LAHORE: Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid on Saturday kicked up a controversy with a leaked video of his in which he claimed Prime Minister Imran Khan had offered him the information portfolio, prompting an immediate reaction from Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry who has been in the UK for the past few days.
Mr Chaudhry, in his typically blunt way, said he was ready to hand over charge to Mr Rashid but then gave the situation his own spin by vowing that he would never bow down to any vested group.
This was the second controversy involving Mr Chaudhry and another federal minister, as previously his press conference in Islamabad had become controversial when Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Mohammad Khan publicly denied his statements about the prime minister’s remarks against Senate chairman Sadiq Sanjrani’s conduct.
The footage leaked on Saturday apparently captured the scene moments before Mr Rashid was to conduct his weekly press conference at the railways headquarters. His conversation with a senior railways officer was perhaps recorded by microphones placed for his press conference.
On a visit to UK, information minister responds to cabinet member’s remarks by saying PM decides who is most suitable for the role
In this, the minister, who is known to mince no words in expressing his thoughts, is heard telling a railways officer that the prime minister had offered him the information ministry but he could not take the (additional) burden. He could also be heard saying that Fawad Chaudhry had been picnicking in London for the past eight days — implying that the information minister was desperately needed in the country.
The railways minister was also heard saying that the prime minister had summoned Mr Chaudhry home immediately. The footage spread on the social media fast and wide with Mr Chaudhry coming up with a quick, curt riposte couched in his usual style that could easily be taken as sarcasm. He offered to voluntarily step down from his office to make way for Mr Rashid. He tweeted: “I will be more than happy to vacate my position for Sheikh Rashid and serve as MNA.”
But Mr Chaudhry didn’t leave it there. He went on to remind everyone that all the PTI’s elected members worked with trust reposed in them by the people of Pakistan. “PM decides, who is best fit in the role,” he said and asserted, “I will not bow to the blackmailing of the advertisement lobby — till I am minister” (of information).
It is said at the time of formation of Mr Khan’s cabinet, Mr Rashid wanted to have the information ministry, a portfolio he had held in the past. The ministry ultimately went to the PTI’s information secretary. In a damage control move, the railways minister called Mr Chaudhry in London telling him that his statement was ‘twisted’ by the media and he had no intentions to replace him. In a tweet, Mr Rashid said he was not involved in any conspiracy against Mr Chaudhry and he was happy with his railways ministry portfolio.
“The information minister’s job is the toughest,” he stated.
Referring to his picnic remarks, Mr Rashid said: “I had referred to Chaudhry’s London visit as picnic in a lighter vein.”
‘PM satisfied with Fawad’
Meanwhile, Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Media Iftikhar Durrani also came out to defend the information minister. “The prime minister is satisfied with the performance of Fawad Chaudhry,” he said, adding that he was “performing well”.
Taking time out from other pressing matters, later at the media conference, Mr Rashid lashed out at old friends, the Sharif brothers, for their ‘efforts’ to secure an NRO.
He said the former prime minister had broken his silence only after failing to get an NRO-like (National Reconciliation Ordinance) deal. “My old friend Shahbaz Sharif was dying for an NRO deal that was why the elder Sharif was silent. Since Shahbaz did not succeed, Nawaz decided to break his silence,” the railways minister alleged.
He said Mr Shahbaz was getting all facilities in the jail. “Shahbaz also attended several sessions of the National Assembly. I will never seek a bail if I am given facilities in jail like Shahbaz is getting,” he remarked.
Defending PM’s recent statement regarding midterm polls, Mr Rashid said the step would not create hubbub in the country. “People will choose whosoever has performed better. All dacoits are against early elections, as they know people of Pakistan will once again vote for Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf,” the minister and chief of the Awami Muslim League (AML) said.
Mr Rashid said the army and judiciary were fully supporting the government to solve “crucial” situations. “There is no doubt that the army is supporting the incumbent government as they want country to come out of the economic mess,” he added.
Reacting to his statement, PML-N spokesperson and former minister for information Marriyum Aurangzeb said: “Some people treat politics as a circus but Nawaz Sharif, three-time prime minister, subscribes to a mature and balanced form of politics.”
She said when the PML-N supremo spoke, there was perspicacity in his remarks and not the irrational drivel that the PTI government was known for. “Mian sahib and Maryam Nawaz have voluntarily returned to Pakistan, leaving behind the terminally-ill Kulsoom Nawaz, to confront false allegations leading to egregiously wrongful conviction and incarceration. These are not the traits of anyone seeking an NRO and neither Imran Khan can offer one,” she observed.
Published in Dawn, December 9th, 2018