By Amjad Mahmood
LAHORE: One wonders whether controversies follow the Punjab prisons minister or Chaudhry Abdul Ghafoor himself keeps looking for chances to pick brawls. If one goes by Monday’s episode in the Punjab Assembly, the latter case seems to be true.
Pakistan People’s Party, the junior partner in the coalition ruling the province, had to face the wrath of the opposition for ‘loose’ and emotional speech of senior minister Raja Riaz in which he declared Mohsin Leghari of the Pakistan Muslim League-Q “a traitor” and an “Indian agent” out to pitch the federating units against each other on water issue.
N-League’s Sirdar Zulfikar Khosa added fuel to the fire by saying the family Leghari belonged to was also ‘devoid of a clean past’.
In the meantime, a Q Leaguer, Bushra Nawaz Gardezi, hoisted a placard inscribed with “CM Punjabi industrialist is traitor of Punjab.”
Reading it, Ghafoor left his seat and aggressively advanced to the opposition member to snatch away the placard. She held back her writing, which was taken away and folded by another opposition member standing behind her.
Uttering some remarks, which Ms Gardezi alleged were unbecoming, the minister also tried to slap her but he was held back by other MPAs.
An infuriated Ghafoor then threw budget books on Ms Gardezi which, missing the target, hit Samina Khawar Hayat, who responded in the same coin. However, she too missed the target.
This led to a heated argument between the treasury and opposition MPAs and the latter walked out en bloc to protest the episode, alleging the chair was showing partiality, while the house reverberated with slogans of “whosoever is friend of Musharraf is a traitor.”
Speaker Rana Iqbal, who played the role of a silent spectator during the ruckus, immediately announced a committee comprising Deputy Speaker Rana Mashhud, ministers Tanvir Ashraf Kaira, Nadeem Kamran, and Ashraf Sohna and MPA Chaudhry Shafiq to bring back the protesting members.
As some PML-N members opposed the efforts to bring back the opposition, a visibly upset speaker subdued these voices by asserting: “It’s me to decide what to do and not you.”
It was good to see that some PML-N MPAs led by Shehzadi Umerzadi Tiwana, notwithstanding their party affiliations, condemned the minister for abusing a woman MPA, and called for showing restraint by treasury benches.
Tiwana rejected the chair’s stance that no such ugly incident took place. “I’m an eyewitness to it (so there’s no use of denying it).”
To rescue the minister and the party from a difficult situation and as a damage-control measure, woman MPAs from the PML-N staged a token walkout against “illegal”, “unconstitutional” and “immoral” display of the placard in the house.
Waris Kallu, amidst desk thumping, rather sought the chair’s ruling on whether the placard could be brought into the house or not.
Q’s forward bloc leader Mian Ata Maneka held the authorities’ inaction on an incident occurring at the stairs of the assembly a few days ago responsible for the Monday’s episode. He was denouncing Raja Riaz’s remarks of terming Leghari a traitor when PPP MPAs interrupted him. Angered by it, he too walked out in protest.
Soon the team sent for bringing back the opposition returned empty handed as law minister Rana Sanaullah Khan told the chair the opposition leader had informed him that they would not join the house proceedings for the day. He urged the speaker to complete the agenda set for the day: discussion and voting on supplementary demands for Grants 2008-09.
The law minister disapproved both Ms Gardezi and Mr Ghafoor’s acts, terming them non-parliamentary.
However, it is to be seen whether Mr Ghafoor has to face some disciplinary action or gets off scot-free like he did in a scandal involving him in a forcible clearance of luggage from an international flight at Lahore airport around a month ago. And that how much cost the PML-N leadership is ready to pay for this blue-eyed minister of the Sharifs.