‘Romantic, idealist or whatever’

Mian Raza Rabbani represents a vanishing breed of politicians, still trying to keep their profession connected with some “principles.” Since 1993, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) has consistently been getting him elected to the Senate from Sindh and for once in that capacity he became its Chairman as well.

Despite being a veteran loyalist of his party, Raza Rabbani often annoys its leaders by firmly taking a position that doesn’t fit in the “pragmatic compulsions” of a specific period. No wonder, for more than a decade he mostly looks like an alien to his own party, which seldom seeks his ‘wisdom’ before taking ‘strategic decisions.”  Yet we also have to admit that the same party shows a large heart by letting him say, that too in public, whatever comes to his mind at the spur of a moment. His tantrums, even if not taken seriously, are mostly tolerated for reflecting “old-school romanticism.” And he threw another tantrum in the Senate Friday.

Like the lower house of our parliament, the upper house is also discussing the budgetary proposals these days. In the national assembly, ‘general discussion’ on these proposals keeps invoking yawns because 123 members of the largest party in that house, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), had submitted “collective resignations,” yet to be formally accepted. But in the Senate, Senators representing the PTI continue to fiercely take on the same proposals.

Raza Rabbani’s PPP is the second largest partner of the eleven-party unity or the coalition government that had replaced Imran Khan after pushing a vote of no-confidence against him in the national assembly. It was his turn to discuss the budgetary proposals Friday and the government must have expected that he would defend the same with convincing eloquence. Instead of ‘delivering’ the expected, Raza Rabbani directly addressed the Chairman Senate to build the case that for “the past three to four years parliament had fast been losing its prestige and relevance.” The Senate looked doubly so, for neither the prime minister nor any of the senior ministers ever cared to attend its sittings. To prove his point, he specifically recalled the role of Ali Mohammad Khan, a junior minister of the Imran govern

As an old-school devotee to the notion of ‘parliamentary supremacy,’ Raza Rabbani had naively presumed that the government replacing Imran Khan would put in extra efforts for restoring the prestige and relevance of the elected parliament. But he could not see any significant difference. With a hurt heart, he complained, the ministers of the new government had also been disregarding the Senate. They don’t attend its sittings and even on a day when the senators were asked to discuss the budgetary proposals, neither the federal nor the state minister of finance was present in the house. He wouldn’t want to deliver the speech in their absence.

The PTI senators appreciated his defiance. But Yousaf Raza Gillani, a senior member of the PPP and a former prime minister, stood to defend the missing ministers. Instead of confronting Raza Rabbani, he tried to appease him by reminding that both the federal and the state minister of finance had duly informed the house that they would not be able to attend the Senate sitting Friday for expecting a “Zoom Conference” with the IMF representatives, diligently reviewing the budgetary proposals for the upcoming fiscal year these days. Then he left the house and apparently after phoning here and there reentered the house along with Ms. Ayesha Ghaus Pasha, the state minister of finance. But Rabbani had left the house, meanwhile.

Faisal Javed of the PTI took full advantage of the space created by Raza Rabbani. He delivered a lengthy and thundering speech. But instead of focusing on the budgetary proposals, he preferred to drum his party’s theme that the Imran Government was removed through a “Foreign (read American) Conspiracy” and the “imported government” had been imposed on Pakistan with the clear intent of pushing it to absolute doom and gloom. Point scoring was the sole objective of his pomp and fury.

The remarks uttered in fury by Raza Rabbani couldn’t be taken lightly, though. Two days ago, another veteran of the PPP, Syed Khursheed Shah, had also been too vocal while speaking against the ‘arrogant attitude’ of the ministers, behaving completely indifferent to whatever was being discussed regarding budgetary proposals during the ‘general discussion’ on them in the national assembly. In spite of being a federal minister of the new setup, he rather vowed to point out the lack of quorum himself, if the Prime Minister and his team, dealing with economic and fiscal issues, didn’t ensure their presence in the house.

I wouldn’t buy the suspicion that Khursheed Shah and Raza Rabbani had decided to speak up in public, by design or made a coordinated move. Both of them had rather spontaneously expressed a feeling simmering within a significant section of the hardcore PPP loyalists for the past many weeks.

Since its launch in 1967, Pakistan Peoples’ Party had mostly been associated with a unique brand of politics, which its founder Zulfikar Ali Bhutto once described as “mingled with poetry and romance.” After resisting General Zia’s martial law for more than a decade, it finally formed the government in 1988 and since then had increasingly been adjusting itself to “pragmatic compulsions” of a specific period. With the same mindset, disregarding many of its “principled positions” it had joined a grand alliance of anti-Imran forces for toppling his government through a no confidence motion.

Many of its veterans; call them ‘romantic, idealist’ or whatever, genuinely felt that after the removal of Imran Khan they would be able to restore parliament’s supremacy when it comes to deciding for the state of Pakistan. But a majority of them have now begun to feel frustrated. Worryingly whispering in private, many of them indulge in relentless cribbing to admit that the removal of Imran Khan had failed, at least so far, to bring any ‘qualitative change’ in issues related to governance. “Ultimate shots” are still being called by ‘invisible quarters’ of the state, known for ‘guiding’ all the successive governments since the early 1950s.

Even the youthful PPP Chairman, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, had publicly expressed surprise and distance regarding reports claiming that Afghanistan-based groups of Pakistani “Taliban” were engaged in another round of “peace talks.” As the Foreign Minister he visibly felt himself out of the loop. First Khursheed Shah and now Raza Rabbani, in a way, had rather expressed similar sentiments, with or without his wink or nod.

Yet ‘the message’ is clear: the eleven-party government led by Shehbaz Sharif remains a divided house, not being able to articulate and pursue a cohesive narrative.

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