Minister for Railways and vice president of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Azam Khan Swati has become the subject of criticism after a video surfaced depicting him blaming railway workers for the decline of Pakistan Railways.

In the video, shared on Twitter on Thursday, the railway workers are seen expressing grievances about not receiving their due pensions, which the minister dismisses by calling them undeserving of making this demand.

“You have no right [to ask for pensions],” Swati told an eldery railway worker.

“You have put my country in deficit,” he said, adding that he counted himself in the ‘you.’

“You didn’t work. You committed thefts. You ruined the railways that the British left us,” he told the workers.

“Still, Prime Minister Imran Khan is a good-hearted person and is fighting for progress. This pension issue is not that big. But first you tell me this… Pensions are given in places where workers earn for the country. You have ruined this country! This railway has ruined the country,” he accused the workers.

The minister added that, however, the pension issue will be solved and the government has constituted a committee to address it. “Until then, I am apologetic that I can’t do anything,” he said.

In response, a railway worker said he needed his pension to finance his children’s weddings and buy a house. To this, Swati retorted: “You do not have a basic right to ask this!”

When the railway worker said that he had given 60 years of his life to the railways, the minister cut him off, saying: “If you had worked 60 years, our railways would have been like India’s or some developed country’s. This railway has ruined Pakistan. Why don’t you understand what I’m telling you? I am stating facts.”

The minister then assured the workers that the issue of pensions will be resolved within a month or two.

‘Shameful,’ the public responds

The video of the incident gained traction on social media, inviting criticism from commentators for the minister’s apathetic remarks.

“PTI ministers competing hard to outdo each other in arrogance, lack of empathy,” wrote senior journalist Abbas Nasir. “Where have they found such ministers who insult workers asking for their dues, pensions?”

Academic and activist Ammar Ali Jan termed the incident “shameful.”

“This billionaire minister who was part of every other gov is blaming the employees for failure of railways,” economist Faizan Khan noted. “He goes on to say that they don’t deserve pensions. I wish one day the awaam [public] holds them accountable as well and tells them on the face that it is [because] of you [that] railway failed.”

“After decades of systematic destruction of Pakistan Railways by handing over its profitable freight contracts to NLC & private carriers, a billionaire Minister now tells penniless workers they are responsible for Railways’ losses & don’t deserve pensions,” wrote Awami Workers Party Punjab president Ammar Rashid. “Shameless & disgusting.”

Educator Meraj Hasan termed the incident a “classic case of blaming low-level employees for a rotten system.”

“Ministers and top bureaucrats are the reason our railway is not as good as it should be,” he wrote. “Not these people who work in literal 19th-century offices.”

Columnist Mohammad Taqi also condemed the incident, saying: “To sneer at a labourer is not an expression of emotions. This characterless minister depicts the extremes of shamelessness and villainy.”

The author is a member of staff. She writes features on current affairs and is interested in issues of social justice, online behaviors, and popular culture. She tweets at @zainabmsheikh and can be reached at zainabmubashir@thecorrespondent.pk.

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