Federal Minister for Finance, Dr Abdul Hafeez Sheikh delivering budget speech 2011-12 in National Assembly. -APP Photo

The antics at the National Assembly on Friday evening were reminiscent of the scene at a wedding. Two sides out to outshine each other. The competition is serious but both sides know the rules of the game — no one leaves the dance floor or ruins the other’s performance by switching off the music or tripping those swinging to the beat.

There is but one rule — and that is to let both the adversaries carry on till the end.

This is exactly what the budget session on Friday evening threw up. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) was in no mood to stage a walkout and let the government present the budget with quiet dignity. And Finance Minister Hafeez Shaikh droned on with the facts, figures and statistics amid the din, with little care that he communicated nothing — clearly he was much inspired by his former president, General (retd) Pervez Musharraf.

To prove that they were more serious than ever before, the PML-N members no longer stood in their seats and shouted slogans as they did during Pervez Musharraf’s speeches. They upped the ante by gathering in front of Sheikh’s desk and out-shouted him throughout.

The khaata peeta PML-N women led the assault; they formed the first rotund line of attack. The men all gathered behind as Nisar Ali Khan and Javed Hashmi stood nearby, looking on approvingly as the besotted and proud parents of the young ones who are dancing their hearts out.

What exactly they were protesting remained unclear but then when has politics ever been about issues in Pakistan? As a result their slogans varied from rejecting the Americans to the International Monetary Fund to “Zardari rule” to a few Leftist favourites thrown in here and there.

To fend off possible attacks from the women cavalry, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) could only send in reinforcements in the shape of Information Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan, who sat alert next to Shaikh (the rest of the PPP women are just not militant or healthy enough).

Khursheed Shah also hovered around — effectively he flapped away Ahsan Iqbal’s inexplicable and ineffective stunt to present aroti to the finance minister. (For the rest of the session, the PML-N spokesman just walked in and out from one door or the other.)

A word of advice Mr Iqbal, a momentary jiggle or ungainly move just does not cut it.

But if there was one man who forced one’s sympathy in all of this, it was columnist-turned-politician Ayaz Amir. He stood there — at a little distance, the intellectual and scholarly uncle who had to participate in the family wedding but just could not bring himself to condone the silly dancing, leave alone join it.

Honestly speaking, he would have blended right in with the PPP wallahs lounging in their seats or socialising with each other. They did support their side alright — at cue they banged their desks in unison to let the audience know that the finance minister had spoken of some achievement of their government. Their complacency was akin to the groom’s side: comfortable in the knowledge that the budget will eventually pass and that it was wise to save their energies for the serious battles to come as they do after the ceremonies are over.

And in all of this, where were the other opposition and treasury parties — Jamiatul Ulema-e-Islam–Fazl, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement and the Pakistan Muslim League–Quaid?

All of them were clearly waiting for the dinner to be served and the party to end.

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