The continued absence of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, chairperson of one of the country’s biggest political parties from Pakistan, is a source of concern to many.
Dispelling some of the stories that have been circulating about his withdrawal from the public eye, this week his father and co-chairperson of the party, former president Asif Ali Zardari told us that Bilawal was being “trained” in London. One wonders what the training entails.
The former president also said that Bilawal’s thinking needs to mature and he needs to grow up. “Once it happens, he will return to politics once again.”
It is believed that Bilawal was upset at the allegations of wide scale corruption that have been associated with the party for some years now. The old and tired leadership of the party also does not inspire. That is possibly why a party like the PTI is making inroads in Sindh. The people want change.
Bilawal was also a change. One recalls the speeches made by Bilawal in 2013 and 2014 and how there was an air of honesty about them. Many may have commented on his delivery or control of language, but few could grudge the content.
In December 2013, on the occasion of the death anniversary of his mother, Bilawal’s first formal speech declared war against extremists and also demanded some strict preconditions to any talks with them.
This was the soft launch of Bilawal’s political career. It was also the first time any leader of a major political party, with the exception of possibly the MQM, spoke so clearly against extremism and those parties that supported it. It came at the end of a challenging year in which general elections had been held where parties like the PPP, ANP and MQM could not hold political rallies for fear of suicide attacks.
A few months earlier during the anniversary of the Karsaz blasts, Bilawal had told his supporters about the rise in extremism in Pakistan and how his party stood against it.
What is more significant is that prior to 2013, while the PPP was in power for five years neither the party chairperson nor co-chairperson had visited the blast site. So Bilawal’s presence was of special meaning to party workers.
Bilawal had on the occasion highlighted the sacrifices of Punjab’s former governor Salman Taseer and slain federal minister for minorities Shahbaz Bhatti, another first. Till then the party had remained somewhat ambivalent on such an important topic.
But there was more to come. In 2014, Bilawal stirred up a hornet’s nest with his comments about “Namaloom Afraad” in a speech he made. And he wasn’t talking about one of Pakistan’s most successful commercial movies.
Interestingly, Bilawal also said in his speech that some forces did not want to see him enter the political arena. He said everyone had the right to pursue politics, adding that he would launch his career “for the sake of democracy, reconciliation and for rendering sacrifices”.
In October 2014, Bilawal Bhutto’s political career was formally launched. At the time, he also announced his decision to take part in the 2018 general elections from the late Benazir Bhutto’s seat of Ratedero in Larkana.
Tens of thousands had turned up for the rally in Karachi. Local media reported that the city had not seen such a huge PPP rally for years. They had come to hear Bilawal in a speech where he made some bold points about the need to fight militancy and protect religious minorities.
There are many who talk against dynastic politics. Many question the whole idea of the mantle of political leadership being passed from father to son, or in some cases, father to daughter, or mother to son. At the same time, it is the voter who should decide who the next leader will be. For many, the hope, whether good or bad, was Bilawal.
The question now is how long will Bilawal be retrained and in the meantime how will the political landscape in Sindh change. So far we have seen that the speeches that Bilawal Bhutto made resonated with a large section of people. Is it possible that Bilawal Bhutto would have helped change the fortunes of the PPP? One can see that change is in the air. Will Bilawal be part of it or will he have to sit it out in London?
Published in The Express Tribune, April 13th, 2015.
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