- How democratic is that?
After making its intentions of controlling content, to whichever degree possible, on print, electronic as well as social media pretty clear, the government is now trying to cast the net even wider and control liberal arts also. Why else would Punjab Information and Culture Minister Fayyazul Hassan Chohan suddenly sack the entire governing body of the Alhamra Arts Council in Lahore and mandate production companies to seek prior approval of all play scripts to be staged there in future? And, as if just to show the government’s seriousness about the matter, all plays scheduled after January 1 have been postponed and organisers duly informed that they would have to deposit Rs100,000 as security fee from now on.
Bank on the campaign trail people were given the impression that PTI, whenever its time comes, would strengthen democratic institutions in the real western tradition. And wasn’t it Imran Khan who would do the rounds reminding everybody of how freedom of speech was at the heart of representative democratic government? Yet, now that it has come to power, it’s appetite for criticism has not matched its own tall claims.
And who, exactly, will give the verdict about the nature of the scripts? The information minister proudly claimed that from now on only “well-written and good” scripts would be staged at Alhamra. Hopefully any authority tasked with such decisions will not be restricted to his good offices. Besides, considering how progressive liberal arts have been slowly choked in this country for decades, it was hoped that the new government would go the extra mile in encouraging freedom of expression, even if it brings the odd bit of criticism. Such hopes, suffice to say, have been dashed very early in PTI’s governing cycle. Just like most other problems the ruling party is facing, this too is of its own making.