The dangerous confusion surrounding the religious status of treasury member Rana Asif Mehmood in the Punjab Assembly was resolved on Friday after he vehemently stated he was a born Christian, requesting the opposition parties and the media not to indulge in the dangerous propaganda against him which might cost him his life, just like Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti.
The PPP-led opposition parties which had been instrumental in making his religious status controversial over the last few days accepted his clarification but speaker Rana Iqbal Khan summoned the leader of the opposition Raja Riaz, law minister Rana Sanaullah, Rana Asif Mehmood, and the mover of the adjournment motion against him PML-Q’s Samina Khawar Hayat, in his chambers to decide the issue so that it might not come up on the floor of the House again.
Law minister Rana Sanaullah told the House that the government had decided that the next budget would be presented by provincial minister Mujtaba Shujaur Rehman, instead of Rana Asif Mehmood since his dual nationality case was pending before the High Court and the next hearing was fixed for June 13. He said the chief minister had appointed Rana Asif as finance minister for the continuity of having finance ministers from minorities.
The opposition members also raised the issue of Rana Asif Mehmood’s dual nationality and demanded clarification on the matter, otherwise, hey warned, they would not let the House carry on proceedings. Apart from that the opposition members raised loud protests on the unfortunate deaths of nine newborns in the fire incident at the Services Hospital, calling for an investigation report before the House on the matter.
The opposition members staged a walkout from the House after the Speaker refused to allow them to speak on the issue during the question hour, saying the chief minister had already constituted an inquiry committee on the matter. While both sides were engaged to sway the proceedings according to their point of view, opposition member Seemal Kamran pointed lack of quorum in the House which led to the adjournment of the proceedings for Saturday (today) when the provincial government is scheduled to present the record fifth and last budget of its tenure.
Leader of the opposition Raja Riaz raised the issue of Rana Asif Mehmood’s religion’s controversy at the outset of the proceedings, accusing the Punjab chief minister of presenting a Muslim as a Christian finance minister. Besides, he said the said member had dual nationality which had made him liable to be disqualified as MPA.
Clarifying before his critics on the opposition benches, Rana Asif Mehmood said that he was a born Christian and would always remain the same. He appealed to the opposition members not to make his religious status controversial for the sake of political mileage and point scoring against the government. He warned of a fierce backlash against him if the opposition propaganda continued, fearing the same fate which befell Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti. He wondered why a liberal party like PPP was indulging into such kind of dangerous blame game.
He said he was the victim of a conspiracy by someone from his own religion who had produced the copy of his Nadra identity card issued a few years back with an error in the religion column in an attempt to become the MPA himself in his place.
Rana Asif said he had three children, two sons and a daughter who was also wrongly accused of converting to Islam. He also complained that media nearly issued his death warrants by terming him an apostate. Rana Sanaullah said Rana Asif feared for his life due to dangerous opposition propaganda and had sought police protection. He said the chiefminister had decided that Mujtaba Shujaur Rehman would present the provincial budget since Asif’s dual nationality case was pending before the High Court.
Opposition leaders Raja Riaz, PML-Q parliamentary leader Chaudhry Zaheer, and PML-Q member Samina Khawar Hayat withdrew their earlier stance against him by accepting his clarification. They however said that Rana Asif should have made this clarification promptly to avoid the controversy from becoming a threat to his life. PPP member Hasan Murtaza said PPP was actually demanding clarification about his dual nationality and not on his religion.
Later, both treasury and opposition members criticized one another on the issue of deaths of nine newborn babies at the Services hospital. The hue and cry led to the opposition’s walkout in an attempt to express solidarity with the victims’ parents, demanding an inquiry report of the incident.