PERHAPS it is already too late to send out the alert … the essence and image of an old Lahore will soon be gobbled up by a new invention.
Alternately, this could be a story of modernisation and development. It is always like this — shikwa and jawab-i-shikwa, pro and anti. In the process a few things are actually lost and some old memories are revived. In the process the people are seldom consulted.
Personally speaking, the bridges that are coming up to facilitate the Metro Bus System (MBS) are disruptive. These bridges disconnect, and the delinking with the past is most intensely felt around the Lower Mall stretch of the MBS route near Government College and the district courts.
So much of heritage is associated with the area and the scene has already changed quite drastically — especially for those who are still undecided about embracing the current development model unconditionally. The alternative — something less protruding and less offensive, has gone undiscussed. Lahore has moved on.
The personal longing for what is and what ought to be, has to finally and always give way to the dominant needs of others, of the majority and before that, the needs of those who decide on everyone’s behalf.
The 18-metre long MBS vehicles that are being made somewhere in China are not run on sentiment but needs. They are not to be blamed for the emotional sideshows or for blocking the way for discussions on all other topics in Lahore right now. And acrimoniously or in admiration, it is impossible to separate the Turkish bus from its famously determined Pakistani pilot and the public examination scheduled in the coming months.
If it is a disaster, Shahbaz Sharif’s opponents have been unable to cash in on it, not at least in proportion to the size and scale of the project. If this is the Taj dedicated to a king’s love for his people, the dividends are yet to show and the public is yet to reciprocate.
Some scepticism accompanied the Sharifian Motorway some 15 years ago but the Motorway was more hailed than decried before it actually connected Lahore with Islamabad. There were a few cries about its costs and criticism of its makers’ skewed developmental priorities but in the end the argument was clinched rather easily in favour of the new product and its creators.
The MBS has generated a greater pros-and-cons debate in Lahore. This is perhaps because it is a big project unfolding right in the middle of a bustling urban centre that involves plenty of breaking before making.
More importantly, not everyone has been as stuck in the old as our adamant, arbitrary developers. These are definitely times where the talk about priorities has become much more serious and more informed than it was 15 years ago — which is a credit to the people.
The people have moved much faster than their rulers over these last few years. They are demanding participation, a right to debate over what they want and how much tax money they want to be spent on what.
Consequently, as loadshedding returns to Punjab big time and winters and gas shortages arrive, conversations these days are generally narrowed down to how the MBS money could have been spent on buying Punjab the energy it is in desperate need of.
On the other hand, on an official level, no policy exists and no desire has been expressed to take up the not-so-easy exercise of gauging popular sentiment over an issue. No effort is made to know their needs and their priorities.
An election mandate is supposed to give the rulers a licence to forever decide on people’s behalf, big ventures or small.
One day it is decided the people want sasti roti — but when no protesters come out in the streets after the sasti roti scheme’s abrupt closure, doubts are inevitably expressed whether the people were actually hungry for the scheme or whether it was really the masses who were benefiting from the scheme a chief minister was once so determined to carry on with forever.
Now not a weekend passes without the chief minister travelling to a forward MBS post, customarily exuding energy and exhorting all concerned to stay committed on this chosen path of his.
The latest sign of just how desperate the Punjab government is to quickly connect the missing links on this route came on Sunday. Mr Sharif is no more satisfied with appealing to the professionalism of the people involved in the construction of MBS. He says this is not just a development project but a mission.
This is quite a disclosure, for the term ‘mission’ has come to be exclusively reserved for the domains of health and education, or when a change in system or at least in government is sought.
Shahbaz Sharif’s latest emphasis coincided with his party’s call for immediate general election in the country, which once again promises a change in system. In the coming days this demand is likely to grow louder and so surely will the activity on the MBS.
The MBS will in time be hailed as a success and Lahore will once again be the envy of its peers for the attention it gets and the leaps it makes.