Presenting the budget in Parliament is a serious business – certain treasury and opposition bench members, however, seem to have taken it a little too seriously.
Fifteen minutes into Friday’s session, while hapless Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh was being drowned out by the opposition’s sloganeering, a free for all broke out between Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) members, diverting attention from his speech itself.
An infuriated Javed Iqbal Warraich from PPP slapped Capt (retd) Muhammad Safdar, PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif’s son in law, after which rival party members jumped into the fray. PML-N’s Shakeel Awan, Omar Sohail Zia Butt and Malik Abrar Ahmad were seen at the forefront.
Anticipating that things were likely to get uglier, PML-N’s Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and PPP’s Qamar Zaman Kaira tried to exercise some damage control. The information minister was seen pushing Jamshed Dasti back to his seat when he jumped in to support Warraich while, Abbasi was also seen trying to restrain his party members.
Perhaps the brawl was unsurprising, considering that members of an aggressive PML-N had started raising slogans and holding protest placards the moment the speaker invited the finance minister to deliver his speech.
While both sides may have been at the receiving end of some accurately-aimed slaps and punches, the goal remained to keep Prime Minister Gilani in the clear. Warraich, Kaira, Religious Affairs Minister Syed Khursheed Shah, Akhunzada Chittan and several others formed a human shield around the premier, who seemed more than willing to accept the protection.
The PML-N, undeterred, all remained present in front of the prime minister’s desk – with the notable exception of Chaudhry Nisar and Ayaz Amir.
While male members were protecting Prime Minister Gilani, Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan tried to play her own role in the fracas, snatching placards from female members of the opposition who were standing behind the finance minister to get live coverage in the media.
The first day of the budget session was also the first encounter between PM Gilani and the PML-N after his conviction by the Supreme Court. The ensuing punch-up not only managed to render the finance minister almost inaudible but also led to the overshadowing of the oath taking of a newly elected member, Sardar Muhammad Israr Tareen of Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) as well as a dua for the martyred soldiers of Gayari.
NA Speaker Dr Fehmida Mirza made repeated calls for maintaining order in the house but remained unheeded.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 2nd, 2012.