Minister should really think before he speaks

MAY 8, 2019

Whatever the critics might say about the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government, no one can deny that it keeps us entertained. Whether it’s the Great Khan saying that Jesus (peace be upon him) is not mentioned anywhere in history books or that Japan and Germany share a common border, or that a billion trees in his home province have suddenly became five billion, we do get to laugh almost every day. And laughter, as they say, is the best medicine and free as well, which is probably why the government has raised the drug prices substantially. We have also heard about lowering medicine prices, but that too has amused us.
Perhaps the one who entertains us the most is the very able and learned minister for water (an eminently suitable portfolio, as he belongs to a city where water costs a lot).
We gasped in admiration when he drove on a very expensive motorcycle up Zamzama Road in Karachi, with many security vehicles in tow. Mind you, this was much before the general elections, at a time when the Dear Leader was berating those in the previous government for too many protocol vehicles. I have been told the motorcycle cost more than Rs 2 million, but what’s a few million when you have got money to burn?
And then there was the time when he turned up during the terrorist attack on the Chinese Consulate, complete with guns and a cameraman. What a man! we exclaimed. He was right there in the thick of it, even though some jealous people later said the action had ended before he got there. Nonsense. How do they know? They were hiding under their beds all the time.
And who can forget the day he reached the place where the Indian MiG had been shot down? There he was, a cameraman in tow, posing as if he himself had shot the plane down. I heard that the prime minister was worried that in his zest and enthusiasm, the minister might get too near the Line of Control. One day he amazed us all by announcing that the free fall of the rupee would end that evening, and lo and behold, it did! The rupee remained stable for a couple of days before the dollar again resumed its onward march.
Recently, we saw his photos with the holiest men in the Islamic world, the ones who lead the prayers in two of the holiest mosques. He must have returned home spiritually strengthened, which may have been the reason for his aggressive speech at the inauguration of the Mohmand Dam recently.
The speech should be kept on record for posterity because he did not devote more than a minute to speaking about the dam, instead he spoke about those who have looted the country and how his Dear Leader is doing everything to recover the stolen billions from them. But there was one thing he said which may have startled the Great Khan himself. He said the people of Pakistan were prepared to face all kinds of ordeals and wouldn’t mind paying Rs 200 per liter for petrol (slightly more than double the prevailing price).
There is quite a lot of truth in what he said. I do know people who wouldn’t protest if the petrol price goes up to even Rs 2,000 a litre, but there aren’t many of them. I’m referring to those whose perks and privileges include free petrol every month (quantity depending on the importance of the person concerned), free electricity and gas, besides of course rent-free housing and a virtually unlimited number of telephone calls. Such people can be found in government departments, in our assemblies, and in the corporate sector where salaries range from Rs 10 million to Rs 20 million a month. They can be seen dining in expensive restaurants, where a plate of biryani costs a thousand at least, and the owners of the eateries consider it a heinous sin to pay income tax or sales tax. For that reason, they don’t accept credit cards but insist on cash. No doubt our very able minister for water knows some of these worthy citizens.
And now let’s see what kind of people strenuously oppose any raise in fuel prices and who have nightmares every day about soaring prices. Among them are the millions who own motorcycles and use at least a litre of petrol a day. For them, it will mean spending Rs 3,000 every month if petrol prices go up to Rs 200 a litre. Then there are those who commute on jam-packed buses to work, the men and women whom you can see in long queues outside charity hospitals, those who’re struggling to survive because they live below the poverty line and whose numbers have increased by four million since this government came into power. The worthy minister should go to the slums where such people live and ask them if they support a hike in fuel prices.
Perhaps, Faisal Vawda will think again before he says that the people will not object to petrol prices being doubled. He should think of the 60 million desperately poor Pakistanis, as well as those in the middle class who have already been affected by the soaring prices of edibles, medicines, electricity, and gas, who have already stopped consuming mutton because it’s beyond their means. But only a miracle will transform him into someone who has the interests of the people at heart.
The writer is a freelancer