It indeed is true that parliamentary rules and traditions permit a minister to take the floor of an elected house, whenever he or she feels the need for it, and issue a “policy statement.”

No question is instantly allowed to facilitate a general discussion over the matter, elaborated by the minister through such statement. The ministers seldom take advantage of this privilege, though, that too on a day reserved for private initiatives for legislation.

Umer Ayub, the minister in charge of energy, appeared setting a new trend Tuesday evening by invoking the right of offering a “policy statement” to prepare us for possible increase in petroleum prices. And this looked odd.

Hardly an hour before the commencement of Tuesday sitting, Dr. Firdous Ashiq Awan, the recently appointed advisor on information, took long to proudly inform us that the Prime Minister had refused to approve the increase in petroleum prices, as recommended by OGRA.

Chairing the cabinet meeting Tuesday, he rather commented that the recommended increase, at least Rs. 14 for a liter, looked too unbearable and the ECC should hold a special meeting to bring it down to a bearable level.

After telling the said story, Dr. Awan also tried hard to highlight ‘caring sides’ of the prime minister and promote the feeling that the PTI government was determined to protect people from a stifling wave of inflation during the holy month of Ramadan.

Through a “policy statement” in the national assembly, Umer Ayub conveyed an entirely different message. He wanted us to realize that Trump Administration had withdrawn concessions, given to eight countries, including India and China, when it comes to importing oil from Iran.

The said decision, he went on, has reduced the availability of oil in global market. The shortage jacked up the oil price and experts fear that it might touch the height of 80 US dollars per barrel. Pakistan is one of the major importers of oil in South Asia and thus destined to bear the burden of this hike.

In short, he clearly conveyed that ‘the respite’ announced by Dr. Awan must be considered but temporary and we should rather be getting ready for hard times.

Yet, he did quote figure after figure to convince us that Pakistanis were still paying less for a liter of petrol than people living in countries like India, Turkey and South Africa and the PTI government would try to maintain the trend.

What he did not reveal was the fact that Dr. Hafiz Sheikh had categorically told his colleagues in the cabinet meeting that Pakistan desperately needed to abandon the habit of “subsidizing” to keep prices of certain items of daily usage, “stable and bearable.” Subsidies lead to budget deficits and Pakistan can no more afford them. The time has come to choose either subsidies or budget deficits.

Dr. Sheikh was forced to reiterate the said message for obvious reasons. Pakistan is about to get a bailout package from IMF. Its officials are already in town to complete the preparatory negotiations for it. During their presence here, the PTI government wanted to ensure them that it was serious to address the deficit-connected issues through the “policy statement” that Umer Ayub had volunteered Tuesday evening. The assuaging spin doctoring by Dr. Awan can obviously not defer the inevitable for long.

Prime Minister Imran Khan and most of his loyalists surely fathom from heart of their hearts that with the advent of Ramadan, another wave of unbearable inflation was about to hit consumers. They do seem worried about its political blowback but miserably lack the will and doable ideas to manage it.

The PTI government has rather been forced to focus on managing the feel of stability on ‘macro’ sides of our economy. The task is outsourced to Dr. Hafiz Sheikh, a heartless technocrat who never required votes to rise and rise in his career.

But even the politically hardened and experienced ministers of this government feel relatively relax while discussing the possibilities of a potentially ominous blowback of the price hack.

The confusion within the PML-N remains the primary source of their comfort. In spite of having 80-plus members in the house, the former ruling party certainly looks rudderless these days. Their sole priority appears to wait and pray for a miracle-looking moment that allows Nawaz Sharif to go abroad on health grounds.

Probably, to facilitate the expected moment, Shahbaz Sharif had already gone to London. Not one person in the PML-N knows for sure when he plans to return. In the absence of “guidance” from the House of Sharifs, they don’t know how to conduct themselves in the national assembly.

Off and on, Shahid Khakan Abbassi does try to stir things with autonomous-looking acts of defiance in the house. But he seldom gets appropriate backup support from his colleagues.

Little wonder, a huge number of PML-N backbenchers have begun feeling envious of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who has almost hijacked the limelight through a consistently spirited presence in the national assembly and media.

To overcome the feeling of being overshadowed by the youthful PPP Chairman, these backbenchers are now demanding that Khawaja Asif, once famous for being too blunt and loud, should lead them in the absence of Shahbaz Sharif. He can replace Rana Tanvir as the “Parliamentary Party Leader” of the PML-N in the national assembly.

But sidelining Rana Tanvir may also send the message that the PML-N “punished” him for still keeping a soft heart for Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan.

Shahid Khakan Abbassi remains the obvious option, but Shahbaz Sharif and his camp don’t feel comfortable about him. He is considered “blindly loyal” to Nawaz Sharif and often says things that most PML-N MNAs shiver to own these days.

Taking advantage of the persistent confusion within the PML-N, a cunning group of experienced parliamentarians from the PTI had also been discreetly egging on the PPP to begin thinking of replacing Shahbaz Sharif form the office of Chairman Public Accounts Committee by its nominee.

Thanks to a forceful campaign, the PML-N had succeeded to get this office for Shahbaz Sharif, even when NAB had arrested him under multiple charges of corruption. The PTI base felt betraying its anti-corruption reputation for conceding this office to him. Even the Prime Minister had agreed to it with a heavy heart.

After grabbing the said office, Shahbaz Sharif got a house in the ministers’ enclave of Islamabad. That house was declared ‘sub jail’, but Shahbaz Sharif kept getting out of it to preside sittings of the Public Accounts Committee. The same committee now appears almost dead, since he had gone to England and the PPP does not feel comfortable about it.