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Zardari’s hold over the PPP

M Ziauddin
The already insignificant presence of the PPP in the Punjab and Khyber Pukhtunkhwa seems to be shrinking fast to obliteration. This is happening despite the just concluded almost five-month long ‘vigorous’ campaign launched by Co-Chairperson Asif Ali Zardari from within the security of four walls. The campaign appeared to be a desperate attempt to attract enough ‘electables’ in the two provinces and retrieve the party’s long lost foot-hold in national politics. The Party’s presence in Balochistan was never anything to write home about. The same goes for urban Sindh including Karachi.And had it not been for the absence of a suitable alternative the Party would have been history by now in interior Sindh, thanks largely to its roguish style of governance in the province under its control for almost a decade since 2008.Also, perhaps the majority in Sindh interior continues to find it impossible to part with the Party probably because of a lingering sense of political indebtedness to the late Party leaders — Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto. But in politics loyalties cannot be not taken for granted for all times to come. There is a limit to everything. And it seems the Party has almost reached that limit in interior Sindh and is likely to harvest its political consequences in the next general elections.Clearly, the PPP seems to be racing fast towards almost complete political extinction under the leadership of its Co-Chairperson who has virtually consigned Chairperson, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari to the role of second fiddle to be used only when the name of Bhutto is needed to cover-up AAZ’s unprincipled politics. On the face of it, Bilawal appears to have accepted this role willingly and seemingly has no intention of breaking out of the Zardari cocoon. Or perhaps he does not have what it takes to be a leader in the true sense of the term.Or perhaps he respects and loves his father enough not to challenge him publicly. But Benazir who loved her mother as much if not more did not feel any qualms when the time came for her to take over the leadership of the Party from her mother Nusrat Bhutto who had ably kept the PPP from disintegrating after ZAB’s judicial murder.The Party of which AAZ is the Co-Chairperson is not the same that had won the 2008 elections and made possible the most unlikely possibility of his entry into the Presidency.It was Benazir who had selected the candidates and issued them tickets to contest the 2008 elections. Zardari was not even remotely connected with this selection process.Had she been alive and led the election campaign perhaps she would have swept the polls hands down. The Party did not get any sympathy votes for her martyrdom. In fact it lost many because of the uncertainty that had engulfed the Party when AAZ took it over after her assassination.It was a completely Zardarised Party that had contested the 2013 polls and lost miserably. And going by the performance of Bilawal, Bakhtawar and Asifa since their entry into the public sphere, it seems they are well educated, properly groomed and have their hearts in the right place but so far none of the three has displayed even rudiments of leadership qualities. Or perhaps their father has not let them break out of his spell.Bakhtawar and Asifa seem to have shown more strength of character than their elder brother when facing disagreeable developments. Bakhtawar’s public disagreement with her father’s decision to welcome Irfanullah Marwat in the Party illustrates the point. And the two sisters have never shied away from publicly condemning Party leaders for their sexist remarks or disrespectful innuendoes against female parliamentarians. Bilawal’s biggest failure appears to be his consistent refusal to challenge his father’s sloppy style of governance in the Sindh. And there is no way Bilawal can bring about a positive change in the situation in the short period leading to the next elections.

And the way AAZ is going about doing his politics, it appears as if he would contest the next elections using the name of Bhutto tagged to the names of his three children as a political label to wrap around his dubious political wares. But in the process he is likely to destroy whatever is left of the Party and at the same time cause immense damage to the political image of ZAB and BB.

ZAB and BB are today national heroes and accepted as such across the national political spectrum. Even those who were bitterly opposed to the two in their life time find it politically incorrect to grudge their bipartisan acceptance as national leaders.

BB’s son and her two daughters can best serve the memory of their mother and grandfather by denying their father, no matter how much they love and respect him, the opportunity, even if he is doing it unintentionally, to rob ZAB and BB of their glorious political legacy.

This, they can do by removing themselves from the Zardarised PPP and plunging into social service, for the time being, dedicated to improving the rate of literacy and expanding health cover in Sindh interior and giving their moral and material support to campaigns launched to retrieve Karachi from the suffocating dustbin it has fallen into.

Mind you, BB did not automatically inherit her father’s political mantle. First, she was not the first of ZAB’s children. Second, she was a woman in an overly man’s world soaked in an obscurantist version of Islam.

ZAB’s imprisonment on false murder charges notwithstanding he never underwent the kind of torment that his youthful daughter suffered at the hands of a military dictator. Even male political contemporaries of her had never suffered the long drawn solitary confinement that she had undergone in a jail in Sukkur which sizzles in summers.

So, Bilawal or his sisters need not worry about not following immediately in the foot-steps of their mother. If any one of them or all the three have in them what it takes to be a political leader nothing can keep them from returning to the political arena in due course of time without of course the burdensome legacy of their father.

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