The opposition and treasury benches on Tuesday got into scuffles and resorted to aggressive sloganeering as State Minister for Revenue Hammad Azhar read out the budgetary proposals for the financial year 2019-20.
Though it was Azhar’s maiden budget speech, the young minister held his nerves and remained unfazed by the protesting members’ slurs and taunts.
Neither Opposition Leader Shehbaz Sharif nor PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari seemed willing to lead the protest and both leaders stood smiling near their respective seats. Even the protest, later on, fell short of steam that a senior journalist in the press gallery said that it looked ‘scripted’.
“It seems that successive arrests have broken the spine of top opposition leaders and tall claims of taking out street protests after Eid have evaporated into thin air,” another whispered in the ear.
The budget session commenced at 5:05pm, an hour late from the scheduled time, as opposition parties gave an apparent pass to the government by not turning up for almost half an hour.
As soon as Prime Minister Imran Khan entered the House amid desk-thumping from the treasury benches, National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser gave the floor to Hammad Azhar per schedule, who took full advantage of the joint opposition’s absence and set the tone for his speech.
The opposition’s late arrival could be gauged by the fact that top advisers of PML-N leader Maryam Nawaz, including Miftah Ismail, Mohammad Zubair and Dr Musadik Malik, could not find seats in the visitors’ galleries which had been filled quite early. Akhtar Mengal, an ally of the federal government, entered the House first followed by members of joint opposition wearing black armbands.
Proceedings remained smooth enough for Imran Khan to be able to offer Asr prayers sitting in his seat.
Shehbaz Sharif also came wearing a black armband and bowed before the Speaker in respect before being seated. For the next half an hour, opposition lawmakers observed complete silence.
It was some fresh faces from the PPP who started to interrupt the revenue minister who had had a free-run by the opposition up to that moment. Soon enough, PPP’s female legislators joined in by raising slurs to interrupt the minister. This was followed by PPP backbenchers who distributed placards inscribed with slogans that termed the budget under ‘IMF dictation’.
In response, PTI lawmakers supported the minister’s speech with desk-thumping off and on. PML-N’s Ahsan Iqbal and PPP’s Nafisa Shah remarked on the non-provision of budget copies to lawmakers which were provided immediately.
This noisy interference from opposition benches gradually turned into an actual protest as PML-N lawmakers joined in the ruckus. Later, the opposition lawmakers turned towards the speaker’s dice and gathered there.
In response, around two dozen PTI lawmakers led by federal ministers Shehryar Afridi, Faisal Vawda, Farrukh Habib and others raised a security shield around the premier who looked unfazed by the slurs and sloganeering.
“Go Niazi Go” and “Gali Gali Main Shor Hai .. Aleema Baaji Chor Hai” featured in the opposition’s protest. As the protest picked momentum, some of PTI’s young lawmakers also responded with slogans like “Sara Tabbar Chor Hai” etc.
As the sloganeering got heated, PML-N members tried to break through PTI’s shield in an apparent bid to harass Hammad Azhar. A few PML-N lawmakers also tore up the budget document into pieces and threw it on the prime minister and other fellow lawmakers.
Scuffles broke out as PTI lawmakers resisted the advancing opposition lawmakers with full force. Three groups pushed each other against opposite directions. PPP’s Agha Rafiullah and PML-N’s Javed Murtaza Abbasi got involved in a fist-fight with PTI’s lawmakers who didn’t allow them to break through the wall.
However, better sense prevailed as former premier Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Rana Tanveer Hussain and others intervened to put an end to the hullabaloo.
Meanwhile, a female PPP lawmaker managed to get to Hammad Azhar’s dice and took out the mike from his dias. Her move was thwarted by a PTI lawmaker who snatched the mike from her and pushed her back to the opposition ranks.
Away from the sloganeering and scuffles, Prime Minister Imran Khan kept discussing issues with PTI lawmakers. As soon as Hammad Azhar completed his speech, the Speaker completed the agenda by laying the budget copies and tabling supplementary grants in the House.
When the speaker adjourned the session for Friday, Prime Minister Imran Khan rose up smiling, waved towards the opposition lawmakers and raised victory slogans. The opposition lawmakers responded to Khan with loud sloganeering as the lawmakers cracked jokes at each other.