The sudden surfacing of the coronavirus has indeed crippled the crisis management capacity of policy makers all over the world. To single out our government in this context would not be fair. We are dealing with a mind-boggling pandemic since late February-2020, however. It certainly furnished ample time for devising doable strategies to deal with certain issues of almost routine management of the official business, at least. We surely appear failing on this count.

We claim to be a parliamentary democracy, where the provincial units savor enviable autonomy. Our boastful pretensions clearly required that an emergency session of parliament be summoned to evolve the so-called national consensus for dealing with Corona-triggered crisis.

 

The Imran government did not bother; for, it clearly believes in delivering solo. Like Trump and Boris Johnson, Prime Minister Imran Khan initially took Corona like another type of Flu, not deserving SOS measures. The frightening scenes in countries like Italy did force second thoughts, especially after realizing that thousands of Pakistanis were returning from Iran, a country seriously hit by the contagion.

 

To prevent Italy-like scenes, we had to opt for a half-heartedly enforced lockdown all over the country. To evolve a preemptive strategy, eventually a high-powered National Command and Control Centre (NCOC) was established after much dilly-dallying. It began monitoring the Corona-connected scene, with data input from health-related and intelligence collecting outfits. This data helped the federal and the provincial governments to develop a national strategy for dealing with Corona-connected issues.

 

After the establishment of NCOC, there was no legitimate need to summon the parliamentary sessions in the name of “seeking guidance” from “public representatives.” Our opposition, especially the PML-N, loves to act as if desperately trying to assert the “supremacy of parliament,” however. Through a requisition the government was compelled to call for a brief national assembly session from Monday onwards. Both the government and the opposition took some time in deliberating on how to go about this session, which certainly looked like an exercise in futility.

 

Parliamentary sessions also require comprehensive coverage in media, especially in this day and age of 24/7 news cycles. Both the government and the opposition were equally clueless about it as well. The beat reporters of assembly proceedings took it for granted, though, that as per the established practice they would walk into the parliament building like previous times.

 

Four days before the commencement of the assembly session, someone in the government suddenly realized last Thursday that after the invasion by Corona, you could just not afford to open the press gallery to everyone as in the past. Some SOPs were urgently required to ensure that going to and returning from parliament do not make you vulnerable to Corona.

 

After imagining a set of measures in this respect, reporters in the age group of 50-plus years were “advised” to avoid coming to parliament. The said decision did surprise regulars to parliamentary gallery. At least I turned audacious and cynically wondered through writing a Tweet that why a sixty-plus type like me had been advised to stay away from watching proceedings of a house, in which majority members fall in the age-group of 50 to 60.

 

The PTI-connected trolls felt offended with my rage-driven Tweet. But some weighty ministers of the Imran government did contact me to convey an assuaging message. Senior personnel of the secretariats of the national assembly and the Senate also assured me that they had no objections, if I wanted to take the risk of watching the parliamentary proceedings, while sitting in the press gallery, during the gloomy days of Corona. The Ministry of Information also ensured cooperation. The Press Information Department specifically behaved too kindly. The security card, facilitating my entry to parliament building, was rather delivered to my home at around 12:30 PM Monday.

 

While preparing myself for leaving the house after 50-plus days of agonizing sequestering, I approached some of my youthful colleagues to find out how to make it to parliament. Two of them explained to me that instead of using the entry points, specifically assigned for parliamentary reporters, I would need to enter from the main gate. After parking my car, I need to approach a team of doctors, deputed in the car park. They would use swabs to check whether the virus had also hit me.

 

I would love to avail the said facility, provided gratis by the government. But the final result of the proposed test had at least taken 2 days. I hate to fake being brave, but regarding death one had always been recklessly indifferent since the days of my youth. Reporting from war and terrorism-hit territories augmented the same indifference.

 

As a person deeply caring for others, I could not stop myself from seriously pondering over a question. Let’s presume I am an asymptomatic carrier of the contagion. I go through the test before entering the parliament building, the result of which was bound to come after two days. I go and return home without much ado. What about the “spread,” which my four-hour presence could leave behind in the parliament building?

