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Imran Khan to ‘hurricane’ Firdous — two street visits to show Pakistan govt at work

Pakistani politicians from all parties have used the Ramzan month for PR activity in the past. But only Imran Khan govt has managed to pull off such a self-contradictory show.

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Last year, this time, we were discussing the storm that was ‘colonel ki biwi’. This year, we have ‘hurricane’ Firdous taking over the reins of Pakistani people’s attention.

It so happened that the adviser to the chief minister of Punjab, Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan, while visiting a special Ramzan bazaar in Sialkot, reprimanded an assistant commissioner over the ‘poor’ quality of some fruits at a shop. Firdous lost her temper, not the first time though, questioning the official, Sonia Sadaf, about the “third-class fruit” put up on sale. “Aap koi aasmaan se utri hui hain?”, “aapki harkatein hi nahin hain AC wali” (you are not acting like an assistant commissioner), and that “kis beghairat ne aap ko lagaya hai, usse poochtay hain” (we should ask the shameless person who has appointed you), were some of the insults hurled at the official by the CM’s advisor.

The visibly shocked Sadaf, who, after failing to reason calmly with Awan, eventually walked away from the scene. “You are a VIP, go sit in the drawing room,” was Awan’s send-off note to the official.

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‘Fearless’ Awan, a repeat offender

Uncouth is the only way to describe the entire show put up by Awan. It’s a different matter whether the food items were of ‘third-class’ or not at that sasta bazaar, the behaviour was unbecoming for a government representative. You don’t publicly humiliate an officer just because you think you have the power to do so and then get away with it. Avoidable for sure, the act, even if done to score some efficiency points in front of the public — ‘look, I am reprimanding this officer for your pain even if it means publicly humiliating her — doesn’t do much other than show the entitlement of a government official to do as they please. Does the behaviour guarantee that every customer who now goes to a sasta bazar would get first-class fruit? Most likely not.

Awan is no stranger to controversy. A true representative of a mixed achar politician (turncoat, if you will), she began her career with Pakistan Muslim League Quaid-e-Azam, a party propelled in power by General Pervez Musharraf, was cabinet member in Pakistan Peoples’ Party government of 2008, and now is an active leader – without winning her seat in the 2018 general elections – of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf. This is her fifth such portfolio and nothing deters her. As minister for social welfare in the PPP government, she objected to the proposal for two holidays a week for industries dependent on electricity because that would lead to “population explosion”, since people would be at home with no work. Worrying for population explosion comes naturally to Awan along with her ability to mock people publicly. Only last year during a Covid relief activity, she was seen probing a poor mother of eight: “What does your husband do, aside from ‘this work’? Then in 2019, when she was special assistant to Prime Minister Imran Khan, she drew criticism for trivialising the recent earthquakes by saying, when “tabdeeli (change) comes, the ground shakes”. As information minister of PTI, she once told a news anchor how she wasn’t afraid of him.

Clearly, she can’t be afraid of anyone, not even Sunny Deol. That’s why at the opening of Kartarpur Corridor, she told Deol how he was in politics but wasn’t a politician. Of course, Deol is no Awan. Whatever one may say of her now, the truth is that Firdous Ashiq Awan vs AC Sialkot did result in a lyrical version of their tu tu main main. Now who doesn’t like a new soundtrack.

Also read: Loves me, loves me not – The curious case of the Imran Khan govt and the ‘banned’ TLP

Seeking to score with a background score

Moving on to another soundtrack. On the same eventful Sunday when Awan was publicly humiliating the assistant commissioner, Prime Minister Imran Khan was on his own trip “without protocol” in Islamabad. To a rather emotional background score, we saw images of PM driving a BMW, asking people to mask up, conversing, not yelling at roadside vendors and stall owners. One time, he was seen in a deserted area, standing but not going anywhere. That’s how most of our Sundays are, without a camera crew that is. On this momentous occasion, we were told that PM Khan stopped at all red signals, like who even does that? In fact, the rumour has it that the Prime Minister was not moving even at green signals. Now that’s something we could all aspire to achieve.

This PR drive by government officials during the month of Ramzan is an age-old practice, conducted by all previous ruling parties, from the PML(N) to PPP. But none could pull off a self-contradictory show like the government of the day, when the food inflation is at record high but consoling people by venturing out “without protocol” and talking down to assistant commissioners is believed to be enough. Even the PM’s latest public reprimand of Pakistani ambassadors in foreign countries asking them to “forgo colonial-era attitudes” is seen as an attack on bureaucracy only to garner brownie points from the people. We only wish such gimmicks will bring down the prices and cut short the queues of people looking to buy one kg sugar even in Ramzan bazaars.

The author is a freelance journalist from Pakistan. Her Twitter handle is @nailainayat. Views are personal.

(Edited by Prashant Dixit)

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