LAHORE - Two annual rituals were performed yesterday. President Mamnoon Hussain addressed a joint session of parliament to mark the advent of the second parliamentary year, and Finance Minister Ishaq Dar made public the economic survey, highlighting the ‘economic wonders’ done by him at the completion of the first year of the PML-N government.

What the two leaders said at a gap of few hours was totally predictable.

The government has been full of appreciation for its policies and initiatives – and the ‘symbol of federation’ added his voice to the chorus while addressing parliamentarians.

Now the people should better celebrate the victories of the government, dance and distribute sweets as the GDP has gone up, forget their petty problems and the fact that half of the people are living below the poverty line. (In Arabic, those who don’t have enough money to meet their needs are called Miskeen). They should trust that whatever the PML-N government did for them over the past one year was not done by any government in history and what it planned to do in the future would be beyond the imagination of any other set of people.

As a matter of principle, the president should give his honest evaluation of the government’s performance and offer sincere advice about the future roadmap. But, unfortunately, this can’t be expected in our brand of parliamentary democracy. Here the president is supposed to be the top most ‘hanger on’ or ‘yes man’ of the government. He has to read out the speech given to him by the government. The day he spoke out his conscience, he would be ‘transgressing’ his constitutional limits.

Now, let’s try to analyse what the president said about various subjects that he broached in his first speech to the joint session of parliament.

He expressed his satisfaction over the one-year performance of the government as well as the bicameral legislature, feigning ignorance from the fact that only one bill could be enacted into law during the 12 months under review. Interestingly, the president said this when the opposition was protesting at the prime minister’s failure to show up even once in the Senate during the past year. Is it not rather insulting to the Upper House?

Many say that the prime minister has been staying away from the Senate because his PML-N doesn’t have a majority there. This approach gives the opposition parties a justification to not enter the National Assembly because they don’t have majority there. Don’t you agree with this argument?

Everyone knows that the PML-N is quite capable of inducing the legislators of other parties to switch loyalties. The party encouraged formation of forward blocs in such parties in the past and got the desired results. After the 2008 elections the PML-N did not have a majority in the Punjab Assembly. To enhance its numerical strength it persuaded the PML-Q MPAs to set up a forward bloc, which they did under the leadership of a man from Pakpattan. The constitutional argument offered in support of the abhorrent move was that if more than 50 per cent MPs form a forward bloc they get the status of the ‘real’ parliamentary party and can formulate their own policies, no matter what the viewpoint of the parent party from whose platform they had been elected. The MPs employing this technique to join hands with their rivals don’t have to face the consequences of anti-defection law.

The PML-N leadership could have resorted to this trick in the Senate as well. But one doesn’t know why the brainy leaders did not try it. Or, maybe, they tried it but did not get the desired results.

The president’s appreciation of the government’s efforts to improve economy and overcome energy crisis was a bit difficult to digest. The government has only added to the foreign loans of the country, which the future generations would have to repay no one knows how. The foreign exchange reserves have been raised by contracting new loans. And the nation is yet to know the terms and conditions on which the new energy projects are being set up. The answer to this question is ‘classified’ so far, known only to a few members of the ruling family.

One fails to understand that if the situation is really so encouraging and all state institutions are working satisfactorily, then why some people are spreading rumours of threat to the democratic system. Journalists who are like mouthpieces of the government have written that not only the system but much more is at stake. One journalist even said that there is undeclared martial law in the country.

The president said in his address that the prime minister’s India visit was a step forward for normalization of relations with that country. Maybe, it’s so, but many say that the prime minister had failed to do what he should have done at the meeting with his counterpart Modi. He did not take up the Kashmir dispute and the water issue even when the host prime minister was giving him a ‘to do’ list.

Some people are seriously criticizing the prime minister for his meeting with an Indian steel tycoon, and allege that it appeared as if promotion of his personal business interests was also part of the agenda.

(The prime minister’s elder son Hussain Nawaz who runs his steel mill in Jeddah was also part of his father’s delegation and was present at the meeting with the Indian ‘steel giant’)

Some critics said that the prime minister had the time to meet the steel tycoon, but not the APHC leaders.

In such a situation when the Kashmir issue was not taken up with the Indian leadership, it is difficult to say who the president was referring to when he was calling for the solution of the Kashmir dispute in accordance with the UN resolutions and the aspirations of the Kashmiri people.

As for the victories of the finance minister in the field of economy, they are just what his predecessors have been claiming in the past. Whenever a government is out of power, the successor says the outgoing setup destroyed the economy. Then the new government gets loans, boasting that the world lenders appreciate their economic agenda. The situation improves for a brief period. But by the time the new government’s ‘fated’ term comes to an end, the foreign exchange reserves again touch the bottom and all economic indicators start showing the country is at the brink of bankruptcy.

This cycle is unbreakable.