Whither the Party?
Ever since coming into existence some fifty years ago, the Pakistan People’s Party has been in government on four occasions but, except for Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s rule, has failed in making an impact on the national ethos. It is now fast losing significanc
The Pakistan People’s Party undoubtedly lent a new trend to politics in Pakistan. In fact, the emergence of the party in 1967 marked the beginning of vibrant political activity in the country. Unfortunately, at present this party of the masses, if not dying, has been restricted to the province of Sindh. Across the other three provinces in Pakistan, the voters are moving away from the party. To understand why and how the PPP is losing ground, there is a need to know the conditions and forces which resulted in the formation of this party. The background circumstances and human choices that unified the people were only on the basis of just one slogan i.e. Roti, Kapra Aur Makan --- a rarity in the history of political parties.
General Montgomery once said, “Leadership is the capacity and the will to rally men and women to a common purpose and the character which inspires confidence.” When Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (ZAB) formed the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) he had both. He proved his character by resigning as the most competent and powerful foreign minister of the country, soon after the Tashkent Declaration which shocked the people who were expecting something different. On the other hand, he cashed his overnight popularity of a rebel to become a mass leader and laid the foundations of the PPP with some other like-minded politicians, such as J.A. Rahim, Dr. Mubashir Hasan, Mir Rasul Bakhsh Talpur, Mairaj Mohammad Khan, Khurshid Hasan Meer, Hayat Mohammad Khan Sherpao and a few others. Above all, he was able to maintain a certain direction under the PPP and created a national narrative considered to be quite different from that of his predecessors, such as Ayub Khan, etc. and it did succeed in giving Pakistan a distinct identity and set a course for its future. The PPP also professed a ‘leftist’ line which was probably the fashion in those days, and his timely slogan of Taqat Ka Sarchashma Awam Hain, really worked.
Not only did he give a new direction to the political thought process, he completely changed the complexion of public meetings by shifting from the traditional style of addressing a public meeting to a completely theatrical one. Instead of the sherwani, he started wearing shalwar-kameez --- a dress worn by the masses. While speaking at a public meeting he used to take off his coat, unbutton his shirt sleeves and say, “There are two Bhuttos in Pakistan one me and the second you all.” His unkempt appearance, emotionally charged voice and the language of the masses was enough to charge the crowd. He always tried to ensure full participation of the audience through metaphorical questions and tempo. For instance, he would pose a question and let the audience answer it in a single cheerful roar. Without any doubt, Bhutto was among Pakistan’s most charismatic leaders who ruled the minds and hearts of the people for almost four decades and even after his execution, the charisma continued which enabled the PPP to win three general elections.
Though Ziaul Haq wanted to erase the name of ZAB from Pakistan politics, his popularity graph remained intact even after his death. And Benazir Bhutto (BB) who was groomed personally by her father managed to prove her worth as a national leader. After winning support from a coalition
government in the national assembly, she assumed the Prime Minister's Office in December 1988. Like her father she was also considered as one of the most charismatic leaders of Pakistan even by non-Pakistani journalists. A critical analysis, however, reveals that when BB came to power, she could not succeed in carrying ZAB’s philosophy forward with the same dedication and a similar sense of leadership that her father displayed. This was probably because the committed PPP leaders like J.A. Rahim, Dr. Mubashir Hasan, Mir Rasul Bakhsh Talpur, Mairaj Mohammad Khan, Khurshid Hasan Meer and Hayat Mohammad Khan Sherpao were either no more in the party or had expired. In ZAB’s time, the jiyala (dedicated party worker) also commanded a certain importance.
Despite all of Benazir’s flaws, one cannot deny the fact that like her father, she was at the peak of her popularity when she was assassinated and, as such, an exciting political chapter of our history ended with her killing on December 27, 2007. The PPP’s popularity graph had already started sliding downwards during BB’s last tenure as the prime minister. It had already started the downward slide when BB, as Prime Minister of Pakistan and as the leader of the party, came under the influence of her husband Asif Ali Zardari. She married Zardari in 1987 while Bhutto was hanged in 1979. Zardari was never a PPP worker in the true sense and ZAB probably wasn’t even aware of his existence while he was in power. In fact, Zardari was not very much in politics though his father Hakim Ali Zardari was once elected as member of the National Assembly. Therefore, news of her marriage with Asif Zardari surprised many, including some of her close friends. It can be said, however, that when Asif got the chance, he succeeded in undoing the party philosophy, systematically destroying the PPP because it did not serve his ends. Gradually and steadily, Zardari started calling the shots, reducing BB to a mere pawn in his hands. As a result the party was nowhere near the ideals and objectives that ZAB had set for it. Though many thought Asif Zardari would not take up active politics, but slowly and gradually he started showing his true colours and within a few months after the PPP’s first government, stories of his alleged corruption started coming out in the media.
