and even her political heirs of her murder. Be that as it may, the PPP-led coalition government in the immediate aftermath of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination named the social safety programme Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) in her honour and the under-construction Islamabad International Airport as Benazir Bhutto International Airport (BBIA).
The Sharif administration, either because it reckons there are political benefits that may accrue to the PPPP from using Benazir’s name (an argument that is belied by the 2013 election results) or antipathy against using the name of an erstwhile rival that is to receive funding during their tenure, prefer to refer to BISP as Income Support Programme.
The Federal Finance Minister Ishaq Dar went so far as to claim during his first budget speech in June 2013 that he was the architect of the programme during the time he was the finance minister in 2008 (31st March-15th May 2008) when the PPP and the PML-N had briefly formed a coalition government. Claiming to be an architect of a social programme designed more than half a century ago by several Western countries is hardly a justification for taking credit for its design, which was considerably refined as it was implemented, and surely does not give any individual the right to change a name funded from the taxpayers’ money.
It is relevant to note that in the budget documents 2016 the relevant section refers to: “Income Support Programme (BISP)” though in his budget speech Ishaq Dar did mention that the PPPP should applaud the increase announced in BISP – from 40 billion rupees in 2012-13 to 115 billion rupees in 2016-17 “representing a nearly threefold increase since 2012-13.” Be that as it may, BISP is spelled out in Table 33 of the budget in brief document titled development expenditure as outside PSDP.
In this context, it is relevant to note that the US President Franklin D. Roosevelt began a social security programme in the aftermath of the 1929 Great Depression and while at the time it was funded by the government yet today it is funded by payroll taxes collected by employees and companies, placed in Social Security Trust Fund, and administered by the government and the Federal Reserve Board. BISP is headed by a political appointee with little or no relevant experience or indeed political clout other than what is conferred by the party chair – Farzana Raja a former PIA airhostess and the incumbent Marvi Memon credited with setting up the first satellite tracking fleet, Trakker, in Pakistan. While these two women did make some valuable contributions to expanding the reach of BISP, Farzana Raja more than Marvi Memon as she had the difficult task of operationalizing a concept, however, unfortunately the programme continues to rely on government budgetary allocations.
Insiders report that Sharif administration’s correspondence with those engaged in the construction of the BBIA refers to the airport as the Islamabad International Airport without Benazir’s name. This is unfortunate as whether one agreed with her political views or ideology and her contributions to our laws/economy/politics or not she was the leader of a national party, elected to form a government in the centre twice, and represented Pakistan on the world stage.
The PPPP during the government of Benazir Bhutto routinely named development programmes outside the PSDP as People’s Programmes, to drive home to the constituents which party supported these programmes, while the PML-N, when in power, drops all programmes under People’s Programmes and instead supports Prime Minister’s various schemes.
The recent demise of the much loved and respected Abdul Sattar Edhi led to a flurry of prominent politicians paying their respects to as well as announcing/suggesting a change of name of various venues: (i) the Sindh government proposed renaming Beach Avenue on DHA’s Phase VII and Beach Park as Abdul Sattar Edhi Avenue/Beach Park as well as and the Karachi Development Authority’s Director General Nasir Abbas has requested Secretary Local Government to rename more major roads of the city as Edhi roads; (ii) Punjab government has renamed newly-constructed highway from Motorway to Khayaban-e-Jinnah after Abdul Sattar Edhi; with the Sharif appointee in the Pakistan Cricket Board suggesting that Qadhafi Stadium be renamed as Edhi Stadium; and (iii) Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has announced to provide land free of cost for establishment of Edhi centres in the province – an offer that would support the charitable work of Edhi – and to rename a famous square in Peshawar after Abdul Sattar Edhi. Balochistan has not yet made any such statements. Imran Khan built a hospital dedicated to the memory of his mother and chose her name for the hospital; and the (iv) Senate agreed to give 20,000 rupees per member to enable the Edhi foundation to purchase 4 ambulances.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has directed the Post Office to issue a stamp commemorating the social activist Edhi, a rather dated directive given that the use of stamps has declined subsequent to the electronic modes of communication; and the State Bank of Pakistan as per the Prime Minister’s directive is set to release a commemorative coin in his honour.
To conclude, this obsession with names for political reasons is a rather inane exercise as it only highlights the use of the taxpayers’ money to gain political advantage and renaming of public roads/buildings without proper consultation with stakeholders does not necessarily generate public support. Renaming prominent places after our national heroes, not associated with any political party, should become the norm.
Source: Business Recorder