At night, when floodlights mounted on high-rise towers illuminate the white marble domes of the Bhutto mausoleum in Garhi Khuda Bux, it becomes an alluring edifice from another world. But for the thousands who thronged the place on Thursday, the legacy of those laid to rest within it is much more spectacular.
More people turned up to the mausoleum this year as compared to the last one, perhaps to be a part of the historic rites of passage marking Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s foray into the political arena.
The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leaders were expecting a large turnout for the rally, but the crowd failed to live up to the expectations. The policemen deployed at the Sukkur bypass felt that fewer vehicles were heading to Garhi Khuda Bux as compared to previous years.
It’s cold outside
Since accomodation was scarce, some of the party’s workers bore a cold winter night – where the mercury dipped below 13°C – out on the roads without so much as a blanket to protect them from the occasional chilly breeze. Achar from Thatta was one of the men for whom the pavement was a bed on Wednesday night. “I didn’t even get a wink of sleep because of the cold,” he told The Express Tribune. The charged atmosphere at the rally, however, gave him a buzz that no other stimulant could.
Others munched on gutka to keep themselves awake and alert in the stinging cold. Ibrahim, a young man from Karachi, had brought along 100 packets of the betel nut mixture for his three-day stay in Larkana. But he had exhausted his entire supply by the end of the first day. “It’s so cold out here!” he exclaimed.
Earlier, Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah had announced that food and refreshments would be provided to all visitors, but a group from Shikarpur was slightly miffed that it didn’t get its share. “We come to Garhi Khuda Bux every year. We weren’t given enough food but we’re still happy and we’ll still chant ‘jeay bhutto’,” said one of them.
While the VIPs flew in on private jets, those with leaner wallets squabbled with one another to secure a spot in the tightly packed public transport vehicles. So powerful was the allure of the Bhuttos that the game of musical chairs took a violent turn in Thull. Fists flew, clothes were ripped and five men, including members of the party’s youth wing, were so bruised and battered after running the gauntlet that they had to be taken to the hospital.
Who are you here for?
Most visitors loitered about as other leaders from the PPP made their speeches, but when Bilawal took the stage and began to speak, a wave of jiyalas suddenly headed in his direction. As he spoke, some could barely contain their excitement and put their vocal cords to the ultimate test. “Wow! He is just like a copy of my leader Benazir! How can I not vote for him?” a frail old man, Piral, screamed at the top of his lungs.
When the last words left Bilawal’s mouth, so did the lion’s share of visitors from the Bhutto mausoleum. This was a little surprising, since most banners had the faces of not only Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Benazir and Bilawal, but President Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur as well.
For other jiyalas, it was the memories of Benazir Bhutto that compelled them to make the trip to Garhi Khuda Bux, rather than their current faith in the party. “Bilawal is just a kid and he will speak the language of his party,” said Bakhto Bibi, who was in a van heading to Garhi Khuda Bux.
Among the passionate PPP jiyalas in the bus was a disgruntled looking man from Ghotki, Akram Pitafi, who said he was only going to Garhi Khuda Bux because “our sardar wants us to”. Most of the people on the bus claimed that they were making the trip for “free food and free accommodation”.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 28th, 2012.