LAHORE  -   It’s official now. Punjab government is not standing with its Law Minister Mohammad Basharat Raja on the issue of his involvement in a controversy over the transfer of a lady doctor who happens to be daughter of the PML-N stalwart Hanif Abbasi.  

Holder of the senior most position in Punjab after the chief minister, Raja Basharat had to face embarrassment last month when his audio conversation with Dr Tariq Niazi became viral on the social media. In that audio, the minister and the MS can be heard arguing over the transfer of Dr Areeba from skin department to the emergency ward of Benazir Bhutto Hospital, Rawalpindi. On refusal to oblige the minister, the latter tells the MS that someone else would do the needful if he did not reverse his orders. 

The law minister’s discontent over government’s apathy to restore his esteem is growing day by day. One could gauge his fading confidence in his official status when the Minister for Health Dr Yasmin Rashid presented a strong defense of the MS on the Punjab Assembly floor yesterday. This implied that the health minister was standing with the MS and not with her fellow minister.

Madam Minister took all the responsibility on herself saying that it was on her instructions that the MS had transferred Dr Areeba from skin department to the emergency ward. She told the House that during a visit to the hospital last month she had noticed shortage of staff in its emergency and asked the MS to make up for the deficiency from other departments.

She also made it clear that no action will be taken against the MS. On being reminded by the opposition benches that the MS had committed a cyber crime by uploading the audio on social media, she replied the MS had denied the allegation and this issue was yet to be probed. She also condemned Dr Areeba for disobeying official orders regarding her new placement. 

It was evident from her statement that Madam Minister has surely cut loose from a fellow minister who is second only to the chief minister in the biggest province. It is quite obvious now that the PTI government is not supporting its minister despite having a record of removing IGs, DIGs and DCs from their positions for not obliging its ministers and parliamentarians. It is hard to fathom for many why the same yardstick is not being applied in case of Raja Basharat. Is it because of the reason that he happens to be a close aide of Ch Parvez Elahi? Interestingly, it was Ch Parvez Elahi who had asked Raja Basharat to join the PTI just before the July 2018 polls.

Azma Zahid Bokhari of the PML-N raised this issue on a point of order and alleged that Punjab government had failed to provide safe working environment to women employees. She also termed it political victimization which forced the lady doctor to quit her job. Other opposition members including Waris Kallu, Muhammad Ahmad Khan and Tahir Khalil Sindhu also spoke in favour of the law minister and the lady doctor. Ahmad Khan demanded that the hospital MS must be sacked for not obliging a minister.

So much so, Mian Shafi Muhammad, who was chairing the sitting, also jumped into the fray in support of the minister. “Today, I am hearing good things from the Opposition benches”, he remarked. He also said that government servants must show respect for the elected representatives who were, in fact, advocates of the people providing free services. Mian Shafi observed that the MS had committed a cyber crime by putting the audio on the social media and hence he should be punished for this offense.

Minister for Prosecution Ch Zaheeruddin Ahmad also sided with Raja Basharat saying the minister had conducted himself well in his telephonic conversation with the MS. But overall, the Treasury seemed divided on this issue involving a sitting minister.

Also, the Opposition plans to move an adjournment motion today against Punjab Minister for Information Fayyaz Ul Hassan Chohan for his outbursts against the media persons. PPP’s Hassan Murtaza wanted to move the motion yesterday but the law minister asked him to defer it till Thursday (today) since the concerned minister was not present in the House. The Chair also made a commitment with the mover that he would take it out- of-turn tomorrow. While the media has forgiven the minister after his apology made on the Assembly floor yesterday, the Opposition seems determined to settle old scores with him.