Popular culture: The face that launched a thousand rallies is hard to come by unless it’s election time

What does a search of party accessories of Benazir Bhutto yield ahead of her birthday?

Tooba Masood June 20, 2011


Cuba has Che Guevara, China has Chairman Mao and Pakistan has… Benazir Bhutto?

On Monday, a day before her birthday on June 21, paid billboards are covered up with party banners announcing the anniversary. But Paper Market is surprisingly ‘empty’. These shops in Saddar which usually stock political party flags, badges, buttons and other accessories were surprisingly empty. The only items that are available are a packet of 10 rosette badges for Rs70 and 10 stickers for Rs50 and a wrist band for Rs20.

Salaam Brothers shopkeeper Anwar said that the parties usually place an order before a rally or big occasion. “Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) members usually want flags, buttons and badges before a big ‘jalsa’ or a Bhutto death anniversary,” he said. “Four things are very popular with the young people: bandanas, badges, wrist bands and caps. Other things such as banners, flags and stickers are considered compulsory.”

From Paper Market, Anwar points to Denso Hall which is supposed to stock caps and hats for parties. “No matter how much they pay me, or scare me I will never keep party caps or anything,” said cap store owner Ali Khan when asked if he had anything prepared ahead of the big day.

At Boulton Market’s Khoka Stall, owner Jawad is candid when he says that his customers prefer to buy lighters with a picture of Bob Marley on them rather than Benazir. “Lighters with political party leaders’ faces and party symbols were very popular and expensive during the election period but not so much now,” he said.

All the usual spots where mainstream political culture surfaces are bare. There are paan shops and tea shops on the way to Napier Road but they just give way to dentists and cinemas - no lighters.

There is at least one man who is preparing for her birth anniversary. PPP photographer Agha Feroz has single handedly organised an exhibition showcasing his photographs of the Bhutto family. For this stalwart, the people have forgotten Benazir Bhutto. ‘It’s her birthday and no one wants to do anything,” he said. The exhibition has been set up at the Shaheed Benazir Bhutto Park and will go on till June 22.

If any preparations are being made, they are probably at the personal level. According to Bilawal House spokesperson Ajaz Durrani, ever since he’s been affiliated with the party, the young members have been very productive and creative. “They always get their own badges, caps, t-shirts and flags made. They don’t take charity or money from us,” he said. This is not to say that documentaries, books or music bands (taqwacore) on the Bhuttos are not available all year round. There is an online market of mugs and t-shirts, produced Che Guevara style, which cost about $4 and are easily accessible.

Special requests can be turned into stickers at the Garden truck art shops. But for the most part, unless it’s election time, most of the Bhutto paraphernalia is hard to come by on the streets.

“If it proves to be beneficial for my business then maybe I’ll stock them on a regular basis,” said a shopkeeper near Mereweather Tower, referring to politically marked items such as bags, mugs and key chains. But unless Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari is gearing up for 2013, politics is not big business for now.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 21st, 2011.


Ammar | 10 years ago | Reply Avery interesting and well written article! It is interesting to think about the Bhutto name as a brand and its commercial value! Keep it up!
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