When a group of politicians met at Dr Mubashir Hasan’s Lahore residence in November 1967 to lay the foundation for the Pakistan Peoples party (PPP), no one thought that within 45 years, it would not only lose its chairman, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, but all the Bhuttos. On the party’s 45th anniversary which was on November 30, its third generation is finding it quite challenging to lead the party in the 2013 general elections.
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s hanging was the beginning of the long tragedies for the Bhuttos. His eldest daughter, Benazir Bhutto, who led from the front in the struggle against martial law after her father’s death, was killed while on her way out of a public meeting days before the general elections, which observers said the PPP would have won. No political family in the world, other than the Gandhis and Kennedys, had seen such a series of political and personal tragedies. Now, the third generation of Bhuttos led by Bilawal, Bakhtawar and Aseefa Bhutto Zardari may find it difficult to meet the challenge of leading the party in the forthcoming general elections.
Bilawal Bhutto was born when his mother was in a struggle against then military dictator in 1988. He did not have enough time to learn politics from his mother who often kept him away from mainstream politics to focus on his studies. Unlike Benazir, who had seen the best and worst of her father when she was mature enough to understand politics, Bilawal was, unfortunately, unable to learn much from his mother about politics and political struggle. Additionally, Benazir was lucky that her father was never accused of corruption, something which Bilawal may find difficult to defend when questions are asked about the practices of his father, President Asif Ali Zardari. But, at least, he may be able to defend his father in proving his critics wrong by finishing a full term and leading the party to complete its five-year rule.
Unlike Bilawal’s father, Benazir was often on the defensive when the question of political persecution against the political opponents came. But she had learnt from her father’s political mistakes. On the other hand, Bilawal has little to offer to the people. His party’s performance in full tenure could neither deliver economically nor check the massive corruption within. The party also failed to protect the lives of common men. Had they been able to check the price hike, he would have something to ask people in return.
Unlike his mother, Bilawal has the heavy excess baggage of his father, President Zardari — Pakistan‘s most controversial political leader. The PPP will be unlucky in the coming elections as neither the co-chairman nor the chairman, not even any other of Benazir’s children will be able to take part in the election campaign.
The PPP did not win the 1970 elections but emerged as the single largest party in then West Pakistan — something unprecedented for a party formed only three years earlier. All this was possible because of Bhutto’s charming personality and the programme. The party, which has won most of the country’s general elections since 1970, may face its most difficult challenge in the 2013 elections as they go into the polls without the vibrant voice of a Bhutto leading the party. Can Bilawal accept this challenge, reunite the old party, revisit the old party programme, eradicate corruption within the party and face the people with courage?
Published in The Express Tribune, December 1st, 2012.