LAHORE As Pakistan’s new Premier, Imran Khan, is adamant to introduce austerity at all levels in a bid to shun the apartheid of elitism and hence cut down on the exorbitant excesses, he should not only seek inspiration from compatriots like Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah and one of his predecessors, Muhammad Khan Junejo, but should also take a leaf out of Uruguay’s ex-president, Jose Mujica’s book and may even follow the likes of Nepal’s former head of government, Sushil Koirala, and Malawi’s first female President, Joyce Banda.
All the above-named world leaders had set magnificent examples for the mighty and powerful with their humble and austere lifestyles.
Chronicles of history reveal that Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah had practiced the values of honesty, austerity and humility to the very end of his life, but unfortunately, this glorious phase of our history is buried in books that are hard to find.
An example of how Quaid-e-Azam prioritized austerity was the way he checked the details of the expenses incurred on the first cabinet meeting, although the sum spent on serving tea and biscuits to cabinet members was only Rs 38. He ordered that, in future cabinet meetings only cold water will be served because Pakistan could not afford even such small expenses.
By the 1930s, Quaid-e-Azam had become the best and one of the most expensive lawyers in India. He would charge Rs 1,500 an hour for going through a client’s case papers. To ensure that clients were charged fairly, he kept a clock in front of him while reading their case papers to note the time spent thereon.
In one such instance, a client had submitted his case papers to Mr Jinnah’s secretary who, after looking at their volume, asked the client to deposit Rs 3,000 thinking that the Quaid will take two hours to study them. But because it took Mr Jinnah only one and a half hour to read the case papers, he informed his secretary accordingly, and the next day his secretary called the client asking him to collect a refund of Rs 750.
In the budget for 1987-88, the-then Pakistani Prime Minister, Muhammad Khan Junejo, had sought to introduce austerity in governance. He scrapped the head of purchasing new, big and imported cars for official use and for officers who had been entitled to them. Under the scheme of austerity, he ordered that all officers who were entitled to use cars would now use locally-assembled Suzuki cars instead of imported cars.
His move had annoyed many in government and bureaucracy, but Muhammad Khan Junejo remained unfretted and unmoved. By the way, on November 20, 1979, Pakistans military dictator, General Ziaul Haq had announced that he would ride a bike in Rawalpindi.
In the beginning he rode a bicycle to his office from his residence. Later, he had planned to travel on a bicycle to Raja Bazaar in Rawalpindi. A large number of soldiers had to peddle bicycles alongside him in plain clothes to ensure the Generals security, while the event was given wide publicity by the official media.
While this show of cycling was taking place, on the morning of November 20, 1979, some Saudi militants calling for the overthrow of the House of Saud had taken over the Masjid al-Haram in Mecca.
Shortly after news of the takeover was released, Irani leader Ayatollah Khomeini had told radio listeners that it was not beyond guessing that it was the work of criminal American imperialism and international Zionism.
Following Khomeini’s announcement, a crowd had started to move towards the diplomatic enclave in Islamabad to attack the US embassy. The embassy was set alight, while the staff was trapped inside and faced almost certain death.
At Fawara Chowk, the infuriated mob came across General Ziaul Haq riding a bicycle. General Zia thus had to rush and address the nation, urging people to calm their nerves and declared that America had nothing to do with the sad incident in Makkah. General Ziaul Haq’s bicycle riding was thus short-lived.
In modern history, Uruguay’s ex-president, Jose Mujica, had caught the world’s eye for being the humblest head of state on Earth. The former president shunned the luxurious lifestyle and was usually seen in casual clothes for official ceremonies and rarely, if ever, wore a tie. By donating 90 per cent of his salary to charity, his income was roughly equal to the average wage in Uruguay – $775 (£485) a month.
According to BBC, in 2010, his annual personal wealth declaration – mandatory for officials in Uruguay – was $1,800 (£1,100), the value of his 1987 Volkswagen Beetle.
While most presidents travel around in chauffeur-driven saloon cars, the former Uruguayan president drove his own beat-up Beetle. He was even offered $1m for the car by an Arab Sheikh, but said he didn’t give the offer “any importance”.
This year, he added half of his wife’s assets – land, tractors and a house – reaching $215,000 (£135,000). With just his three-legged dog Manuela and two police officers for security, Mujica lives on a small farm on the outskirts of the capital Montevideo.
The first female president of Malawi, Joyce Banda, had sold off the presidential jet and the fleet of 60 Mercedes limousines in an effort to steer the then-struggling country to financial austerity. Later, the money earned from selling the plane went to feeding more than one million people, the country’s Treasury Department said.
Nepal’s Prime Minister, Sushil Koirala, was widely lauded for eschewing the perks associated with being the leader of his country. In a nation where politicians are typically associated with wealth, Sushil Koirala’s only declared assets were three mobile phones.
Before moving into the official prime minister residences, the BBC reported that he rented a house in Kathmandu. Koirala is also said to have stayed with his brother when he visited the city instead of a hotel.
History also shows that the only substantial property that former Indian Prime Minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri, had when he died was an old car that he bought on installments (part of which he was yet to pay). After his death, his wife had repaid the bank loan.
“The Times of India” had written: “In 1964, the Shastri family only had Rs 7,000 in the bank. The Prime Minister applied for a loan of Rs 5,000 loan which was sanctioned the same day. But soon tragedy struck the family and the nation. The Prime Minister passed away on January 11, 1966 in Tashkent where he had gone to sign the declaration that resolved the 1965 war between India and Pakistan. “The loan remained unpaid. It was repaid by my mother (Lalita) from the pension.”
Another former Indian Prime Minister, Gulzarilal Nanda, had died in a rented house and never managed to purchase a house of his own.
Be Part of Quality Journalism
Quality journalism takes a lot of time, money and hard work to produce and despite all the hardships we still do it. Our reporters and editors are working overtime in Kashmir and beyond to cover what you care about, break big stories, and expose injustices that can change lives. Today more people are reading Kashmir Observer than ever, but only a handful are paying while advertising revenues are falling fast.