How Price Hikes Came To Be Renamed As ‘Adjustments’ In Naya Pakistan
On February 1, for the fifth fortnight in a row, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government increased the prices of all petroleum products by 2.5 percent to 4.6 percent for the next 15 days. Soon after, the army of government spokespersons took on to Twitter and TV talk shows with claims that the Prime Minister Imran Khan approved a lower increase in prices than of what OGRA actually proposed. Otherwise, they say, Pakistanis might have been buying petrol well over Rs. 120 mark and so this makes them indebted to the PM.
Last week, the government raised electricity prices by Rs. 1.95 per unit, fourth time in the past 12 months. The Federal Minister for Energy Omar Ayub Khan blamed the previous governments for leaving behind power sector woes. Khan, who himself was part of successive previous governments, went in lengths to term power tariff issue as ‘landmines’ for the PTI government in the form of badly drawn up agreements with independent power producers (IPPs).
Wheat and sugar, the two most essential and most used commodities, also remained under constant price fluctuation and at times disappeared from the market only to be available again on higher rates. Both are now selling almost at a double rate against what there was a couple of years ago.
Let’s just turn a blind eye towards prices of cooking oil and edible items.
The not-so-sponsored yet controlled media, which otherwise would have blatantly taken the government to cleaners over back to back hikes in essential commodities, is plainly helping the government to throw the burden on to previous governments. A minor price hike in different items under the successive rule of the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) used to be called “bombshells on the poor” by the media. News bulletins would air the price hike news atop while the print media headlined the same issue with vitriolic editorials and publishing furious columns castigating government’s inability in controlling mafias. Furthermore, righteous anchors, with an exception of a few, would also run prime time talk shows, calling in economists and comparing the prices with the international markets ultimately giving collective judgments against the government for irrational hikes in petroleum or other items.
No more of that now, however. Leading anchors now tell us how oil prices are linked with international markets and why it is inevitable to adjust electricity prices to overcome circular debt, as if the previous governments had the luxury of locally produced oil and torrents of resources to generate electricity.
These days a price hike in essential commodities is named as an ‘adjustment’ and a mean of easing the burden on the government’s shoulders! The Prime Minister even proclaimed innumerable times when he was in opposition that a single rupee raise in essential commodities means that your PM is a thug and why should you pay for the stealing of the rulers? We now see him justifying price hikes; he thinks it’s inevitable because doing so meant government prevented itself from overburdening and thus shifted the burden to the masses.
Social media, which richly contributed in bulldozing minds of the new chunk of voters in 2018 towards how the PMLN and the PPP looted resources of the country, is still at play. When you browse YouTube, for example, one’s eye catches videos that have thumbnails calling PM Khan a messiah or a captain who is up against mafias and is making headway. A flurry of video thumbnails hail Khan’s policies explaining why price hikes are inevitably linked with international markets.
Similarly, innumerable Facebook pages and Twitter handles, both voluntary and paid, take the internet by storm intermittently portraying PM Khan’s shrewdness in bringing prices down. They would run trends on social media and post well designed images and masterly edited videos to illustrate how capable the governance under PTI is. Fact check; almost every time that the PM “took notice” of price hikes, either the items disappeared from the market or the prices went up further. The paid or set-up-in-love-for-PTI YouTube channels, Facebook pages and Twitter handles are propagating false news, thereby giving false hopes to the masses.
The PTI seems to have fallen in its own trap. The party overemphasized the disseminating of misinformation to appeal to voters and it won the first round. The second round, which requires practical steps but not propaganda or misinformation, is slipping away from the PTI’s hands and the incumbent government may well get a knockout punch. Electronic and social media’s helping hand in image building of PTI and PM Khan may become disastrous for the party soon, as the honeymoon period is already gone. The PTI should remember that the rupee suffered depreciation right under its nose which led to an alarming inflation. And so, blaming it on previous governments isn’t going to help.
If Twitter trends and electronic media’s tweaking of facts are to be believed, the country under Khan is doing remarkably well. But any reality check puts us in an awkward position where governance issues are far from over and life is becoming miserable. The government’s policy of naming price hike with ‘adjustment’ is a tantamount to self-deception; people will also make their adjustments to keep the PTI out from the political foray in future because they say, ‘democracy is the best revenge’.
The writer is a PhD scholar at the South Asian Center in Punjab University, Lahore. She tweets at @AmeenaTanvir