THIS beloved country of ours never ceases to surprise us with the possibilities it offers. The imagination at work is often good enough to beat the unlikeliest fable. The clinching part is that the oddest of projections are backed by examples from the past where what was considered impossible one moment was soon afterwards accomplished with minimum resistance.
Punjab is these days faced with one such impossible proposition. The knowledgeable claim to have caught the drift of fate, and they insist that Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan is going to replace Sardar Usman Buzdar as chief minister of the province. Or this was what the refrain predicted relentlessly until Prime Minister Imran Khan travelled down to Lahore again to reiterate his support for an ever-struggling Sardar Buzdar. But since the danger has not subsided, surely the Chaudhry from Chakri is lurking around in the fertile minds of his voluntary sponsors, waiting to burst on to the scene.
The schemes that those eager to place the veteran Chaudhry Nisar on the Lahore throne came up with, had to be the most imaginative even by local standards. Scheme No 1 had him leading a Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government in Punjab. This one, among other things, had Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi and his loyal band of power aspirants, bowing down to the choice imposed on them — just like they have in years past submitted to others preferred over them for the top honours.
This brilliant scheme envisioned Chaudhry Nisar taking the crown, watched by a whole line of PTI hopefuls. Those within the party who have nursed hopes of staking a claim to the coveted chief minister’s office in Punjab were to be supposedly silenced by not just the authority but the urgency in Prime Minister Khan’s voice. He had only recently shown his stamp by giving marching orders to three ministers in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. There was no reason to think that he could be any less clinical in his approach in Punjab — regardless of the differences in numbers which may be visible to those comparing the two provinces.
One brilliant scheme envisioned Chaudhry Nisar taking the crown, watched by a whole line of PTI hopefuls.
Another scenario, entirely opposite to this, was where Chaudhry Nisar was to come out of self-exile from politics since the 2018 election sporting his traditional PML-N colours. Actually this was supposed to be a, kind of, return to the PML-N fold since Chaudhry Nisar had, kind of, parted ways with the Noon League, and done that in his typical terse way.
He might have expressed the futility of paying a visit to an ailing Mian Nawaz Sharif some time ago, but that was a thing of the past. In the new, custom-made map that sought to replant him in the politics of the country, he was restored to his reputation as a true and close friend of Mian Shahbaz Sharif and his patch-up strategy. Chaudhry Nisar, according to this script, was to be a chief minister backed by the PML-N.
His ascent was to be consistent with the theory that Shahbaz Sharif had taken over from Nawaz Sharif in pushing the party back in the right direction. And what could have signified this return to the eligible club more aptly than a Sharif lieutenant who had been passionately warning Mian Sahib against his ill-fated adventurism.
There were other sundry situations discussed that could land Chaudhry Nisar his new, worthy post. A more drastic one had him heading a coalition of PTI and PML-N members, which required the kingmakers to carve out a forward bloc from the PML-N material inside the Punjab Assembly. However, at the end of it, all these schemes were deemed to be not just premature but utterly unnecessary.
The projection of the gentleman as Punjab’s new chief executive was based on a realisation, somehow arrived at, of him having already been chosen for the job. The details of how he was going to reach the objective were incidental and purely of academic interest.
The sheer sense of resignation with which the news of Chaudhry Nisar’s impending arrival was greeted by some was perplexing to say the least. Here was a man who had chosen to not take oath as a member of the Punjab Assembly, making us wonder whether he considered the forum too small or too ‘junior’ for his exalted presence.
Unfortunately for him, Chaudhry Nisar failed to win election to the National Assembly in the 2018 general election. It is a matter of speculation whether he would have stayed away from parliament in Islamabad too, if he had won. Maybe he would have persuaded himself to take the oath, maybe not: we can never be sure. What we know is that the people in one provincial constituency have been denied representation in the Punjab Assembly because the man they elected chose not to be part of the proceedings in the house for some reason.
In some other parts of the world, this could have been the subject of some serious debate. Most likely the legislators by now would have come under a lot of pressure to pass a law that made it mandatory for a member-elect to take oath in the assembly — sadly a law that does not exist in Pakistan, allowing a man the space to unfairly cling to a status he appears to have so little respect for.
Chaudhry Nisar Ali khan, a veteran of many elections that he so effortlessly won and the governments he was a part of, could well have been an asset to the current Punjab Assembly. He could have enriched the house with his experience, giving Lahore a politician worth reporting on. He chose not to do that and there can be no bigger betrayal to the people who had voted him in. There can be no bigger insult to the system than the efforts that must cast him as a saviour.
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.
Published in Dawn, January 31st, 2020