Change — not of faces

06 Dec 2019


The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

WE are living in the age of the most ambitious self-appointed consultants regularly dishing out impossible advice to the exalted rulers. In recent times, these advisers have been caught asking Prime Minister Imran Khan to get rid of a chief minister, just as they have been wishing, willing, goading and urging a very important ally of the prime minister in Rawalpindi to resign. The only problem is that while these suggestions arrive in piles and gushes, they are often without the requisite logic that can ensure their smooth implementation.

Read: PM tells Buzdar’s foes in PTI to wait for four years

The Rawalpindi resignation that wasn’t was loosely justified by the controversy surrounding an extension. What the wish overlooked was the preceding events which had apparently taken place. The dharna conspiracy and so much else would have been vindicated if the extension was now refused, the point here being that more important than the intent of the prime minister to expand the term here was the recipient’s acceptance of the extension.

A prime minister is bound by his own set of realities. Even if he wants to, he may struggle to heed the loud demands about replacing a person in his team who has earned the criticism of a crowd baying for his blood. Instead, he resorts to an alternative strategy, saying that the individual under fire is an able man, suffering on account of a lack of publicity of his deeds.

The Punjab government of Usman Buzdar is a sensitive product born chiefly of an alliance between the PTI (181 members) and the PML-Q (10 very important members) in a house of 271, two of whose seats are vacant. The PML-N has 166 members in the Punjab Assembly and the PPP has seven seats. Even if we forget the groupings in the ruling camp outside, the numbers in the assembly should be enough of a deterrent for the PTI bosses to not attempt anything too adventurous at this moment when the parry is already faced with so many major issues.

The PTI leadership is looking to make the Buzdar government visible.

Alternatively, the PTI leadership is looking to make the Buzdar government visible. It is going to crack down on ‘artificial’ inflation just as it is going to purposefully look for smog-free buses and close down old-style kilns that contribute to Lahore’s pollution. These are all part of an effort to ensure that initiatives are not just being undertaken by Sardar Usman Buzdar’s government, development is seen to be done on a scale that justifies the presence of a chief minister.

The latest spurt of the positive in the life and as yet rather uneventful career of Sardar Buzdar was kicked off by Prime Minister Imran Khan who visited Lahore over the weekend. The prime minister had promised something big. As it turned out the change was Mr Khan insisting on focusing on the smog, primarily, smog in the Punjab capital that is battling with haze that threatens to besiege the mind.

It would be overstating the obvious if it were to be said that Prime Minister Khan’s latest get-well-soon call on Mr Buzdar in Lahore came at a time when the chief minister was faced with demands about his removal from office. Ever since the surprised southerner took the reins, not a single day has passed without someone approaching him and asking what he was doing here. If anything, the latest prime ministerial intervention in his work brought him the respite that he was hoping for.

Prime Minister Khan has asked the unreasonable Buzdar detractors, his genuine critics and sundry claimants to power, to relax and wait for a change for at least four years from now, when the current chief minister completes his term. And by the visible change in the tone of the provincial change, Mr Khan has asked Sardar sahib to speed up delivery.

It was foregone that whenever that need to increase the pace and frequency of the PTI’s governance in Punjab was felt, Lahore, the model for all others to follow, would have to be the main beneficiary. Such has been the tradition in the province that, despite all the negative publicity ‘Takht Lahore’ has earned for being a favourite of the long-time rulers, any development maps that do not have this Sharif hometown featuring prominently will find hard to pass as a genuine document of good intent. This is where the smog fits in well as a mountain the kaptaan wants his team to scale in the presence of all. Rescuing Lahore is rescuing Sardar Buzdar.

One issue with the Buzdar administration has been of not being able to find an able enough daily official chronicler of his feats. Having tried a whole variety of spokespersons, the government has reposed its faith in Fayazul Hasan Chohan to convey the news about the provincial government’s achievement loud and clear to the people. As for those who cannot stand the force of the reappointed information minister’s lines, they may want to locate subtler hints about the chief minister’s efficiency in newspaper columns that highlight, for instance, his sharp memory and other facts about his personal life such as how he has been making do with only four hours’ sleep since he took up this most important assignment.

The news handouts listed a whole lot of steps taken by the Buzdar administration, beginning with the eviction of encroachers from thousands of acres of land. Even when the farmers dispute the claim, the PTI government spokespersons insist that the growers were given the right price for their produce. The official line speaks of reformative steps in all areas including law and order, education, health and infrastructure.

Over and above these measures, there is a feeling among pro-Buzdar sections that due credit has been denied to him for his government’s work at the policy level. His government has formulated eight policies: the Punjab industrial policy, water policy, agriculture policy, livestock policy, labour policy, tourism policy, special education policy and non-formal basic education policy.

To be fair to the chief minister, an earnest debate on the merits and demerits of these policies is yet to take place in an environment that is riddled with questions about his unassertive, withdrawn demeanour which encourages thoughts about his ouster. It’s not just about what he does do. It’s the way he does it.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2019