Both the government and the opposition seemed completely clueless about how to proceed with the day’s agenda, when the national assembly resumed its session Monday afternoon. Being the largest opposition party, the PML-N, was mainly responsible for the confusion we had to endure during the initial hours.

Before the commencement of the ongoing session, Shahbaz Sharif, the opposition leader, had sent a formal letter to the Speaker. Through the same, he firmly demanded that until the presentation of the next financial year’s budget on June 12, the lower house of our parliament must consider five most important issues of immediate public concern. The government showed no resistance. An opposition delegation was rather invited to the Speaker’s chambers to finalize the timeline for general discussion on these issues.

Apparently, the said meeting eventually decided that the sitting on Monday should exclusively be focused on the possibility of a deadly attack of locust on our crops, by the end of this month. The potential threat is indeed grave, fully loaded with the chances of creating a famine like situation in broad swaths of agricultural lands. Youstart sweating while imagining the ominous consequences, for an economy already pushed down to ‘zero growth’ due to COVID-19.

In spite of being a very experienced parliamentarian, Ahsan Iqbal of the PML-N did surprise me by taking the mic. Instead of talking about the agreed topic, he tried to remind the government that thousands of Pakistanis were stranded in foreign countries.  While they were desperate to return to the country, the government seemed heartlessly indifferent to their plight.

The issue he agitated about was certainly important and legitimate. But he should first have persuaded his own colleagues to start the parliamentary discussion on Monday with it. His solo flight inspired many, present in the house, to wail over the problems expatriates were facing in foreign countries. In the given context, far more despondent were thousands of those workers, living like abandoned slaves in many countries of the Middle East.

Cutting across the party divide, speaker after speaker tried hard to get the Chair’s attention to deliver fervent speeches for expressing sympathy and solidarity with these workers. Doing this, the government was repeatedly reminded of the huge amounts of remittances that expatriates had been sending to their home country.

None of the concern-pretending speakers, however, sounded too sure about the exact number of Pakistanis, desperately wanting to return home. The figure kept jumping from “thousands” to unbelievable sounding “millions.”

Murad Saeed, the youthful minister of communication, loves to act like a know-all person in absolute command and control of everything related to governing Pakistan. He took the floor to claim that not more 122,700 Pakistanis wanted to return on SOS basis and the government has already been working overtime to make arrangements for their earliest possible coming back.

A vocal group of MNAs from Baluchistan had their own concerns. Sardar Akhter Mengal, a weighty ally of the Imran government, took the lead in this context. He forcefully alleged that certain security outfits had begun “patronizing gangs of otherwise known criminals,” for “sorting out undesired elements” in his province. In this context, he specifically referred to a recent incident in Turbat, the main city of coastal Baluchistan.

Mengal’s speech inspired many others from his province to recall the accumulated grievances of Baluchistan. In this respect, they also referred to a recent development. With wounded hearts, they alleged that around 50 persons were hired for a Federation-run outfit, responsible for the supply of electricity in Baluchistan. Out of the hired persons, only two were the genuine residents of this province. The rest of them managed to get jobs by using “fake domiciles.” The matter had to be passed on to a select committee for deep probing.

After cursory discussion on so many topics in a desultory manner, we finally came to general discussion on the menace of locust. Qasim Suri, the deputy speaker, gave the floor to Riaz Pirzada, a trustworthy agriculturalist from South Punjab, to initiate the general discussion on this issue.

But a group of ruling party backbenchers started thumping their desks to force the chair to give priority to presentation of a calling attention notice, which some MNAs from “Thal (sandy) Districts” of Punjab had posted many days ago.

Bhukkur is the main town of these areas, famous for producing multiple forms of grams, especially chickpeas. Locust had already destroyed this year’s crop, which had alreadybeen half-destroyed due to unexpected rains and occasional hailstorms. With spirited support of PTI backbenchers, they compelled Qasim Suri to let them articulate their woes immediately after Pirzada.

Syed Fakhar-e-Imam, the recently inducted Minister of Food Security, savors tremendous respect from both sides of the house. He is also acknowledged as a highly successful agriculturalist for employing the most modern means and technology to extract maximum yields from his lands.

Being a sedate type, he preferred to state nothing but hard facts regarding the potential threat of locust, which could hit huge swaths of agricultural lands from the end of June. His stating the mere facts didn’t project an assuaging story, though. Far more shocking was the information that until his taking the floor, no provincial government could yet provide his ministry with solid data on the damage that the previous attack of locusts, around a month ago, had already caused to our crops. From the empirical assessment, however, most farmers of Sindh and Punjab are certain to have almost lost the cotton they had sowed with the start of season.

Earlier, the Supreme Court of Pakistan had also forced the government to narrate its side of the locust story during the proceedings of a suo motu notice Monday. The apex court of Pakistan could not collect satisfactory answers to very pertinent questions. The proceedings rather forced many to imagine as if the government was not fully equipped to appropriately combat the expected locust attack by the end of this month.

The discussion on locust in the national assembly took no time to take the form of collective wailing. Disregarding the party divide, speaker after speaker kept standing up to drum the story that like all the previous governments, Imran government was also behaving like a cruel stepmother to farmers.

The aggressive strategy, the PTI government in Punjab had adopted to procure wheat was specially focused on in this regard. “They (the personnel of food department) raided our homes,” most MNAs complained, “and treated us like hardened hoarders.”

I seriously wonder if someone from amongst the huge battalion of “spokespersons,” viciously competing with each other to spin the feel good stories for the Imran government, would dare to honestly convey the acute bitterness to Prime Minister, expressed through the speeches of many leading MNAs of the ruling party Monday evening.

Most of them, lest you forget, hail from the South of Punjab. During the election of July 2018, Imran Khan had almost swept these areas. The mass of voters there were made to believe as if he felt strongly motivated to take radical steps to alleviate the accumulated grievances of this region, aka “Seraiki Wasaib.” The selection of Usman Buzdar as the Chief Minister of Punjab from the most left behind district of this region doesn’t seem working. The urban/rural divide is rather taking the shape of frightening polarization in the most populous province of Pakistan, i.e., Punjab.

This polarization can certainly turn to either/or showdowns, if, God forbid, the locust really reaches Punjab in the form of “Mega Swamps” by the end of June 2020, as Syed Fakhar-e-Imam had cautiously hinted at during his data-driven speech Monday evening.

While imagining the do or die confrontation, in the given context, we must also not forget that most “Dons” of the so-called Sugar Mafia, like Jahangir Tareens of this world, also hail from the Southern Punjab and most landowners look up to their kind as “sympathetic and friendly.”And the PTI government has declared an unforgiving war on the same “Mafia.”