Saturday October 16, 2021

Rising culture of political intolerance

June 18, 2021

Speaker National Assembly Asad Qaiser has rightly taken the decision in regard to Tuesday’s shameful incident at the National Assembly by banning seven MNAs allegedly involved in the light of the video and audio available and other evidence. More action is required to maintain the decorum of the House.

When the political parties and their leadership start defending the ‘abusers’ not the 'abused,' engage in blame game rather taking action against their own parliamentarians involved in such shameful incidents and use abusive language, when majority of the young and old MNAs of different parties across party affiliations remain silent, it only encourages the ‘culprits.’ Such incidents also provide space for all those who want and wish to see democratic system fail and not flourish.

The Speaker has a key role to play if he acts in a bipartisan manner. It is good to see that he took some action. Even those found involved in throwing the ‘budget document’ and using it like ‘weapon of mass destruction’ should not be allowed to speak on the ‘budget.’

Secondly, all those who used abusive and foul language should be suspended at least for the budget session and their honorarium should be withheld unless they give an apology in writing and assure the Speaker that they would not repeat it. The parliamentary leaders should also support such action without going into debate as who started first.

Heads of the political parties also have the responsibility to discourage such behaviour. For instance, what was the point of not allowing Shaukat Tarin to present the budget? Although, it's nothing known, but when will we change this culture of not allowing opponents to speak. When will we make a new beginning or want to run the House like in the past?

Why was the opposition expecting that the treasury benches would allow the leader of the opposition Shehbaz Sharif to speak in the assembly when they did not allow Tarin to speak. Had the Speaker not called him to speak, the opposition would have no justification to protest but that too should be in a mature manner.

In both the cases it was the Speaker's responsibility to see that the House should be run in a proper way, but Asad Qaiser failed in fulfilling his responsibility as well. Tuesday's incident could have been avoided if the leaders of the parliamentary parties had agreed before the session how to run the House.

Although, treasury benches could have raised the issue that since Tarin was not allowed to speak they would also not allow leader of opposition. But, the government has more responsibility. That does not mean opposition has no role.

Those who called themselves ‘people’s representative’ have more responsibility and if their conduct becomes so unbecoming the party leadership have a role to play. Unfortunately, on the same evening during the TV talk shows most of the participants of the respective parties instead of condemning the whole act and use of abusive language tried to defend their respective ‘suspects.’

Such behaviour of a handful of so-called politicians and public representatives is not confined to assemblies.There had been dozens of such incidents including physical assault, use of filthy language in the ‘talks shows’. The latest was the incident in a TV show. If nothing else, Firdous Ashiq should have realised that she was in the show as a Special Assistant to the Chief Minister and not in her individual capacity. On the other hand, PPP newly-elected MNA Qadir Mandokhil also cut loose in the selection of words while addressing her.

Ms Awan in the past also remained involved in a series of controversies. She is not only damaging herself but also the government. The sad part is that the political parties don’t take action against their own members for using such language or for any physical assault. Unless leadership sets some examples, I have doubt that such incidents would be stopped. The danger is that in future even more MNAs and MPAs would get involved in such incidents.

While this culture of intolerance which is now growing fast and not confined to one community or the politics would have far reaching consequences if not stopped or discouraged. For instance, the bar associations across the country in the last few years have become ‘hostage’ to such vandalism by the lawyers, and hardly set examples of taking action resulting in the rise of violent attacks in the name of judicial activism.

Media also failed to discourage such actions. If nothing else, those politicians who used indecent and abusive language should be banned unless they publicly apologised. They should play a role in promoting a culture of tolerance.

It is high time that Prime Minister Imran Khan, who is also the Chairman of PTI, leader of the opposition Shehbaz Sharif, who is also the President of PMLN, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and others should develop a culture of tolerance and welcome each other in the National Assembly and the Senate.

Blaming the democratic system and politics has become a fashion and that too in a society which at times not only supports but also defends the abusers and hardly stands by the abused.

The writer is a senior columnist and analyst of Geo, The News and Jang