On the fourth day of general discussion on budgetary proposals most speeches, delivered from both sides of the house, seemed to have reached “also-ran” stage. Although yawn-inducing, the given speeches did project certain themes, set to deepen the political divide in our country. Parallel to growing tensions on the political front, we could also smell the building of urban/rural divide.

Syed Navid Qamar, a very experienced parliamentarian from the PPP, set the tone for it. He hails from an established family of Sindh, cynically perceived speaking for “big landlords” only. He is academically trained to deal with complex issues of modern economics and at least twice helped the previous PPP governments to clearly define its fiscal priorities.

Being a contemplative type, he consumed most of his time to insist and plead that in post-COVID Pakistan, we must forget throwing money for reviving the so-called “industrial sector” in the name of ‘stimulus’. Our resources should rather be fully utilized to resurrect the agricultural potential of Pakistan. With the slogan of “grow yourself what you want to eat,” the policy planners should start developing high-yield seeds and find means to provide farmers with affordable inputs, like fertilizer etc.

Of late, most of Pakistanis seem to have woken up to ruthless profit making by the “Sugar Mafia.” The focus on sugar producers, however, kept us ignorant about the magnitude of multi-prone damages, the water gulping crops of sugar cane has caused to our fertile lands and historic patterns of agricultural production.

Pakistan, for example, was once considered a major producer of textile-related products. The gradual shift to sugarcane growing eventually brought us to a point where we are forced to import high-quality cotton to spin cloth required for textile industry, attracting the high-end markets in a very competitive world.

The “addiction” to sow nothing but sugarcane has also crippled our imagination to seek varieties of vegetables and fruits, which can bring more profit even to owners of relatively small farms.

Many PTI members, representing farmers, fully endorsed his position. But ruling party’s regulators of the parliamentary business has visibly passed on a set of ‘taking points’ to their members. These points were devoted to promote the narrative that under the “honest and visionary leadership” of Imran Khan Pakistan has pleasantly surprised the world by extremely successful management of the Corona-connected crisis.

We eluded the heart-wrenching scenes of frightening number of deaths, witnessed in highly developed countries like the USA and Britain. The contraction of our economy also looks relatively bearable in comparison to these countries. “Bigots”, crowding the opposition parties, were yet not willing to acknowledging the obvious realities with a large heart. Driven with a vicious mindset, theyrather continued pressing for the enforcement of a crippling lockdown, with the hope that it might lead to mob-led mayhem due to absolute crippling of the economic activity.

 

Taking on the opposition, the ruling party legislators also kept recalling Nawaz Sharif as “the most corrupt leader,” Pakistan ever had. The Supreme Court of Pakistan finally declared him “dishonest” and judged him “disqualified” for holding any public office. Although sent to jail for corrupt practices, he had managed fleeing the country by “faking a life threatening ailment”. But his loyalists not even blush while fondly talking about him.

 

During the concluding hour of the Thursday sitting, Fahim Khan, a PTI backbencher from Karachi, switched the ire to Bilawal Bhutto Zardari as well. Doing this, he also passed some very rude and contemptuous remarks. He could get away with it, due to feeble resistance from the PPP benches, which looked half-deserted anyway.

 

The ceaseless promotion of the feel-good stories regarding the Imran government failed to prevent spreading of the message that the PPP was no more alone in preparing for a do or die battle for the possible “protection” of the 18th amendment and to forcefully resist “reviewing” of the National Finance Commission Award, which had settled the issue of dividing money between the federal and the provincial governments.

 

After delivering a passionate speech in the house Wednesday, Sardar Akhter Mengal of the Balochistan National Party (BNP) has already announced parting with the ruling alliance. “Provincial autonomy” and NFC Award vocally dominated his long list of accumulated grievances.

Amir Haider Hoti of the Awami National Party (ANP) kept mainly focusing on these two issues during his speech Thursday. He had been the Chief Minister of KPK from 2008 to 2013 and is the scion of a prominent family, historically associated with the cause of “Pashtun Rights.” The tone and tenor of his speech was restrained and almost sedate. Yet, he was able to convey many ominous messages.

Surprisingly, no credible voice from the PTI cared to firmly refute the fast spreading perception that the PTI government was actively considering the idea of revisiting the 18th amendment or redefine the terms of allocating funds to federal and the provincial governments through a fresh Award, to be announced by a recently constituted National Finance Commission. Perhaps no one dared to do so, because through some of his remarks while being in Karachi the other day, Prime Minister had himself referred to some “downsides” of the 18th amendment.

Instead of sending some assuaging messages regarding this potentially explosive question, a significant number of the PTI speakers invested their rhetoric to project the feeling as if the Imran Khan-led PTI was a “rebellious movement,” seeking “liberation from the dominion of Takht-e-Lahore (The Throne of Lahore)”.

Speaker after speaker from various districts of South Punjab kept repeating the claim that throughout his ten-year-long rule of Punjab, Shehbaz Sharif kept burning all possible resources of the state to build “luxury projects,” like Metro Bus and Orange Train for his hometown, i.e., Lahore. The wretched of our earth, living in a huge area that starts from D.G. Khan and end up at Attock via districts of Layyah, Mianwali and Bhukkur, felt extremely left-behind due to Lahore-Centric obsessions of Shahbaz Sharif.

Sanaullah Masti Khel from these areas felt too good and proud in the given context. He strongly believed that millions of left behind from these areas are now feeling grateful to God: For the first time we have a Prime Minister and the Chief Minister, both of whom hail from “Seraiki speaking” areas. “Takht-e-Lahore” is finally enduring the comeuppance it deserved for not being kind to oppressed and abandoned people of the Seraiki Belt.

“Anti-Lahore” rhetoric often forced me to recall the ire, Tea Party types from the “rust states” of the USA had been vigorously expressing against the dominance of “metropolitan cities” like Washington, New York and the Silicon Valley, with the advent of this century. Donald Trump reached the White House, after harnessing their rage. Perhaps Imran Khan had done the same regarding the presumed hold of “Takht-e-Lahore.”