Frankly speaking, BB’s assassination brought an end to charismatic leadership in PPP and in the absence of a veteran Bhutto, there was a shift from Bhutto to Zardari through a controversial “Will.” In the post-BB period, the PPP lost its direction, philosophy and with a complete shift in political behaviour it virtually became some sort of a sole proprietorship. Since there was nobody within the party to challenge the activities of the proprietor, corruption was rampant and he was upgraded from Mr. 10 per cent to Mr. 100 per cent. After all, power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The PPP started changing its political conduct to commercialism and instead of loyal party workers, some of Asif Zardari’s college day friends started getting prominence. These include Javed Pasha, Dr Asim Hussain, Zulfiqar Mirza and many others. Except for Mirza, other hardly had any political background. All this tarnished the image of the PPP. In short, the tag of corruption and nepotism destroyed the fundamental theme – Taqat Ka Sarchashma Awam Hain. It is unfortunate that the PPP’s image as the party behind the most corrupt government became stronger and stronger.
The situation in Sindh, a province being ruled by the PPP, started becoming difficult when former petroleum minister Asim Hussain, in a video statement broadcast on media, revealed startling allegations against former president Asif Zardari's foster brother Owais Muzaffar alias Tappi. In the video statement, Asim Hussain said that former Sindh minister Owais Muzaffar was the de facto chief minister of Sindh during the second reign of PPP and was involved in doing all sorts of corruption. Sadly enough, the PPP government in Sindh did not even spare the subject of education. The shocking fact was that there were over 40,000 ghost teachers and 5,229 ghost schools in Sindh, eating up quite a large share of the province’s Rs. 145.02 billion education budget. Although an opinion poll by a US-funded think tank IRI (International Republican Institute) indicated a dramatic reduction in the PPP’s popularity, Bhutto’s party still has some future in Sindh. Of course, there is not much satisfaction that can be drawn from this because the overall situation for the party is not very encouraging.
With Asif Zardari, an allegedly corrupt person, at the helm of affairs, the party now found it difficult to attract a new breed of jiyalas who would be loyal to the party. The jiyalas of ZAB days were dedicated men and women who were attracted to the party due to its assurance of better distribution of resources and democratic politics but when they saw the rise of characters like Tappi, etc. they started disassociating themselves from the PPP. In all the provinces except Sindh, the party has gradually failed to make its presence felt. The present generation of Bhuttos led by the young Bilawal Bhutto Zardari is finding it hard to meet the challenge of PPP’s revival in the Punjab where the bond of commitment with Garhi Khuda Bakhsh is weakening with the passage of time. Though the young Bilawal, being the chairman, in a bid to reestablish the party in Punjab, has shifted from Karachi to Lahore, the task seems a bit too difficult because of the rot that has set in. To make it a people’s party in the real sense requires a complete serious overhauling but only after freeing the party from the clutches of Zardari who is still pulling strings from Dubai.
Bilawal Bhutto is being touted as the next Prime Minister of Pakistan and is expected to contest a by-election for a seat in the National Assembly. At the same time, it is true that there is not much of the PPP left in the Punjab and the party has also lost much ground in Sindh. For his part, Bilawal has also not displayed the kind of traits of leadership that his grandfather ZAB did and, to some extent, his mother displayed. The son seems to be totally under the political influence of his father, Asif Zardari, who has his own axes to grind and has never showed any signs of subscribing to ZAB’s political approach or sticking to the PPP philosophy.
Zardari’s recent move to welcome Irfanullah Marwat in the party and the reaction of his daughters and loyal party workers is also seen as an irreparable dent to the PPP. After an hour-long meeting with Zardari, Marwat announced that he would be switching his loyalties from the PML(N) to the PPP. Zardari’s daughters Bakhtwar and Aseefa reacted by taking to Twitter to expressing their displeasure over the development and adopted a harsh tone hard tone.
"Sick man should be rotting in a jail cell somewhere not coming anywhere near PPP," tweeted Bakhtawar. “Irfanullah Marwat should not be in PPP. One of the core PPP values is respect for women! His repulsive and illegal actions are reprehensible” tweeted Aseefa.
It is said that this drove Marwat to take a u-turn on his decision of joining the PPP. Does this also mean that now the Zardari daughters have a greater say in party affairs – an area that was deemed to be the sole territory of their father until recently?
As for Bilawal, who is supposed to be the next ruler of Pakistan if the Bhutto lineage is taken into account, notwithstanding of course, Asif Zardari’s 5-year tenure as the President of Pakistan, it can be said that the lad still has a lot to learn if he is to lead the PPP and rule Pakistan. For the time being, the PPP has lost its national appeal and all thanks to the wheeling and dealing of Asif Ali Zardari.
The writer is a veteran journalist.