“I am unable to do my job,” railed Pir Mazharul Haq, the senior education and literacy minister, as he explained his reasons for filing a privilege motion against Pakistan Muslim League-Functional MPA Marvi Rashdi.
Haq may be mistaken. He did manage to derail the entire proceedings of the Sindh Assembly on Monday as legislators devotedly followed the tennis match dialogue between PML-F parliamentary leader Jam Madad Ali, Sindh Finance Minister Murad Ali Shah, Sindh Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ayaz Soomro and the woman behind the furore: Rashdi.
The city may be burning, the bodies may be piling up and the protests may be heating up. But in the carpeted opulence of the Sindh Assembly such issues are mere inconveniences, as matters of great importance – Haq’s wounded pride – dominated the discourse.
Jam Madad Ali was rather upset. His party has been accused quite often in the past few months of ‘enjoying’ the benefits of being in the government while acting like the opposition in the assembly. “You don’t like us,” Ali told the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) ministers.
Perhaps, Ali should have rephrased that. The PPP ministers don’t appear to like Rashdi, what with all her questioning about public interest issues and violence in Lyari and protests.
“At least you should not speak about our elders,” Ali said, referring to Sindh Information Minister Shazia Marri recalling Pir Pagaro VII’s self-proclaimed loyalty to the Pakistan Army. “The Pakistan Army is our army,” he said, by way of clarification.
But even Jam Madad Ali’s apology wasn’t enough to quieten Haq. “He has shown bravery,” Haq said, “but the member should be brave too.”
Good luck, Mr Haq. The defiant Rashdi has vowed to ‘never’ apologise, even if it costs her a Sindh Assembly seat. There was no attempt to move the conversation back to matters of public importance, even as people were pouring out into the streets to protests the police operation in Lyari.
PPP’s Jam Tamachi Unar woefully said they were “ashamed to call themselves MPAs” but there was little remorse in the house.
Other MPAs were piqued too – many had a complaint with the four-year performance report of the Sindh Assembly that was launched amid much self-congratulatory spirit over the weekend. One wondered why his name wasn’t listed properly; the other said he had asked a far larger number of questions than those listed in the report.
When Sindh Culture Minister Sassui Palijo announced that we have become “desensitised to violence” she could have easily been talking about the assembly. But perhaps the MPAs realise that their debate and discussion on law and order will be of little consequence. After all, as several people associated with the banned Peoples Amn Committee have alleged, power really lies in the hands of the president’s brother, Owais Muzaffar ‘Tappi’. “We called Taj Haider, he said talk to Tappi. We called Faisal Raza Abidi, he said talk to Tappi. No one can do anything, Tappi has all the power,” was the answer from a PPP loyalist and a former union council mayor in Lyari when asked who could help solve their problems and put an end to the violence.
Is the Sindh Assembly, then, just a grandiose show put on at great public expense? (It costs Rs0.5 million for a single sitting) Surprisingly enough, that is not true. The assembly is capable of greatness and has helped move legislation and the government to act on several issues. Several legislators are quite loved in their constituencies and speak to any MPA – and they’ll give you a rundown of exactly what is going right and wrong. As a collective force, however, they appear to be more interested in a war of egos than making the most of their last year. In any case, they’ll have plenty to ponder about on Tuesday, as the Sindh Assembly will not be in session so it can mark Labour Day. Monday must have tired them all out.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 1st, 2012.