 

At around 1:30 PM, I also got the news that the team of doctors had no more swabs left with them. They were waiting for more supplies. No one was yet sure when the required supply would be there and the assembly sitting was set to start at 3 PM. I preferred to act responsible by staying put at my home, in spite of feeling extremely frustrated about it.

 

My frustration turned doubly unbearable when the government-controlled PTV-News switched back to normal transmission, once Shah Mahmood Qureshi finished his long speech to explain and defend government’s strategy for dealing with Corona.

 

Khawaja Asif, a senior representative of the PML-N, took the floor after his speech. I kept pushing buttons on my remote to attentively listen to his speech. But after showing the initial parts of his speech, the privately owned “independent” TV channels had also switched back to their Ramazan-connected shows.

 

In these days of acute economic crisis these channels surely need to please their ads-providing sponsors. When I expressed my frustration via Twitter, a kind soul eventually sent me a YouTube link. It helped me to watch LIVE proceedings of the national assembly, transmitted by a PTV-run outfit, which was not available on the cable network catering to my home.

 

After watching the assembly proceedings from home, I don’t feel the need of “reporting” even some salient points of the speeches delivered from the national assembly floor Monday. The dominant trends were also too obvious.

 

Initiating the general discussion on Corona, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, felt quite proud in setting and promoting the narrative, which in spite of its limitations, the Imran government was quick and astonishingly efficient in dealing with Corona-driven crisis. According to his narrative the NCOC had proved a very competent forum that exclusively decides on the state of the lockdown. Authentic data drives its policies and all provincial governments fully cooperate with it to ensure consensus.

 

He never used the term “herd immunity.” But the data he kept flaunting kept persuading us to believe in that option. Daily wage earners and low-income groups, fast slipping to abysmal poverty, deserve a “smart lockdown,” he kept pleading. Doing this he also kept referring to billions of rupees, the Imran government had generously provided to extremely vulnerable sections.

 

While promoting the delivering side of his government, Shah Mahmood Qureshi often recalled of “constraints” that the 18th amendment of our Constitution had enforced upon the federal government. Health was a provincial subject anyway. Yet the Imran government had been going an extra mile to help the provinces in mitigating the corona-driven crisis.

 

The PPP-led government in Sindh did not seem acknowledging the good work, though. And in this context, he specifically targeted the PPP Chairman, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. He clearly accused him of promoting parochialism and tried to act as if seriously feeling sorry about it. Shah Mahmood had migrated to the PTI from the PPP; a party he claimed was strongly associated with an all- embracing narrative, once upon a time. It never played any “regional (read Sindh) Card.

 

Through Khawaja Asif, the PML-N tried to spin the story that Imran government perpetually acted too late in addressing the Corona-connected issues. Imran Khan’s whims dictate its policies and instead of seeking policy input from PTI members, elected to parliament, the prime minister prefers to rule through unelected types. His speech was also loaded with acidic barbs.

 

After Khawaja Asif, another minister, Hammad Azhar, was given the floor to rub in the feel-good story and then came the turn of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.

 

In spite of being too lethal on certain points, the youthful chairman of the PPP diligently kept sticking to a pleading and beseeching message. “I don’t want to start any (political) battle with you at this point,” he kept repeating. He also kept urging the Prime Minister to personally lead the war against Corona and promised unconditional support to him, if Imran Khan opted to act on his advice.

 

Murad Saeed, the federal minister of communication, took the floor immediately after Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. Prime Minister Imran Khan strongly admires his punching skills when it comes to demolishing the PPP’s image. In this context, he also is considered one and only to take on Bilawal Bhutto Zardari with a rudely taunting tone and data selected to project the story as if even the third-generation leader of the PPP remains ruthlessly indifferent to the miseries of an average Joe of this country.

 

The first sitting of a national assembly session, ostensibly summoned to build national consensus has surely reiterated the ugly message that our luckless country remained a frighteningly polarized society. Even a pandemic like Corona won’t compel it to forget and forgive.