Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s speech at Garhi Khuda Bakhsh on the occasion of his grandfather Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s 33rd death anniversary had two purposes: to look back at the injustice meted out to Mr Bhutto by the Supreme Court in 1979, and to point out that the Court was targeting the PPP again. His fiery speech linked the two events to show that the PPP has always been the victim of the permanent establishment and has never really been allowed to govern freely. It was a speech that eschewed conciliation in favour of confrontation. But this is a fight that the PPP has not chosen; but rather been thrust upon by a judiciary that is exercising unprecedented power and an army that has never supported the PPP.
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, lest we forget, was given the death penalty on false charges framed by military dictator Ziaul Haq simply because he feared the popularity of the country’s first popularly-elected leader. And while the current SC has opened a reference case into Bhutto’s judicial murder, it has pursued the case with far less enthusiasm than it has various cases against the sitting government. Bilawal pointed out in his speech that the PPP has partly suffered because it is not a Punjab-based party. Its Sindhi roots have always worked against it in the corridors of power — and there may be some takers of this thesis.
Bilawal’s speech can also be seen as the start of the PPP’s counteroffensive in the run-up to the next general elections. In the event that Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani is found guilty of contempt by the Supreme Court, the PPP may well use that to portray itself as the victim of an establishment conspiracy. Thus the party that is in power will be able to campaign as the gritty underdog foiling the machinations of those who truly rule the country. The strategy is a shrewd one as it will shore up the PPP’s vote in Sindh, a province it badly needs to sweep in order to be voted back into power. In the coming months, as the PPP’s leaders address the hustings, the memory of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto will be a powerful tool at their disposal, as a reminder that the PPP has never been allowed to govern. Bilawal’s speech was perhaps the opening thrust in the election campaign.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 5th, 2012.