Is The Party Over?
The Pakistan Peoples’ Party has been blown to smithereens under Asif Zardari’s dark shadow. It needs a leader who will come and pick up the pieces.
Tracing the rise and fall of the PPP and the causes behind the party’s poor showing.
Fall is to decline as spring is to winter. One follows the other. In the case of the Pakistan Peoples Party, the decline has taken the party inexorably to its ultimate downfall.
Recall the halcyon days of the PPP’s past. Then it was the beacon of hope for the people. Founded in 1967 at the Gulberg residence of Engineer Dr. Mubashir Hasan in Lahore, it infused the masses with a new spirit. Z.A. Bhutto shone on the political firmament like a comet, mesmerizing the masses with his charisma and tying veteran journalists like Oriana Fallaci into knots with his wit. The galaxy of talent represented by stalwarts like J.A. Rahim, Yusuf Buch, Mubashir Hasan, Abdul Hafeez Peerzada, Khurshid Hasan Mir, et al, fired the imagination of the people with the advent of a new, egalitarian order in which roti, kapra and makan would be ensured for all.
Bhutto worked ‘miracles’ with his personal charm as when he managed to get India to free the Pakistani prisoners of war and vacate Pakistani territory it had occupied during the 1971 war unconditionally. He tried to steer the country towards socialism. But his measures were too sweeping and too impetuous, as if he wanted to do too much in too little time. That may be why his reforms could not take root and deliver.
Z.A. Bhutto had his shortcomings, such as a short temper and a dictatorial streak. But, there was never a question that his hands were squeaky clean. That single factor, more than anything else, accounted for his rule over the hearts and minds of the people, who worshipped him as a messiah.
When his daughter, Benazir, first appeared in public after his execution, people from all over the place descended on Lahore to sympathize with the orphan of the leader they had loved and give her a tumultuous welcome, in the hope that she would carry forward her father’s mission to its logical goal.
But in this assumption they were sorely disappointed. Too keen to enter
politics, yet, aware of the impediments as a single, she got hitched to Asif Ali Zardari, who was younger than she in age and lower than her in social status. His antecedents as one who sold cinema tickets in the black market also did not bode well for the party’s future in his capacity as the spouse of its chairperson.
Zardari’s contagion infected Benazir which led to the onset of the decline in PPP’s fortunes. She departed from her father’s ideology and path, appointing her mother, spouse and father in-law to cushy jobs and sidelining her father’s trusted aides like Dr. Mubashir Hasan, Hafeez Pirzada, Khursheed Mir and Sheikh Rashid besides many others.
People voted Benazir to power twice, still hoping to find some of her father’s promise in her, but it was a far cry. While Asif Zardari earned the moniker of “Mr Ten Per Cent,” Benazir’s name also went into circulation for corruption. There were scandals galore, like the purchase of the Rockwood Estate in Sussex and a diamond necklace that cost a fortune. In fact, corruption under Benazir burgeoned to such a level that the New York Times came out with a Special Report on the subject. Titled “House of Graft” it recounted in detail how corruption flourished in the PPP and the extent of Benazir’s own involvement in it.
By marrying PPP chairperson, Benazir, Zardari had planned to hijack the party. His task was made easier when Murtaza Bhutto, who posed the only hurdle in his way, was eliminated in a police encounter. Now, as Benazir’s consort, he was able to call the shots. There was none to dispute his right. However, he achieved full freedom when Dame Fortune smiled at him once again, removing Benazir Bhutto, and his path towards Pakistan’s presidency lay open.
However, the PPP has continued to wither under Zardari’s etiolating shadow. People have dropped away in droves like dry leaves falling from trees. This has been true, especially, of the Punjab, which was PPP’s fortress in its heyday. The party has now been reduced to the status of a regional party confined to Sindh and its representation elsewhere is only nominal.
With Benazir’s demise, the hereditary mantle of the party’s chairmanship passed to her son Bilawal. But his father assumed the role of regent. As co-chairman, he wields de facto power, while the young lad remains de jure as a show boy. The transition is now complete: Bhutto’s PPP has become Zardari’s party.
To beguile people with the Bhutto link, Bilawal was given the surname of Bhutto along with Zardari, - as BhuttoZardari. But the Bhutto plumage could not hide the Zardari jackdaw. There is none of the Bhutto magic in him. To rally Bhutto loyalists, he starts his speeches with cries of “Jiye Bhutto.” But it falls flat on the ears of the audience. At a London rally of the Kashmiri Diaspora, once, when he mounted the podium and raised the slogan, he was chased out.
Bilawal’s inauguration itself was in sharp contrast to ZAB’s. Unlike anything of the like seen before, Bilawal was dropped from “space” at the venue of his first public meeting at Quaid-e-Azam’s mausoleum and lifted back into “space” after he had finished.
He has no message for the masses; nothing to stir their passion or give them a lead. He is himself directionless, ranting and raving without making any sense, such as vowing to “wrest every inch of Kashmir from India.” He invokes ZAB, but he lacks ZAB’s cuts and thrusts, his pungent humour and taunts such as calling Maulana Shah Ahmad Noorani the ulema’s “melody queen.”
Bilawal attacks the PML ( N) and PTI. But no one takes him seriously. He presented a four-point demand to the government and threatened a protest march if it was not met within a specified time. But, when the government ignored him, Bilawal failed to react.
Bilawal also made some half-hearted efforts to resuscitate and reorganize the party in south Punjab, but it flopped because the lad was not up to the task. His troubles, in fact, stem from the fact that he is not free to develop his talents. He works under the depressing influence of his father, whose name has become synonymous with corruption.
At Benazir Bhutto’s last death anniversary, Asif Zardari declared that Bilawal would contest the next byelection to the National Assembly. The idea is to project him as Pakistan’s future prime minister. But this may be a pipe dream, because the PPP is in a shambles and Bilawal does not have the Bhutto magic to resurrect the party to its original shape in time for the elections which are barely a year away.
Despite humming and hawing, though, Asif Zardari is quite comfortable with the PPP holding on to its fiefdom in Sindh, where his cohorts rule under his guidance, amidst unlimited corruption.
According to one political analyst, “while it took Zia 11 years to destroy ZAB’s PPP, Asif Ali Zardari took no time in achieving the same.” It can be said of him that he has truly succeeded in ‘murdering the PPP.’
The writer is a senior political analyst and former editor of Southasia.
People voted Benazir to power twice, still hoping to find some of her father’s promise in her, but it was a far cry.