Ice is apparently broken between Prime Minister Imran Khan and PTI leader Jahangir Tareen as the latter has cancelled an iftar-dinner to be hosted for dozens of disgruntled PTI lawmakers on Wednesday after receiving an assurance that the prime minister is ready to hear his grievances.
“We have been assured that the premier is ready to meet us. However, [I want to make it clear that] we will only meet the prime minister and not a governmental committee,” Tareen told the Express Tribune.
“During the meeting, we will present our grievances with regard to the sugar inquiry commission and the FIA’s [Federal Investigation Agency] cases [filed against the JDW group owned by Tareen].”
Tareen was once considered a close friend of Prime Minister Imran Khan. However, the PTI’s former secretary general was side-lined after an inquiry report about a sugar crisis accused him of benefiting the most from a steep hike in prices of the commodity in January 2020.
As the FIA intensified its probe into Tareen’s alleged role in the sugar crisis, a number of PTI lawmakers started rallying around him with speculations about emergence of a possible forward bloc in the PTI.
According to reports, the iftar dinner scheduled for Wednesday (tomorrow) for the like-minded MNAs at Tareen’s residence has also been cancelled. The Ramazan feast was called off after a “green signal” regarding the meeting between the premier and Tareen was received from the Prime Minister’s Office.
The sugar inquiry commission – led by the FIA – had accused sugar mill owners of earning illegal profits worth billions of rupees through unjustified price hikes, benami transactions, tax evasion, misuse of subsidy and purchasing sugarcane off the books.
The commission had also pointed out that the country’s top politicians – including PML-N’s Shehbaz Sharif, PTI’s Jahangir Tareen and Khusro Bakhtiar, PML-Q’s Moonis Elahi and PPP’s Asif Ali Zardari – were also among the beneficiaries of the crisis
It is widely believed that despite being out of the power corridors, Tareen still wields significant influence over a good number of MNAs and MPAs. Meanwhile, in the recent past, the group loyal to the PTI stalwart has been critical of the governance style of Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar.
In an apparent reference to Tareen, PM Imran while talking to reporters in Sargodha on Friday said he was ready to meet and listen to the grievances of party’s lawmakers but added that sugar price was increased by Rs26 per kilogramme which robbed the nation of Rs130 billion.
Since it was the government’s job to protect the interests of people, he said, the government conducted an inquiry through the FIA which revealed that a cartel of sugar mills was fleecing the people and evading taxes.
On Saturday, PTI MNAs and MPAs, who accompanied Tareen to the banking court in show of support warned the premier, saying “if the things remained unchanged, if humiliation of Jahangir Tareen continues with the same pace, then we can take any extreme decision”.
“We believe that Jahangir Tareen is being humiliated through such cowardly moves, nothing could be earned through such ways… this matter should be brought to its logical conclusion,” demanded PTI lawmaker Raja Riaz.
“We are warning Prime Minister Imran Khan for the last time, if the things are not wrapped up then they may get out of control.” Tareen, while addressing the press conference, had said he did not commit any wrongdoing and earned all money through legal means.
He said the purpose of all such cases and inquiry against him was merely aimed at humiliating him and to sideline him from mainstream politics. “Not even a single word about the sugar scam has been mentioned in the FIR registered against me,” he said.
He had also claimed that the purpose of the sugar inquiry was not to bring down its prices but to humiliate him. “I will fight the cases and will prove my innocence in the courts,” he said.