The crowd was pulsating as Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (ZAB) continued to talk about Afro-Asian solidarity. Some of us raised anti-Ayub slogans. ZAB stopped us and said ‘abhi naheen’. He was into the third hour of his first public speech after ditching his mentor and the venue was Government College Lahore. The 60s were an era of healthy debate between the left and the right. My mother insisted that I stop reading comics and novels and she thrust upon a young mind The dialogues of Plato. I graduated to Maududi, Marx and Engels to understand socialism, religion and the exploitation of man by laissez faire capitalism. Iqbal fired up a passion and pride, and Bhutto’s book The Myth of Independence gave me a nationalist perspective, though I disagreed with his political philosophy. People dislodged Ayub Khan and yours truly still carries a couple of bullets in his right arm as a memento of a people’s struggle gone awry, somewhat like Egypt of today with no real change. Our lot since then has gotten from worse to worst and beyond.
Forty years later I am travelling with Imran Khan from Lahore to Faisalabad for a PTI jalsa. His recent upsurge started from the Peshawar dharna. Karachi was the watershed where people of all ethnicities joined in to make a statement that there is a breath of fresh air in this miserable political arena. Multan was a notch higher and we reached there in time from Lahore despite many receptions on the way.
We started at 2:30 pm, planning to reach the Dhobi Ghat ground in Faisalabad at 6 pm. But it was not to be despite Imran Khans urgings, as the crowd in every village on the way had come on the roads to welcome him. There was a sea of passionate people every mile of the road we travelled.
An old man almost got trampled making it to his side of the car and with tears in his eyes exhorted Imran Khan to “save Pakistan”. Women pushed through the crowd of men, shouted greetings, and those who could not reach the car would give the traditional blessing from a distance. Huge crowds would not allow us to move despite our portable speaker announcements that tens of thousands were waiting for us in Faisalabad.
Khan blamed me for the lack of organisation and discipline in the welcoming crowds. But it was evident that the paradigm shift and tsunami which he had been predicting had arrived. It was incredible to see the rising passion of the people which gives a leader strength, but also puts on his shoulders a great burden of responsibility.
For me, this was déjà vu’ plus, from the Bhutto era. I welcomed Asghar Khan in Karachi in ’67. Then I followed Bhutto, though I disagreed with his pseudo leftist philosophy. I never forgave him his role in the breakaway of East Pakistan, but I imbibed the hope of his ‘we-will-make-a-new-Pakistan’ speech after the debacle. I admired him for his brilliant link to the people and the dignity which he gave to the common man. What has been done to his legacy is nothing short of political rape.
Mubashir Hasan and others like Rafi Raza have dissected Bhutto’s contradictions in their books and have concluded that he had two personalities which struggled within him, that of a wadera and that of an awami leader. He loved the latter but frequently succumbed to the compromises of the former. Khan has no schism. What you see is what you get. Let me sound the bugle that the tides have turned and for those who have seen or read about the Bhutto ‘sailab’, this is an emerging ‘tsunami’, as the people have found a leader they can trust and who will deliver.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 3rd, 2011.