On October 18, on the seventh anniversary of the bomb attack on Benazir Bhutto’s cavalcade in Karachi, Bilawal Zardari was formally ‘launched’ under the brand name of ‘Bhutto’ before a mammoth crowd at the Bagh-e-Jinnah ground adjoining the Quaid-e-Azam’s mausoleum. The city had been awash with hoardings and graffiti for about a month in advance, calling people to the ‘historic’ address by Bilawal. Though Karachi itself boasts a population of 25 million, yet hundreds of thousands of people from interior Sindh availed the treat of a free ride to the mega city by ‘50,000 two-wheelers and 3.000 buses’, while two trainloads of people were imported from Punjab.
For security, 500 containers, over 15000 Rangers and police personnel and 3000 PPP workers were deployed in addition to 150 personal bodyguards. There were also women security guards in attendance. Every entrant was body searched. The Sindh government declared a holiday using Abdullah Shah Ghazi’s anniversary as a pretext while the businessmen announced that they’d keep their businesses closed for the day.
As claimed by the PPP, the show was unprecedented in the history of the subcontinent because such elaborate security arrangements had never been made for any political leader, including Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Quaid-e-Azam or Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Even Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri move about in milling crowds without security and people are not ferried from distant places to attend their
Bilawal flew by helicopter from Bilawal House to the venue. Amidst such tight security he audaciously asserted that he was not afraid of suicide bombers.
The media went crazy about the new leader, picking up his every word, hyping it up to the high heavens. Dawn declared: “Bilawal spells out bold agenda for PPP.” But the bold agenda comprised only hosannas for his mother and nana and barbs at his political rivals, Nawaz Sharif, Imran Khan, Tahirul Qadri and Altaf Hussain, as well as at the judiciary. The only institution he spared was the armed forces.
There was no agenda for the party and no message for the masses. He did not touch upon any issue that affects them. He sparked no hopes such as ZAB had done with his slogan of ‘roti,
kapra aur makan’. In contrast, Imran Khan speaks about azadi (freedom) and a new Pakistan, painting a rather glorious picture before his audience, while Qadri spelled out a 10-point agenda at his public meeting just a day after Bilawal at the Minar-e-Pakistan.
Bilawal only applauded Bhuttoism, by which he meant democracy, even though there is no democracy within his party of which he, as an unelected chairman, is a glaring example. He also talked about his mother’s ‘mission’ and vowed to carry it forward. But what her mission was has never been spelled out.
During her two terms as prime minister, there was hardly any positive development in any sector. Her first tenure was marked by skyrocketing corruption, with her husband acquiring the sobriquet of ‘Mr. 10 Percent’ and her father in-law, a modest landholder, buying a manor in Normandy which, according to a New York Times report, stands in the name of Hakim and Zarrin Zardari. Her second term saw the brutal murder of her only living brother Murtaza Bhutto.
Bilawal applauds democracy, even though there is no democracy within his party of which he, as an unelected chairman, is a glaring example
By S.G. Jilanee
Imran Khan dismissed Bilawal Zardari’s speech, saying he would not respond to a “child.” But when Bilawal asserted, “I am a Bhutto,” Khan remarked that an ass could not become a zebra by drawing lines on it body.
The PPP chairman’s most acerbic remarks were, however, reserved for the MQM. He squarely blamed the MQM for ruining Karachi. Earlier, he had asked MQM Chief Altaf Hussain to rein in his men, threatening that “else, we shall make their life difficult.” Reacting to Bilawal’s fulminations, the MQM announced its decision to pull out of the coalition government in Sindh.
Earlier, Bilawal had invited trouble by calling Tahirul Qadri a “cartoon.” When the latter served him with a legal notice of a defamation suit, there was kerfuffle in the PPP camp. Raja Pervez Ashraf reportedly rushed to Qadri with the gift of a camel for Eidul Azha to placate him while Rahman Malik tried to soothe his nerves with apologies.
Trouble seems to have started from the very inaugural of the young chairman. This is an ominous sign and would need concerted efforts at damage control. He has a long way to go for which he is totally unequipped. He has no mettle, no achievement in any field and not even charisma. That is why he has discarded his identification as a Zardari and borrowed the Bhutto name for a shine, which betrays his lack of self-confidence. Add to this the label of ‘Mr. 10 Percent’ attached to his father’s name.
This is quite a heavy baggage that threatens to impede Bilawal’s political journey. Besides, it is widely believed that he plays no active role in the party’s decision-making. Those roles are played by his father and Faryal Talpur - his father’s sister. If Bilawal really intends to lead the party, he must shed this baggage. He must walk out of the shadow of his father and aunt and prove his mettle.
Acolytes pin high hopes on the young man. Writing in Dawn, one analyst speculates that “Bilawal’s move in Punjab will give life to the diminishing Left and also allow Punjab, and in extension, the whole country to have a more vibrant and pluralistic political landscape.” Yet even he doubts that Bilawal's foray into Punjab and his interaction with the people of South Punjab was not a stage managed photo op. The writer even reminds Bilawal that “in Sindh, under the PPP government, development has been dismal; that sometimes, up to 80 percent of development funds are distributed among the corrupt bureaucrats, politicians and contractors; that even the remaining 20 percent funds, at times, are misused to satisfy a stakeholder in some form and shape.”
In Punjab, Bilawal made a symbolic appearance during the floods. He was well-received by the people perhaps because he was a new face. They had seen enough of the Sharif Brothers and they had booed them.
But one swallow does not a summer make. The challenges are too many and too great. There is simmering discontent within the party in Punjab. Very recently Asif Zardari had to leave a party meeting in Lahore amidst slogans against Pervez Ashraf and Manzoor Wattoo. In fact, how bad things are within the PPP in Punjab was demonstrated by the total rout of its candidate who lost even his security deposit in the NA-149 by-election in Multan.
In the political arena, Bilawal faces a more formidable challenge from the PTI than the PML (N). Imran Khan pulls mammoth crowds without any effort by simply announcing a date and a venue for a jalsa. Even Qadri receives spontaneous welcome from a mass of people and is showered with rose petals.
These scenarios should give PPP’s chairman some food for thought. Badmouthing rivals and using the Bhutto name would avail nothing. The martyrdom card has also lost its appeal. He will have to find some innovative way to meet the challenge. Is he up to the task?