Then and now


The Presidency has demanded an additional Rs 20 million for the next fiscal, which if granted, would round up its total bill to a whopping Rs 483 million. The humbling Prime Minister Secretariat has topped that figure by seeking Rs 546 million.
Does that boggle the mind, economic warts and all?
An email in Urdu one came across recently provides a spectacular contrast from how the founder of this nation thought the affairs of the state should be run to what is — and has been — on show for ages. For the benefit of the readers here are some translated excerpts:
The cabinet session was on.
“Should I serve tea or coffee?” inquired the aide-de-camp (ADC). The man to which the question was posed countered with some anger: “Will they not have sipped tea or coffee coming from home?”
The ADC looked on nervously as the man concluded in a definitive tone: “Whichever minister wants to have tea or coffee can do so coming from home or go back. The nation’s money is for the nation, not the ministers”.
The man was Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Following his directive during that 1948 cabinet session, as long as Jinnah remained at the helm, the cabinet was served only water.
For the Governor-General, items worth only Rs 38 (US$ 0.6) were purchased. He sent for the accounts of the purchase. Some commodities were ordered by Ms Fatima Jinnah, his sister, a key figure in the freedom struggle.
Jinnah ordered that expenses incurred at her bidding be deducted from her personal account. He was informed that two or three items in the list were meant for his use. “That cost be redeemed from my personal account,” directed Jinnah.
One day, the ADC brought a visiting card and presented it to his boss. A visibly agitated Jinnah tore up the card and threw it before directing his subordinate to ask the visitor not to see him again.
The visitor was Jinnah’s own brother and what offended the leader was that the visitor had scripted “Brother of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Governor-General of Pakistan” below his name on the card.
Ziarat was in the midst of an intense cold spell that year. Jinnah’s personal physician Colonel Ilahi Bux brought in a new pair of socks for Jinnah on his death bed. Evincing a liking for it, he inquired about the cost.
“Two rupees,” Bux responded. Jinnah quipped that these were very expensive. “But these have been bought from your account,” Bux protested.
“Still, my account is a trust of the nation and it does not behove of a leader of a poor country to live in luxury,” Jinnah insisted, before asking his subordinate to return the pair.
Once Jinnah asked for a writing table to be installed in his official plane. When the file reached the Ministry of Finance, the minister facilitated the order but attached a rejoinder with the remarks “the Governor-General is bound to seek prior approval from the finance ministry before issuing such an order”.
Jinnah’s response? He canceled his own directive before sending in a written apology to the minister!
On another occasion, he was held up in his car with Chief of General Staff Gul Hasan by a closed railway crossing in Malir. Hasan got out of the car and manoeuvred to have the gate of the crossing opened. Figuring out what had happened, his leader turned red in the face and at once, ordered it closed again, countering: “If I don’t follow the rules, who would?”
All this happened when Jinnah was the leader of Pakistan. We have come a long way.
Leave alone a flippant railway crossing, today, traffic signals are stopped an hour before the head of state is to pass through a certain road, where virtually all movement comes to a grinding halt. And when that happens in metros like Karachi and Lahore, patients with potential life risk, trying to reach the nearest hospital can — and do — often die on the way.
Today, no finance minister can dare question the rulers, who are prone to announcing sums of money to the tune of crores of rupees at public meetings from the national exchequer at whim, no strings attached.
Jinnah may have been offended at his brother’s trite attempt to use his identity for easy access but in subsequent years, the ruling clique has unfailingly ensured that, in the top echelons, it is all a family affair.
Jinnah could not come to terms with buying a pair of socks even from the expenses allowed to him by the national kitty but the insouciant ones walking the power corridors in this hapless land haven’t had any qualms about buying anything that catches their fancy under miscellaneous items from the exchequer!
The current round of declaration of parliamentarians’ assets — you can only imagine their real worth — alone is enough to draw the contrast.

The writer is a newspaper editor based in Islamabad and can be reached at [email protected]