“This is a PPP government… not one of the waderas,” thundered MPA Imran Zafar Laghari in the Sindh Assembly on Wednesday as MPAs banged their desks in appreciation, as he told the rather emotional tale of how flood survivors from his district had been allegedly beaten up and booked in an FIR for asking for compensation.
Laghari then uttered the line of the day when recalling how he went to visit his protesting constituency: “The district commissioner said, ‘Arrest the MPA along with the people’”.
While many MPAs chimed in with calls of ‘shame, shame’, the ministers on the front benches were far busier talking to each other, and looking at Murad Ali Shah’s iPad. MPA Arif Mustafa Jatoi was reprimanded for exclaiming that the “law minister is not prepared to answer questions” by speaker Nisar Khuhro, as Ayaz Soomro said he had not been given a chance to speak.
The Sindh Assembly passed a resolution in support of democracy, mirroring the National Assembly on Monday, and Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah spoke on the resolution. But while the resolution calls for ‘state institutions’ to ‘strictly function within the limits imposed on them by the Constitution’, there was no one in the assembly to listen to the PPP’s Dr Sikandar Mandhro speak for the second time this month on the fate of Sindh University students who are allegedly in the custody of security agencies. Interestingly enough, Mandhro said on Wednesday that they had been ‘kidnapped’, while in his previous statement he openly declared they had been taken away by the agencies.
But democracy, as the chief minister and his right-hand men and women remind everyone inside and outside the assembly, is alive – for now. While asking for Laghari’s adjournment motion on his issue to go through, Jatoi laughed and noted, “(We) don’t know what will happen tomorrow but there is a democratic system today.”
Leghari’s speech aside, the session was a virtual snooze-fest until CM Qaim Ali Shah walked in. The MPAs nearly fell over each other to squeeze themselves into a seat next to him. Khuhro had to glare at and then speak to an MPA who wouldn’t stop chatting Shah up, and he didn’t realise the speaker was reprimanding him until Soomro poked him to quiet down. The PPP MPAs were rather delighted, it seemed, when MQM MPA Shoaib Bukhari wandered across to speak to Shah and was then told he had to go back. “The rules are for everyone,” one MPA loudly exclaimed, as Bukhari settled back into his seat. The session was barely over before the MPAs mobbed Shah. If it weren’t for his age – and the constraints of the house – I wouldn’t be surprised to see the chief minister crowd surfing his way out the door.
And as far as the ‘this is not a wadera government’ remark is concerned, perhaps those MPAs who cheered Laghari should have taken a look outside. Every morning, half a dozen or so men gather outside, hoping to get hold of an MPA to ask for assistance and favours. On Wednesday morning, a man dressed in a PPP-themed shalwar kameez – with an embroidered arrow and red, black and green patches and pictures of Benazir – waited outside the assembly and in the afternoon, Food Minister Nadir Magsi’s car was mobbed by men holding out pieces of paper and folders through his car window for him to look at.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 19th, 2012.
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