The PPP began as a party that cared for the underprivileged classes. That this never became a reality is a fact of history. The party is now hardly a contender for national leadership and it seems both Asif Ali Zardari and Bilawal Bhutto are least bothere
When the Pakistan Peoples Party ( PPP) was founded in 1967 in Lahore, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was elected as its Chairman at the first convention. The party is now struggling hard to regain its status of the largest national party. The main stumbling block, according to many, is the perception that the PPP has been rendered as nothing but “Zardari League” and the even energetic young Bilawal Bhutto cannot take any decision independently as Chairman. The historic struggle of the party against unconstitutional rule and its struggle for less-privileged classes was once its hallmark and identity. It is now a matter of past glory for many critics and cynics inside and outside the party.
The founding convention where Zulfikar Ali Bhutto presented the party’s manifesto was attended amongst others by Dr. Mubashir Hassan, Shaikh M. Rashid, Tufail Abbas and student leader Mairaj Muhammad Khan. The socialist ideology — in those days very popular in the Third World countries — was adopted by the PPP as its economic agenda after fusing with what it called the Islamic concept of equality. People like Hanif Ramay offered a “middle-ground.” This was a fusion of the ‘left’ ideology with a so-called ‘progressive Islam.’ This was a vague term and was unscientific but the traditional explanation has always been that “PPP doesn’t come out looking like an atheistic/communist party.” This explanation is yet to be analysed scientifically by any scholar from socio-politico-economic standpoints. One can say without fear of contradiction that from the beginning, PPP has had a confused ideology.
Bhutto, as commonly believed, was not a socialist or progressive leader. He reversed the process of industrialisation, gave the upper hand to military-judicial-civil complex and never established
the supremacy of working classes. He created a state oligarchy and turned Pakistan into a quasi-theocratic state through the 1973 Constitution. The inherent contradictions in the manifesto and policies of PPP are still lingering. Pakistan, therefore, lacks any meaningful existence of left politics. As time passed, persons like Hanif Ramay and Maulana Kausar Niazi successfully managed to counter the leftist elements who slowly quit, leaving room for opportunists to hijack the once vibrant mass-based party. Populist socialist theory and Islamic egalitarianism were just ploys used by Bhutto and there was no commitment to establish a system of equality and justice.
The dictatorial mindset of Bhutto and his political shenanigans coupled with personal idiosyncrasies forced the defeat of “leftists’ in the party. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto became an autocratic ruler and feudal elements like Makhdum Muhammad Zaman, Ghulam Mustafa Khar, Rasul Bakhsh Talpur, Mumtaz Bhutto, Mustafa Jatoi, just to mention a few, started dominating the party. For them, ideology had little value and rapprochement towards the military and the ruling elite was more important. The backtracking of the PPP leadership from original pro-people programmes ultimately led to another military coup in 1977 and Zia proved so ruthless that he manoeuvred the judicial murder of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1979.
Right or wrong there is a widespread perception — for many even a belief — that Asif Ali Zardari, during the lifetime of Benazir Bhutto and after her assassination, caused greater harm to the party compared to General Ziaul Haq and General Musharraf, the main adversaries, as well as the Muslim League-N. The five year rule (2008-2013) under Zardari’s leadership proved so damaging that in the May 2013 elections, PPP was restricted to just Sindh. For the Zardari camp inside the party, this was a “golden era.” After all, for the first time in Pakistani politics, a smooth transition took place, the provinces were given autonomy under the Eighteenth Constitutional Amendment and peaceful co-existence was achieved with the Opposition. Zardari and his defenders are of the view that the future of the PPP is very bright under Bilawal Bhutto as the main rival party PML (Nawaz) is losing popularity in the wake of the Panama crisis.
The PPP that was once considered as a progressive and liberal party at the national level is now reduced to a force in Sindh alone, where too it has miserably failed to deliver. Karachi — the economic hub of Pakistan — under PPP rule has been facing serious law and order issues and has been reduced to an urban nightmare. The old timers in the party are pinning their hopes on Bilawal Bhutto for the PPP’s revival but he has no standing in the presence of Asif Zardari. Observes Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa: “Bilawal is certainly youthful and a good learner. But more than presentation, he and his minders must focus on the content which ought to reflect sensitivity towards ordinary folk whose everyday life gets severely affected by commodity prices and lack of resources. It is easy for these people to get tempted towards other institutions if the ones that are supposed to deliver do not do so. As is obvious from the politics of rural Sindh, the ordinary folk are more willing to follow extremist and right-wing forces because they may be the only ones that seem to have the gun-power to challenge the traditional power structures. These extremist forces that are the neo-feudal of the area have even attracted partners from other political parties including the PPP.”
The dilemma of the PPP remains the same since the day of its inception. It is not ready to mobilise the masses for dismantling elitist structures. To the contrary, it relies like other parties on traditional power structures — the feudal families of the country. Even today, the official website of the PPP says that the biggest achievement of Zardari was implementation “of the Charter of Democracy (CoD) in its letter and spirit.” The CoD, signed by Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif on May 14, 2006, in London, is an agreement that people say ensures perpetuation of antipeople rule in the name of democracy and if the PPP still glorifies it, how can it defeat the PML (Nawaz), a party that represents money power and is an ardent defender of the status quo of the system of exploitation.
The critics of Zardari say that since the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the PPP has been turned into his personal fiefdom — like Nawaz Sharif who is a symbol of money power. They say the party lacks a leadership capable of pulling the country out of the prevailing mess. The PPP government in Sindh is not delivering. During the PPP’s five-year rule under Asif Ali Zardari, corruption reached new heights, maladministration spread like wild fire, law and order deteriorated to unthinkable levels, institutional confrontations accelerated and economic woes of the people multiplied many times, just to mention some disastrous outcomes. Many say that PPP is still lucky that its successor is also following its footsteps. The PPP can strike back in the 2018 elections as the PML (Nawaz) and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) have also proved that they have neither any pragmatic programmes nor competent people to solve fundamental problems faced by Pakistan and its people.
Realistically speaking, in today’s Pakistan there is not a single leader who matches the vision and determination of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto to regain what we have lost domestically and internationally. Even if the PPP wins the elections in 2018, which is a remote possibility, there is no hope for the masses because it will not fulfil promises made by its founding fathers. It is no more the party of masses but an elitist and feudal party like the PML (Nawaz) or the PTI.
The writers, lawyers and partners in HUZAIMA IKRAM & IJAZ, are Adjunct Faculty at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS).