For many months since the election of July 2018, our parliament continued to look as if deeply polarized to unbearable limits. Its upper house, the Senate, often reflected the intensity of it.

Taking advantage of its brute majority, the opposition parties ganged up to completely block the legislative process. That forced the Imran government to enforce “laws”, through Ordinances notified from the President’s Office. The opposition also scuttled this process, by vowing to “reject” each Ordinance, even if it was duly passed by the national assembly. For the fear of its resolve, the government did not dare to summon the Senate session for three long months late last years.

Former Chief Justice, Asif Saeed Khosa, must get the exclusive credit for pushing both the government and the opposition on the route to reach “consensus.” Too close to his retirement, he decided to consider “the law” and the process that “empowered” the Imran government to grant a three-year extension in the tenure of incumbent Army Chief. Eventually, he declared that our parliament should pass a clearly worded law for settling issues, related to the appointments of Services Chiefs and for granting extension to their tenures.

Most political observers took it for granted that deeply polarized parliament would certainly fail to evolve consensus on such a complicated and potentially explosive matter. With anxious hearts they rather began waiting for either/or showdowns among all three pillars of our state.

In the end, though, our parliamentarians surprised all of them by passing the required law with unprecedented speed. The government and the major opposition parties rather took no time to reach on “one page.”

Perhaps the smooth passage of the said law inspired some Senators to continue with the “consensus binge.” Cutting across the party divide, six of them joined hands to prepare a bill, wanting almost 400 per cent increase in the salaries of Senators besides asking for more perks and privileges.

Both the government and the main opposition parties tried to act as if totally oblivious to sneaky preparations for this bill. Doing this, the government disregarded the fact that Sajjad Hussein Toori had remained one of the main movers of it. And he happens to be the PTI nominee for guiding his party legislators in the Senate as the Chief Whip.

From the PML-N, Dilawar Khan and Sardar Mohammad Yaqub Nasir actively supported the move and so did Dr. Ashok Kumar of the National Party from Baluchistan.

Surely, with appropriate winks and nods the movers of the proposed bill wanted to get it passed from a sitting, which is reserved for “private initiatives” for legislation. This trick had already been successfully employed in the spring of last year in the Punjab Assembly. In that house, the government and the opposition members had quietly ganged up to increase their salaries by inserting amendments to related laws on a private members’ day.

The tricky passage of the said law sparked a huge scandal. The PTI-led government in the most populous province of Pakistan was accused of practicing audacious hypocrisy by not opposing the said bill.

After all, for more than 20 years, Imran Khan and his followers had been projecting themselves as the promoters of austerity, vigorously fighting against the “luxurious” lifestyle of politicians, the majority of whom were also called “looters and plunderers.”

As if to protect his personal and party’s reputation, Prime Minister Imran Khan summoned the Governor and Chief Minister of Punjab to Islamabad. They were firmly told to undo the already passed law. The Punjab Governor did not sign the law and passed it back to the Punjab Assembly for “reconsideration.” This led to nothing in the end and Punjab Assembly members are gleefully drawing the increased salaries, fixed by the amended law for more than a year now.

The movers of a similar bill in the Senate seriously believed that the trick employed in the Punjab Assembly could also deliver for them. The details of the law, they had been covertly preparing for many weeks, however, produced shrieking headlines when it came out in the open, precisely on a day when the nation was informed that inflation had now peaked to a stifling point which we have also endured ten years ago. The numbers, officially released by Pakistan Statistic Bureau (PSB), also woke us up to the reality that during less than two years of the Imran government, Pakistan has witnessed 40 per cent increase in its debt liabilities.

In the given context, media persons were forced to aggressively question the “selfish greed” of “our representative.” Pakistan People’s Party immediately rushed to announce its distance from the covertly prepared salary-increasing bill. That forced the ruling PTI to disown the same as well. The PML-N behaved neither here nor there on this matter, like it mostly does on many issues of public interest these days.

Monday evening, the national assembly was also in session. Most parliamentary reporters, including myself, preferred to stay put in the press gallery of the Senate, however, to keenly watch how most senators would pretend backtracking from a move, which surely enjoyed bipartisan, though covert, support.

Barrister Mohammad Ali Saif of the MQM deserves honest applause. In spite of not being a mover of the said bill, he took the floor to candidly and firmly state that salaries of the senators were laughably low these days. They do not match their status. No senator can afford living like an average middle class person, while solely relying on his salary. He or she has to look for other means to ensure a reasonable living.

Senator Mohammad Osman Kakar of the Pushtunkhawa Millii Awami Party was another Senator who expressed his thoughts with a straight bat. Both he and Saif had a solid point to drum that not all members of the upper house of parliament are “billionaires,” as the public presumes. Manyof them do nothing but fulltime politics and their sole source of income remain the salary they get from the Senate.

Most senators, even if resisting the passage of the salary-increasing bill, often compared their salary package with judges of the higher courts and senior grade government officers. They surely look dismally low in comparison. Also pitiable, if you consider the reality that after vacating their seats, senators don’t get a penny in the name of pension etc.

Politicians are cursed to please the public, come what may. And the bill-resisting senators had to pain their lungs to convince us that they were conscientiously opting for the painful austerity as a mark of solidarity for the marginalized sections of our society. Millions of them have already been pushed to the wall due to nonstop increase in prices of items, considered essential for daily sustenance. They feel doubly desolate for seeing no hope on the economic front.

Loudly showing solidarity with the wretched of our earth, some senators also took on media persons, especially the celebrity anchors of 24/7 TV networks. They insisted that most of these anchors get hefty salaries per month, crossing more than a million on average.

But the same anchors, “so addicted to a luxurious lifestyle,” spare no moment to malign “public representatives,” by spinning negative stories. But the Senators had also realized that media had turned the public sentiment against them. When the Chairman asked them to stand for or against the proposed bill, 29 of them even opposed moving it to the standing committee for consideration.

We also have senators from some political parties, who portray themselves as cadre based parties, essentially representing the middle class sentiments and aspirations. Sixteen senators from the MQM, JUI (F), National Party and the Pushtunkhawa Milli Awami Party stood to defend the bill, which was eventually scuttled there and then after an exhaustive discussion on the floor, which facilitated too many speakers from the government and main opposition parties to flaunt solidarity with the poor and marginalized of this world.