The inheritors

UP landlords were instrumental in pursuing a separate homeland

Shahzad Chaudhry April 26, 2024
The writer is a political, security and defence analyst. He tweets @shazchy09 and can be contacted at


Some families have it all — landed, aristocratic, prominent; some educated and moneyed and therefore eminent. More so in rural set-ups where not many may strike luck that well and that quickly. These days money comes from all sources, not necessarily kosher, yet enough to find significance in urban circles. Historically the former were inducted into ruling elites by the British who then continued their elitist occupation down the family line as an entitlement. Gandhis, Bhuttos, Tiwanas, Noons, Daultanas, etc fit the bill except that time took the sheen away from most leaving them a pale shadow of their old self. Some have however sustained with additional back-up of resourced assets, mostly shady. From among the rural elites Sharifs are the ones who have increased both their heft and pelf. Money enabled them political relevance which the Brits earlier exploited creating for their ilk the legacy leading into the new republic.

It used to be much easier. The king occupied the throne and his progeny lay claim on it as his time came up. The ruled only adjusted to the new reality. There are folktales galore which edify the times of then fortifying the relationship of those who conquered and ruled with their subjects. It was for the King’s progeny to decide among them who would succeed the old man. How they did it and who all they slaughtered from among their kins to conquer the throne was an established norm and restricted to the royal precincts. What evinced was only news for those on the outside. Law was what force ordained not capability or morality. The British brought along some order but tailored it to suit the genius of the natives hence the mishmash that we falsely think is democracy in a modern-day republic.

The UP landlords were instrumental in pursuing a separate homeland which they finally acquired under the leadership of the Quaid-e-Azam who once committed to the idea gave it his all even if he did not live to set it on the path of constitutionalism and democratic norms. Leadership thus passed on to the UP elites who had merely transported their roles as sociopolitical eminences in India to ruling elites in the new republic of Pakistan. The Bogras, Tiwanas and others continued to rule in the manner of the Kings of the past. Bhuttos and the Sharifs found money and came along a few decades later in the same tradition. Gandhis in India have held the torch for rather long though the spark seems to be in its final quivers. Time calls on all, rich or poor, eminent or insignificant, and is always the final arbiter.

It is amazing that when ZAB was undergoing serious turmoil his male progeny wasn’t around to succor his suffering. His entire support system was borne by the two women in his family, wife Nusrat Bhutto and daughter, Benazir. Latter was to rise as the heir apparent as the two sons found refuge in foreign lands away from the scrutiny and harrying in their father’s country. PPP’s armed faction, Al Zulfiqar, was created by Murtaza Bhutto to avenge his father’s killing but ended up being coined a terror group costing Murtaza credibility in public perception and the moral standing to inherit the political mantle. Benazir deservedly took on that role and performed admirably as a politician, well prepared and groomed for the role by ZAB, as well as circumstances, thrusting her far too early in the deep end. She was politically sensitised, suave and studied through her education, qualification and training for the role.

One cannot say the same for either Bilawal or Asifa — or Maryam. Neither has had to face up to the tests that life throws at you. Nor have they worked professionally in any area of work which can give them the essence of leadership, organisation, planning and governance. It is thus on-the-job-training for both which can go either way depending on who the mentor is. How it might work out is exemplified in the way that another dynasty in the neighbourhood, India, seems to be faring.

There hasn’t been a lower point than now for a political entity as strong as the Congress party in India. In the 2019 elections the Congress party won only 52 of the 542 seats up for contention. Rahul Gandhi, the successor scion of the Gandhi dynasty, could not be appointed the leader of the opposition for failing to get the minimum needed ten percent representation in the Lok Sabha to qualify. For a party that has led India since independence in 1947, save a few turns, this was as colossal and politically destructive as it can get. As 2024 elections in India get under way the bigger question is: will Congress do any better? Without UPA’s electoral alliance with regional parties it looks impossible. How did it get here?

The dynasty of Moti and Jawahar Lal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv and Sanjay Gandhi, Rajiv’s wife Sonia and their two children Rahul and Priyanka and in a parallel strain Sanjay’s wife and son, have all ruled Indian politics over the last 100 years. Especially, the Congress Party. They were smart though to let non-Gandhis lead at critical times. Manmohan Singh in different capacities has been the architect of modern India. Yet the Gandhi family has come to sorrow on the potential in the party to retain primacy as their political opposition, the BJP, has almost smothered Congress into relative nothingness.

Rahul Gandhi has been a docile, listless leader, lacking requisite authenticity, unable to carry the momentum forward after Manmohan Singh. A man unenthused and with a fizzled-out charm. And even though he too like the Bhutto children lost a parent and a grandparent to political violence life came easy to him. Ditto the Sharif wards. Without the trials and tests of life and earthly grounding any display of empathy and compassion is usually pretentious. Without authenticity and depth leadership only waivers and meanders without a clear thought of where it must lead. That is when a chai-wala will trump one to smithereens.

Portentously, Pakistan and its two principal hereditary parties exhibit the same characteristics. Their scions are lost to the complexity of governance. Without the intellect, the knowledge, experience and the wisdom navigating a nation impinged by multiple contradictory factors lays bare their incompetence and lack of preparedness. The PPP and the PML-N need to put up their best not the most privileged and most ‘entitled’ in positions of authority and leadership. Else, the story from the neighbourhood will only repeat here. Our politics needs a comprehensive ideological and intellectual overhaul.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 26th, 2024.

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