I might have skipped writing this column if Bilawal Bhutto Zardari had not taken the floor of the national assembly, almost at the tail end of its Monday sitting.

It was too obvious at the outset that even after an unusually long gap, stretched to seven weeks, the government could set no legislative agenda for the session it had summoned. Its main objective was to comply with minimum number of sittings that our constitution enjoins the assembly to hold in a parliamentary year.

The absence of a substantive agenda conveyed the frightening feeling that under this government, parliamentary forums were increasingly losing their validity and relevance. Yet honorable members of the august house seemed oblivious to this ominous feeling.

After some casually passed remarks to register ‘protest’, the opposition let Ali Mohammad Khan deal with questions that essentially were related to the ministry of interior. It certainly looked odd, because the recently inducted minister for this portfolio, Ijaz Shah, was very much present in the House and didn’t feel apologetic while arrogantly telling the house that he still needs time to fathom issues related to his ministry.

After the yawn-inducing question hour, the house speaker remained firmly stuck to dispensing procedural formalities. Members sitting in a half-deserted house looked bored and reporters were found scratching their heads to find points, worth reporting to breaking-news-addicted media.

As if to furnish juicy material to them, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari walked into the house and took the floor with the plea of speaking on a point of ‘personal explanation.’Seven weeks ago, the PPP chairman

 

 

 

 had delivered a lengthy speech while participating in general discussion that presentation of a “relief package” by the former finance minister, Asad Umar, had triggered via the second ‘mini-budget’ of this government since taking over in August 2018.

After dismissing the said package as “Seth-friendly,” the PPP chairman had quickly switched focus on government’s resolve to take on the proscribed organizations after eluding ‘near war’ with our archrival.

The tone and tenor of the speech Bilawal had delivered remained witty and taunting, in spite of seriously questioning the government’s sincerity when it comes to deal with extremist organizations. He repeatedly wondered as to why the National Action Plan (NAP), prepared by consensus around five years ago, failed to get executed with conviction and vigor.

Shah Mehmood Qureshi, the foreign minister, did furnish an apt reply to his speech. Doing so, he mostly endorsed concerns that the PPP chairman had expressed. He, however, kept stressing that the PML-N government failed to move on NAP. Things would appear remarkably different under the PTI government.

Fairly a good number of the PML-N stalwarts were sitting on front benches when Qureshi took the previous government on with sarcastic remarks. Hardly a person from the PML-N benches cared to respond and the foreign minister walked out of the house like a victor. It rather appeared as if both the PTI and the PPP were moving close to the same page on the issue of the firm management of proscribed organizations.

During his concluding speech, though, Asad Umar viciously took on Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. He accused him of delivering a blistering speech ‘in English’ to “please his masters sitting in the West.”

The former finance minister also kept wondering as to why Bilawal had added Bhutto to his name. He must stay as a Zardari to clearly define his pedigree and then pointed out at a “NARR KAA BACHCHA (the son of an Alpha-male), Abdushshakoor. This “PTI tiger” had defeated Bilawal on a national assembly seat from the Lyari area of Karachi, considered an invincible citadel of the PPP since the 1970s.

The PPP chairman was not present in the house when Asad Umar targeted him for a ruthless attack, which mostly remained personal and essentially impolite.

Through a point of personal explanation, Bilawal tried to get even to that speech Monday evening. He visibly relished the reality that Asad Umar was no more a minister. Dr Hafiz Sheikh, a technocrat, had replaced him in certainly an embarrassing manner. And Sheharyar Afridi is also pulled out of the ministry of interior.

Bilawal had accused both these ministers for having “links, connections and sympathies” with some prominent members of the proscribed organizations. The PPP chairman considered their ouster from the cabinet as vindication of his position.

He surely behaved sadistic while tauntingly reminding the PTI that Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh had served as finance minister of the PPP government of Asif Ali Zardari for around three years.

“You accuse us of ruining the economy with corruption and faulty policies,” he went on, “while forgetting that most of our economic management was done by the same Shaikh you have now brought into your cabinet in desperation.”

The PPP chairman did not stop there. He went on to rub in the point that the recent cabinet-reshuffle, in effect, had exposed the “incompetence of the SELECTED Prime Minister.”

Umer Ayub, the minister of power, could take it no more. He stood up to loudly tell the speaker that the use of “selected” for the prime minister derides and demeans the status of the national assembly that had elected Imran Khan as its Leader of the House.

The furious interjection by Umer Ayub inspired a large group of the PTI backbenchers to stand up and block the flow of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari with incessant hackling.

Doing this they also raised slogans and derogatory refrains along with nonstop desk thumping. Bilawal refused to give in. Forcing his mouth too close to the microphone he rather threatened twice that if he was not allowed to speak, the prime minister must think twice before entering the national assembly.

The PTI crowd arrogantly laughed at this threat. Some of them rather used some expressions for Bilawal that cannot be printed in a family newspaper. Suffice to say that the remarks and innuendos used reflected the chauvinistic bigotry that blindly adores an Alpha male in our culture.

Little wonder, when Umer Ayub was given the floor to deliver a retaliatory speech, all PPP legislators left their seats and huddled around the ministerial benches. Soon they switched to the chants of “go Niazi go.”

Sitting in the press gallery, I failed to hear even one word of the speech that Umer was trying to deliver. The bedlam around the ministerial benches appeared building up to potential fist fighting among some diehard loyalists of both sides.

The PML-N members looked confused and clueless. They visibly hesitated to join the heckling crowd of the PPP. In the end, though, most of them simply stood up to show half-hearted support for their opposition colleagues. The speaker had no choice but to buy time by adjourning the house for a while.

The 30-minute recess failed to restore calm in the house. After taking the presiding chair, the speaker gave the floor to Umer Ayub. The moment he stood up, all PPP legislators once again rushed to the ministerial benches in full strength to prevent his speech with too loud and continuous chants of ‘go Niazi go.” The helpless-looking speaker had to adjourn the house until Tuesday morning.