Remember the time when you were a class monitor and you’d dread the teacher asking you to take control of the classroom for a bit? None of your classmates would listen to you, while your friends would make the most noise. A disaster of sorts that usually would end up with you standing at the back of the classroom as a punishment. Asad Qaiser, the speaker of Pakistan’s National Assembly, is that same monitor who has no control over the classroom he presides. His class is an anarchy and his ways are unknown rather unidentified given the events of the last few sessions. Pupils in his class bring their A-game: some band, bajaa and gaalis to throw around. His is a thankless job.
What would have been an annual discussion on Pakistan’s budget in the assembly, is now a discussion about who abused how much, who shouted the loudest slogans and whose throw of the budget book hit the opposing wickets. In normal circumstances, it would be the opposition that would protest, but ours is a government that is still in the opposition.
A circus in parliament
Consider these extraordinary circumstances. The Imran Khan-led Pakistan government loves to do what it was taught to do — protest. Reminiscent of the good old days on the top of a container truck, hurling abuses at opponents with no worry in the world, least of all, running the government. Not much has changed even now as the government protests with full authority and no worries.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men were there to stop opposition leader Shabaz Sharif from giving his budget speech and how. If the ministers of education and climate change were seen beating the desk with the budget books of their own government, don’t skip a beat for them, all these documents are just props.
The human rights minister squeaking “chor chor“, looked as enthusiastic as she is at her real job, which is to worry about human rights of anywhere but Pakistan.
Another minister was seen standing on the table of the leader of the house and ferociously throwing books like there was no tomorrow. Then there was a wild card entry just like on reality shows — special assistant to the prime minister Ali Nawaz Awan, who went on a spree hurling the choicest abuses like he was in a street fight. And why not, it is a season of Awans. Who can forget our favourite Firdous Ashiq Awan who just last week, during a news show, slapped Qadir Mandokhail, a Pakistan Peoples Party leader.
But no one should forget that the real act of valour was from defence minister Pervez Khattak from far far away: he stood, he saw, and did nothing. As others in the ring fought it out, he strategised. Now he isn’t Pakistan’s defence minister for nothing after all.
The Imran Khan-led government complained that the opposition instigated them because it raised slogans of “Donkey Raja ki Sarkar nahin chalegi, nahin chalegi” during the assembly session. The 2018 animated Pakistani film Donkey King followed the journey of a donkey, Mangu, who promises to make a Naya Azadnagar, and beats a lion who is the king and subsequently has the lion arrested. The film, though, was not a scathing commentary on Naya Pakistan at the time. Yet, it has become a political metaphor for the hybrid regime.
From 2011, Imran Khan presented his party, PTI, as an alternative to what was available in the form of political parties in Pakistan. It was said that the PTI was not only the party of change but also a party of “padhe likhay log (educated people)”, it wasn’t uncouth as others in the political business. And now history is in the making. Before they came to power in 2018, from the top of his dharna container, Imran Khan and his party members would scream that a panicking Nawaz Sharif had wet his shalwar, refer to Nawaz-Shahbaz as “motu gang”, threaten opponents that they would be dragged by their moustaches to jail, and scream sexist jibes. Remember the famous “Main Sheikh Rasheed jaise banday ko apna chaprasi bhi na rakhoon” and the “Pervaiz Elahi Punjab ka sab se bada dakoo hai”? Both are Khan’s allies now. Gender, age, class slurs, nothing has been off-limits. The muddier the discourse, the better.
That is why the behaviour put on display by ministers, special assistants and MPs in parliament gets the highest approval ratings. You wouldn’t see any party action against those who we think are out of line, for that is now an acceptable behaviour in this party of “change”.
The author is a freelance journalist from Pakistan. Her Twitter handle is @nailainayat. Views are personal.
(Edited by Neera Majumdar)