Bilawal enters. Again. But will the rapturous roar of the jiyalas in Karachi drown out the cries and groans of the abandoned souls of Sindh?
As the son also rises — again — he faces a bitter and brutal truth: his party has Sindh. His party has also sinned.
This now is a defining moment for a party that once revolutionised politics in Pakistan. From the behemoth that Zulfikar Ali Bhutto created through his vision and grit, we today have a caricature of the original entity. Obliterated and whitewashed in other provinces, Bhutto’s party has limped back to its home base bruised, battered and bloodied. Here in the hearts of the people the party was born. And here it prepares to make its last stand.
But make a stand with what? Rhetoric? Emotional blackmail? Delightful stupidity? Or all of the above? If the new slogan is any indication, the PPP is in no mood to learn the right lessons. “Marsoon marsoon Sindh na daisoon” (I will die but not give up Sindh) confirms the party’s ethnically limited aspirations, rooted more in nationalism than performance. No wonder the party slogan is mocked: “marsoon marsoon kaam na karsoon” (I will die but not work).
Bilawal now lords over a ship deliberately searching for an iceberg to hit. In the Multan by-election debacle, the PPP candidate lost the election and possibly also his dignity. Now the party is already being mentioned in the past tense in Punjab. Asif Ali Zardari may have a 200-kanal house in Lahore, but his party cannot even find six yards for its grave in Punjab. Too harsh? Then consider this:
There is nothing original left in the party. Nothing. Heck, even its jalsa is a mock imitation of the PTI extravaganzas. And trust the PPP to not even be able to do face-painting neatly. This, in fact, says it all: if you cannot paint a face in your colours, you think you can paint hearts? Too harsh? Consider this:
The party cannot even properly sell the one untarnished brand it has: Bilawal. Just look at their advertisements and promotionals: they reek of unimaginative mediocrity dipped in fakeness. The images insult your intelligence: Zardari wading in rain water; Bilawal walking knee-deep in flood water; Bilawal shaking outstretched hands and being kissed by old women; Bilawal ranting with his unbuttoned sleeves flaying in the wind. I mean, seriously? Are these supposed to inspire us? Make us go weak in the knees? Really?
Too harsh? Consider this:
This stench of unimaginative, unoriginal mediocrity is emanating from a party that introduced political originality; that fired up dulled imaginations and that propelled a genius on to the national stage. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto defined change when this nation did not really know what that meant. He defied the titans, mocked the status quo and promised dignity and power to the weak and suppressed people. He won. Yes, he committed blunders and ultimately paid the price for his own weaknesses and vanity, but Z A Bhutto was a true game-changer for his era.
And so was his daughter. The brave Benazir Bhutto was hardened in a crucible of national fire and personal tragedy. Alone and abandoned, she battled the might of the Pakistani establishment with true grit and truer courage. She won. Yes, she made many mistakes and the nation paid heavily for them, but for her age and times she lived in, Benazir Bhutto was a true game-changer.
And now? The party of Z A Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto seems to be out of the game, and clearly, out of all this change business. Surviving on the memories of its martyrs and fuelling its cadres with fake bravado, Bilawal’s party today is as exciting as a damp cloth.
But still Sindh votes for it. For the Bhutto name weaves magic in their hearts, and stirs emotions like nothing else can. In this old and mystical land, the Bhutto brand rises above the din of daily politicking and arouses a certain spiritual reverence. This old and mystical land is mired in poverty and backwardness. It is ravaged by rapacious landlords, who feed off the misery of its inhabitants. Here in this land, roads are cratered as are priorities of the rulers. Here hospitals reek of waste and apathy, as do those who run them. Here schools are decrepit and dilapidated, just like the education imparted in them. Here progress and prosperity is treated like a curse, just like the mandate placed on undeserving heads like a crown.
Yet, the PPP has no challenge here. This is why it has sinned and still has Sindh. But times — dear Bilawal — they are a changin’. Tremors are always the strongest near the epicentre, but then they travel outwards and rock the landscape. Change is in the air — and it has a No Return, No Refund policy. It’s a genie that will just not go back in the bottle. Yes sir, it’s a virus that leaps from one heart to the other, leaving behind a deliciously mutating infection. This virus respects no provincial, ethnic and linguistic boundaries.
So be warned and beware — it’s coming your way.
And this then is the challenge that Bilawal and his party face: in this era of dizzying change fuelled by a deep and intense yearning for progress, how to find relevance. Look at the faces on the stage with Bilawal; look at the leadership that runs the province; look at the grandees that wrap themselves in the tricolor flag — and what do you see? Tired, haggard, tried-tested-and-failed people with nothing to say, nothing to do and even less to inspire. This party leadership should be in a museum, not on a stage. But this is the tragedy of the party that Bhutto built: it refuses to realise that emotions alone cannot feed and clothe people.
The PPP has Sindh. The PPP has sinned. Now it must atone for both, or pay the ultimate price.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 19th, 2014.
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