Yesterday for the first time in Pakistans often dotted history regarding the minorities, a minority minister belonging to a center right party presented the budget of the richest province of Pakistan. Yesterday, in that regard at least, we got it right. Bishop Alexander John Malik who was in attendance at the budget session at the Punjab Assembly, finally had something to celebrate after many many months without good news. With several N league members of the Punjab Assembly shying away from delivering the speech, Mr Kamran Michael turned a challenge into an opportunity and made history where other MPAs, including senior politician Sardar Khosa, feared to tread. Reportedly his name being put forward had the special backing of Mian Nawaz Sharif. The budget session started with a litany of praise for the incarcerated Moonis Elahi from Chaudhary Zaheeruddin, who demanded that the Speaker summon Mr Elahi via production order to the session, as is possible in the National Assembly. The Speaker firmly informed Chaudhary sahib that would not be possible as such a law does not exist for the Punjab Assembly. Rana Sanaullah added that such a law is applicable only to persons in jail, whereas Moonis Elahi was comfortably ensconced in a rest house and not behind bars. This drew a wry, rare smile of enjoyment from the Chief Minister, who a few minutes before had been stifling a yawn during Zaheers remarks. Strangely, while Q league MPAs all wore black armbands in protest of Moonis Elahis incarceration, Chaudhary Zaheers pristine white shalwar kameez was the only one unsullied by the black band of fabric. Mr Kamran Michael rose to vigorous desk thumping, resplendent in a confident red tie, to make history behind the dais. Scarcely a few minutes into the speech, Opposition Leader Raja Riaz kicked off the festivities by advancing on the implacable Chief Minister holding a silver decorative haar to put around his head to congratulate him on ending his 8 month long boycott of the Punjab Assembly which elected him to the post he now enjoys as Chief Minister. Rana Sanaullah, Zaeem Qadri and Waris Kalo were the first to spring to attention and rush up the aisle towards the Chief Ministers seat to form a human barrier to shield him from the offending article in Raja Riazs hand. Raja Riazs progress was blocked off by several N league MPAs, pushing and shoving Raja Riaz and his supporting team back from the CMs side of the house. In the tussle the haar was wrested away, while a camera tripod was sent flying through the air by a spirited female PPP MPA. Briefly it seemed as though the gallery was about to be treated to a fistfight on the floor, before matters ended at a few harsh sentences from each side. The MPAs returned to their seats and Kamran Michael continued with his speech, as the haar lay defused on a pile of budget speech booklets, stacked on the floor. The only difference was that Zaeem Qadri was on his feet in the aisle next to the CM to ensure no repeat performance. Kamran Michaels oratory skills were more emphatic and exciting than the polite, steady style of Hafeez Sheikh. Stressing on every figure he stated, whether it was 20 rupees or millions, he repeatedly jabbed the podium with his finger and gestured vigorously as he mopped his brow at intervals from the exertion of his performance under the bright lights of the Assembly. He delivered with as much gusto as he could muster, those parts of the speech that seemed to have been written at the CMs desk and which drew from him the loudest applause, namely, the yellow cab scheme, Ashiana housing project, self-employment initiatives for the young, Daanish schools, among others. Only at page 14 of the 30 page document did he stop for a sip of water, which put an end to the musing in the press gallery about how soon he was going to faint if he carried on without hydration. With four MPAs to a seat used to two at the most, members on the furthest ends of the assembly benches were comically piled one of top of another, fighting to free an arm to thump their desks. At a few points when their energy seemed to wane, the CM would look around at his benches and signal them to get ready to loudly applaud the next point. This happened when development schemes for South Punjab were being outlined. As the figure of Rs 70 arb (32% of the total developmental budget for Punjab in the year 2011-2012) approached in the speech text, all hands fell thumping to their desks at the CMs signal in a coordinated display of support and appreciation. Honourable mention here must go to the cheerleading skills of N league MPA Waris Kalo, who was seated directly behind the dais where Kamran Michael stood, presumably because of his admirable energy and ability to bang his desk passionately with both hands for a prolonged period of time, with his tongue sticking out for added effect, as a reflection of enthusiasm for the contents of the speech. His performance, veering from looking bored and chewing on the microphone, to seeming as though he was under the influence of amphetamines while pounding the desk with his hands rolled into fists, was captivating to say the least, if not distracting from the relatively calm demeanour of Kamran Michael in front of him. Outside the Assembly, after the speech, MPA Azma Bukhari of the PPP, a traditionally liberal party, made a pathetic attempt at forging an objection by claiming that for the first time in history a minority minister presented the budget and coincidentally for the first time in history Bismillah was not read before the speech. The lady is a discredit to her party for making such an obnoxious claim in the face of the fact that Mr Kamran Michael read Bismillah in Arabic and then in Urdu translation before he began his speech. Not just that, but as a non-Muslim he was under no compulsion to do so. The space between Ms Bukharis ears seems to be occupied by wet sawdust instead of anything resembling sense. She would do well to stay alert during sessions of the Assembly, instead of dosing off on the back benches and rousing herself only in time to get some face time making dim-witted statements on camera. The Opposition as a whole must be applauded, as other than the haar incident, they heard Mr Michaels speech patiently and as promised by the PM did not drown his voice out in baying as was done with Mr Hafeez Sheikh. While the first impression of the budget speech seems to be that the wealthier sections of society are going to face more taxation and fairly so it is important to remember that the wealthiest sections of society are the landowning, agricultural elite, who control the largest contribution to the GDP of the economy. If not this time, at some point, agricultural income will have to be taxed and the sooner the better. The richest of the rich, the 'ashraafiya are not just the office block heirs, but also the thousand acre owning feudals. Its not good enough to tax swimming pools; even starting from landowners of 100 acres or above, all provincial governments must start to impose agriculture taxation if Pakistan is to stand on its own feet financially. Members of all assemblies, a large majority of whom belong to this group of 'ashraafiya above described, must lead by example.