Enviably employing all possible tricks of playing good-cop-bad-cop, the PTI government finally got its budgetary proposals passed without much ado Monday afternoon. Doing this, it also showed that a significant number of MNAs, 160 out of a house of 342, continues to fervently support it. The combined opposition, on the contrary, could only manage the presence of 119 members.

In fear-instilling times of an ongoing pandemic, both the sides recklessly violated the rules of social distancing and surely exposed their loyalists to the vagaries of a potentially deadly but sneaky virus. Such risk taking was not justified for the sake of appearances only.

Still the PTI could conveniently peddle the argument that the opposition it has been dealing with, “often violates agreements reached after lengthy negotiations.” With the advent of the budget session, both the sides had agreed that appreciating the limits, enforced by a widely spreading pandemic, the national assembly should smartly skip some clearly defined rules and long-established parliamentary traditions.

Both sides honestly fulfilled the promise of bringing the token-looking number of their members to the house. Speeches stayed mostly focused on budgetary proposals. With apparently a very large heart, the number strong opposition also made history of sorts by abandoning its right of blocking allocations for various ministries and government departments, by forcefully demanding head counts on a plethora of cut motions moved by it.

The said arrangement even pleased the prime minister. Imran Khan hates attending the national assembly sittings. He strongly believes that swayed by the blind hatred against his person, the opposition does not want to listen his speech, with due deference and attention an elected prime minister deserves. The opposition rather prefers to behave like a bunch of rowdy kids, which goes wild and desperately attempts to block the flow of his thoughts with ceaseless heckling.

The “good behavior” of the opposition, since the start of the budget session, eventually persuaded him to have second thoughts. He surprised many by walking in the house last week and taking the mic to deliver a 70-plus-minute speech that was heard with absolute attention.

The said event motivated many of parliamentary reporters to presume that our viciously divided politicians were finally developing the habit of live and let live. From now on, the government and the opposition would be playing their parts in parliamentary proceedings while abiding by mutually agreed rules.

Perhaps to demolish the perception of “a deal,” Khawaja Asif of the PML-N and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari of the PPP held a press conference in Islamabad Sunday. They vigorously rejected the “anti-people budget” and dropped heavy hints to suggest as if all the opposition parties would attend the Monday sitting of the national assembly in “full strength.” This might help them to “defeat” the Imran government’s proposals for the next fiscal year by pressing for ‘make or break’ headcount.

In normal times, the idea of “rejecting” this government’s budget by open voting in the national assembly would have seemed worth trying: The Imran government does not command the simple majority on its own. It remains in office due to a vulnerable-looking majority, furnished by disparate sort of ‘allies.”

Sardar Akhter Mengal had already pulled himself out of the ruling alliance while delivering a passionate speech in the assembly around two weeks ago. The PML-Q refused to attend the dinner, the prime minister had hosted on the eve of final voting on his government’s budgetary proposals.

During general discussion on budgetary proposals, fairly a good number of ruling party backbenchers had delivered speeches, clearly reflecting anger. “The interview,” Fawad Chaudhry had granted to a senior journalist sounded doubly ominous in the given context by promoting the feel of drift about the Imran government.

The PTI handlers of parliamentary business were thus compelled to act hyperactive. They burnt the midnight oilto ensure that maximum number of their MNAs appear massively present in the House Monday morning. Savoring the sadistic pleasure about their hard labor, Khawaja Asif and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari delivered bombastic speeches to lynch the government with harsh words and taunting barbs.

But the government was set to relish the last laugh after bringing a decidedly winning number to its benches. Taking advantage of the visible edge, Murad Saeed, the unforgiving minister, took the floor to deliver a passionate speech for another time. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari remained the main target of his venomous ire. He kept addressing him with contemptuous tone and deriding words.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari walked out of the house, the moment Saeed was given the floor. The PML-N benches also looked deserted for expressing solidarity with Chairman PPP. Murad Saeed and his supporters felt too delighted about it. The minister also pronounced with tremendous pride that the opposition even “lacked the courage” of “listening to a foot soldier of Imran Khan,” i.e., Murad Saeed. He kept wondering whether its top leaders should still be daring to “challenge Imran Khan” for holding live debates with them before TV cameras.

Shad Mahmood Qureshi loves to act like an iconic politician, diligently observing the rules of argument-based polemics amongst the pedigreed scions of “the elite.” Yet, he also got carried away. The manner “Murad Saeed had forced the opposition to flee the house” moved him to pronounce with utmost pride that from now on, the opposition must learn to behave. It should wake up and forget the dream of extracting the resignation from Imran Khan, “who is set to stay in Prime Minister’s Office” until completing his five-year term.

The unusual passion of Shah Mehmud Qureshi also suggested that for the opposition he no more was a good cop. Murad Saeed had rather shown him the way to treat the opposition, perhaps with contempt it deserves. 

If you consider the number-driven logic, as it manifested itself in the national assembly Monday, Shah Sahib’s combative stance may sound justified. The PTI surely staged a convincing looking victory by showing 160 members against an aggregate score of 119. In the long-term perspective, though, the said number does not ensure sustainable majority for the Imran government.

The acrimony between the government and the opposition had deepened for sure, after do-or-die posturing of Monday, from both sides of the house. It made me genuinely worried about the post-budget political scene.

Reviewing the National Assembly proceedings of Monday, I felt more alarmed after putting them in the context of what had happened in Karachi the same day. Four terrorists tried to sneak into the building of stock exchange with the clear intent of hostage taking and generating the scene of absolute chaos. The said attempt also conveyed, at least too loudly to me, that a wily mind, well-placed in the so-called “deep state” of our neighborhood, desperately tried to divert attention from the humiliation endured in the heights of Laddakh of late.

Hats off to the personnel of Karachi Police especially the heroic martyrs who checked and crushed the nefarious attempt by sacrificing their own lives.