In a PTV show spanning 87 minutes and 56 seconds, Prime Minister Imran Khan answered questions from the general public, on Monday, received via telephone as well as social media platforms. Commendable initiative though it was to take direct calls from the public and get first-hand account of their problems, it was not unprecedented — as claimed by the incumbent government. In fact, back in the nineties, then prime minister Nawaz Sharif had also taken that same telecommunication route to reach out to people to listen to their complaints.
However, what could have been an earnest way of allowing the public to come in direct conversation with their leader turned out to a novel way of advertisement and self-praise, if not a publicity stunt. First of all, the programme was not live, as was projected before it went on air. The PM was posed pre-recorded questions selected with all the care and caution. Most of the questions provided the PM with an opportunity to justify his political narrative and roast his political rivals without being interrupted — as could be the case if he is sitting in front of a TV talk show host during an interview or answering questions from parliamentarians in the National Assembly — and publicise whatever achievements his government has had so far.
The question-answer show looked more like the FAQs section on the official website of a company or a project — where all you want people to know, or you think could be potentially on the people’s mind, is listed in the form of question-answers. The callers, including those from abroad, sought PM’s views on issues like his Riyasat-e-Madina vision, Covid-19 vaccination, Broadsheet scandal, Foreign Funding Case, 18th constitutional amendment, Naya Pakistan Housing Scheme, Gilgit-Baltistan and tourism potential, 3G/4G internet facilities in Balochistan, health card for Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa residents, etc. On all these issues, the PM had too much to say and satisfy the callers.
One wonders where all those suffering from an unprecedented price hike, soaring utilities’ charges, fall in employment opportunities, and dilapidated civic infrastructure had gone missing.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 3rd, 2021.