LAHORE  -   Surprisingly enough, the Opposition Monday kept complete mum over the issue of non-issuance of production orders of its detained legislators contrary to the expectations that it would agitate this issue on the Assembly floor.

Opposition leader Hamza Shahbaz and MPA Khawaja Salman Rafique are currently in jail in connection with the NAB investigations. The PML-N-led Opposition was expected to raise this issue on the onset of the Assembly proceedings, but it did not do so much to the surprise of the journalists sitting in the Press Gallery.

Sources privy to the proceedings of the business advisory committee held just before start of the session told this scribe that the opposition members had taken up this issue in this meeting also. Law Minister Raja Basharat made some legal excuses, but they seemed adamant to raising this issue inside the Assembly. However, the Opposition just forgot about it on the onset of the session and brought up some other issues for discussion.

In the last Assembly session convened by the Opposition, it had taken the stance that House was not in order since the Opposition leader was not present in the House. Rana Iqbal had then argued that Hamza should not be denied the right to lead the Opposition and to represent his constituency in the House. Acting Speaker Dost Mazari and Law Minister Raja Basharat had then reminded the PML-N legislators of section 79-A of the Assembly Rules of Procedure according to which it was not mandatory on the Speaker to issue the production orders of any member. 

Also, in its requisition, the Opposition had desired to hold debate on the issues of price control, law and order and the current economic situation, but these were never meant to be discussed. In its last requisition, the Opposition had identified the same issues for House debate, but it ended up debating the issue of non-production orders of Hamza Shahbaz.

As expected, Speaker Parvez Elahi opted not to chair the Assembly sitting for the second consecutive time with the clear intent of avoiding the controversy over issuance of production orders of the Opposition leader. Since the passage of the law authorising the Speaker in this regard, Parvez Elahi has been presenting himself as the only Speaker who took this initiative. Previously, he has also been issuing the production orders for the Opposition leader and other detained legislators. Aleem Khan and Khawaja Salman Rafique have been the beneficiaries of this legislation besides Hamza Shahbaz.

But the things have changed now. Prime Minister Imran Khan does not like the detained politicians to be brought to the Assemblies. It has now become a party policy and Parvez Elahi being a coalition partner with the government must toe its line whether he likes it or not. But he has been absenting himself from successive Assembly sessions to show his displeasure over the new policy which has no legal standing though.

Also, much like the previous session, there was no debate in Punjab Assembly on the issues of law & order, price hike and the economic situation though the session had been convened to discuss these problems. Instead of discussing the most burning issues facing the common man, the entire Assembly proceedings revolved around two wicked words-“Chhoohra”,(a derogatory word for Christian sweepers) and “Chhokari” (a derogatory word for young ladies). Speaking on a point of order, a minority member from the PML-N Khalil Tahir Sindhu alleged that DG Research, Punjab Assembly, Inayatullah Lak had called him “Chhoohra” when he insisted on bringing his call attention notice regarding murder of an eleven year old Christian boy in Faisalabad on the Assembly agenda for discussion. For most of the time, the Treasury and the Opposition House were locked in discussion over this issue. The debate took a new turn when Prosecution Minister Ch Zaheeruddin came up with the revelation that former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had once called Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto a “Chhokari” on floor of the House. It was something hard to digest for PPP’s Parliamentary Leader Hassan Murtaza who expressed his displeasure over minister’s remarks. He later also staged a token walk out to lodge his protest. Rana Mashhood of the PML-N and Ch Zaheer also exchange hot words on this issue.

Deputy Speaker prorogued the session after the Opposition failed to complete the quorum. However, it managed to keep it when it was pointed out for the first time during first part of the proceedings. Since the session had been convened on the demand of the Opposition, it was its responsibility to keep sufficient numbers in the House.