Lahore will have its own ‘Disneyland’ – a recent news item that does not carry significance as far as headlines are concerned, but does carry a ton of significance otherwise.
As things stand currently, only a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) has been signed between the Punjab government and the Chinese company. While a MoU has no legal value, it does point a finger towards Shahbaz Sharif’s priorities.
Coming from an industrialist background, his focus towards capitalism is unquestionable. From investing in infrastructure to handing out laptops, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government is a big proponent of liberal economic policies, despite being a conservative party otherwise.
But where does all this investment in infrastructure leave the working class of Punjab?
Southern Punjab has one of the worst poverty levels in the country. According to a survey by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) published last year, the city of Rajanpur, for example, has a staggering 44 per cent households living below the poverty line. The people living below the line in other southern districts respectively comprise 40 per cent in Muzaffargarh, 36 per cent in DG Khan, 33 per cent in Bahawalpur, 31 per cent in Layyah and Lodhran, 31 per cent in Pakpattan, and 28 per cent in Multan, Khanewal and Bhakkar districts.
These are figures that stand out in the ugliest of manners. What is even more alarming is the fact that these numbers conceal the reality that large numbers of people hover just above the poverty line and are in constant danger of destitution.
But this is not the end of it.
Dozens of factory workers lost their lives in Sundar Industrial Estate and Burki Hudiara this month. This on top of the other cases of injuries and deaths in industrial facilities that are shoved under the carpet, portray an extremely grim picture for the strongest provincial government in the country. It is a reminder of how Shahbaz and the PML-N’s provincial machinery is custom built to suit the ruling elite and big business as the working class suffers one breakdown after the other.
Wouldn’t it be good if Shahbaz directs the abundance of funds at his disposal towards social services that make a material change in the lives of people?
Instead of investing in Disneyland, why not invest in social housing?
Instead of investing in roads, why not invest in education that is not only financially accessible to the poor but is also of the highest quality?
Instead of investing in transit, why not invest in providing employment that does not depend on temporary terms?
Instead of investing in tons of other infrastructural gimmicks, why not invest in high-quality health services?
Instead of pleasing the ruling elite and his fellow capitalist cronies, why not do something for people who go through every day not knowing if they will have food and shelter the next day?
Instead of doing something for the one per cent, why not do something for the 99 per cent?
Because infrastructural gimmicks work from a vote-hunting perspective, and social services that elevate the poverty stricken class do not. The proposed investment in Lahore’s Disneyland or its equivalent further strengthens Shahbaz’s capitalist leaning. But this is not the first time he is doing this, and this is not the last time either. Not only is he ruining Lahore’s aesthetic value courtesy of these infrastructural flings, he is alienating the working class of the city, and more specifically the rest of Punjab, in the worst possible manner.
Perhaps Shahbaz needs to take a stroll down to the slums in Punjab and ask people if investing in Lahore’s Disneyland will make their lives better. The answer might surprise him.
This post originally appeared on The Express Tribune Blogs on 15 November 2015.