COULD it be that moment again? Halfway through his second term in the office of prime minister was when Mian Nawaz Sharif started to betray those worrying signs. It appeared that if he had his way he would rather be amirul momineen ruling with the aid of a council that was ready to give a nod of approval to his schemes. It is inevitable that some of us are reminded of that tendency to overrule each time the current, third government of Mian Sahib uses force to resolve an issue. Which is very often.
Halfway through its term, the government could be egged on by an urge to speed up matters. One consequence of this possible realisation is that everyone who is someone in government is found scold- ing someone else to convey the message.
Much has been written on the official stubbornness to see through the orange train in Lahore, ignoring the calls for necessary modifications. In recent times, the authorities in Punjab, particularly in Lahore, have not been too shy of browbeating the private schools into following the official diktats on security. This has been a long scary lesson in what little faith you can repose in those at the helm of the state under the circumstances. The image of a police officer authoritatively lecturing the school managements on how they must arrange for the security of the students reflected a sad reality that could hardly be offset by the vows by the prime minister etc about winning the war.
Various reasons were cited for the schools' reluctance to abide by the proposed rules which prescribed punishments for those educational institutions demonstrating any lapse in security. The truth was that the stern hand with which the police officers and the provincial minister for education dealt with the situation was not only visible to the school owners but also to the students and their extremely worried parents.
This was a state which had no apparent qualms about passing on its responsibility to protect its citizens to those who claimed to teach and imbue in students the right, desirable values. On view were schools which refused to take on security responsibilities, helping to create a chill where none actually was provided by the natural elements. The image of the vicious master wielding a stick refuses to go away as obedience is demanded by others in responsible government positions. Not least of them is the prime minister who was recently heard repeatedly warning the disobedient employees of PIA of serious consequences.
When a government wants to display its determination to execute a scheme, it might want to pretend that it was not listening to the voice of the dissenters. Ours happens to be on a different wavelength altogether. It chooses not to be indifferent. It is sufficiently appalled by the protesters to want to smother the noise then and there.
Only the naive would have approved of the loud warnings the officials threw in the direction of the PIA strikers in an attempt to deter them from coming out strong on the streets. The fear on the contrary was that these 'threats' would lead to tension to the benefit of the more adventurous among the demonstrators, providing some credibility to what was deemed by many to be initially an unpopular cause.
The old saying about how governments tended to facilitate movements against them with their desire to fall back on the heavy hammer was proven true. Probably the dilemma in the official eye was that any adjustment to the dire tone with which the agitators had so far been addressed would be deemed a sign of weakened resolve. If anything the voice that must command obedience from the subjects needed to be raised a few notches.
The prime minister could well have avoided warning the strikers of arrests and jail on the day when two protesters had fallen to bullets fired by the 'unknown'. According to one opinion, Mr Nawaz Sharif had so far been the lone man in his government who was making a conscious effort to not be overtly bossy in his approach to govern this country. The harsh remarks about the PIA strikers could well lead to an understanding of growing desperation inside the government.
This needs to be tackled. Usually, when one plank of a party or a government ends up creating too much heat, the situation is sought to be brought under control by activating another sober and less agitated strain within. The ministers who have been in the thick of it and are angry are asked to step aside and in their place another set is asked to take over the job of public engagement. Who forms that second, damage-control group in the PML-N, which could help the party avert that path of arrogance that has cost it dearly in the past?
The task of finding the in-house firefighters in this case is a tough one. The quieter ones, the less impatient, are hard to find in a party that has come to be associated with loudness - manifest in colours red and orange, in speech and gestures, most definitely in the outright rejection of the other view. The quieter one, the dissenter in the instance, could well turn out to be angrier than the lot, determined to live in a past ruled by acrimony. The last time Chaudhry Nisar Ali spoke he was still cross with the PPP, whereas the current party refrain targets the PTI.