The ship of the PPP remained rudderless during the last five years and hit the iceberg in many places. If we browse the election results data of Punjab it makes for painful reading for PPP candidates
Dr Haider Shah
When I was a college student in the mid 1980s, during Ziaul Haq’s dictatorship, I was drawn towards radical leftist ideas. Like any youngster I also thought that I alone could change the world with a few off-the-shelf simple remedies. The People’s Students Federation (PSF) carried the banner of left leaning progressive students so I joined the PSF unit at my engineering university. Soon I began intermingling with the Peshawar-based ideologues of the party. After a few years, the highly potent Marxist idealist in me gradually became disillusioned with the feudal lords and echelons of the party, and found solace by joining a smaller but more radical group in the university. I, however, remained in touch with some of my comrade friends in the PPP as I wished the party well for its liberal and progressive agenda.
Political parties are the heart and soul of the body politic and a political system can only be considered healthy and properly functioning if the political parties are well organised and adequately institutionalised. Like a tree, every political party takes decades to stand on its own and start bearing fruit. Attempts to launch new political parties by dictators and armchair revolutionaries in the past have often failed miserably as a political party needs a complex mix of nutrients to grow and blossom. Historically, the politics of the left was concentrated in the less developed provinces like Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and East Pakistan.
Zulifikar Ali Bhutto’s phenomenal rise in the late 1960s spread leftist ideas widely to Punjab as well. The PPP became the biggest political force with a huge following in all federating units of the country. It thus served as the cementing force that kept the centrifugal tendencies of various regional parties and religious groups in check. The military establishment, unfortunately, only looks through its myopic viewing glass and is unable to grasp the importance of mainstream political parties. It has historically felt uncomfortable with the political parties that rival its claim of being the guarantor of the integrity of the state. The PPP was considered a national security threat and hence the intelligence agencies were used to cause damage through political opponents and other conspiracies. Under Benazir Bhutto the PPP retained its national profile though the decay had set in as the party did not accord importance to perception management.
The 2013 elections proved that the voters were not impressed with the new brand image of the PPP as a party of shrewd and scheming leaders lacking any charismatic leadership. “Eik Zardari, sab pe bhari” (One Zardari is ‘heavier’ than all the rest) is not a slogan that can motivate the working class voters or the educated classes. Rehman Malik may have good negotiation skills but he cannot create a vibe among ordinary voters. The ship of the PPP remained rudderless during the last five years and hit the iceberg in many places. If we browse the election results data of Punjab it makes for painful reading for PPP candidates. For instance, just take the case of Lahore, the provincial capital of Punjab. In the constituencies where the PML-N bagged more than 100,000 votes, the PPP candidates averaged about 3,000 only. The PTI performed much better by 40,000 to 50,000 votes. On Aitzaz Ahsan’s seat his wife only got about 7,000 votes while the winning PML-N secured about 120,000 votes. It seems that the PPP totally misread the pre-poll scenario as it complacently believed that the PTI’s rise would cut through the PML-N voters. On the contrary, it was the PPP whose voters dumped it in favour of the newly media-cultivated charisma of Imran Khan.
During the dharna (sit-in) agitation of the PTI and PAT, the PPP appeared to be divided between two camps. One mainly belonging to Sindh, barring Makhdoom Amin Fahim, did not mince its words in supporting constitutionalism and opposed the unconstitutional demands of the agitators in unequivocal terms. Khursheed Shah is the most vocal voice of this camp. The other camp was mainly dominated by Punjab-based PPP politicians who, at times, sounded more like spokespersons for the agitators. Some analysts, though, without any proof, suspected that many of these PPP leaders were part of the alleged London plan and would have joined the PTI if the plan had not been stabbed to death by the defecting baghi (rebel) of Multan.
The recent statement issued by Bilawal Bhutto in which he advised the disaffected leaders of the party not to turn their backs on the party in its hour of crisis gives some credence to this conspiracy theory. Personally, I like Bilawal Bhutto. The fact that he is young and vibrant is not his only virtue. What positively inspires me is that he is very clearheaded and can promote the progressive agenda that Pakistan so dearly needs. However, the challenges he faces are monumental. If he wants to resurrect the dying dinosaur then he needs to create a new identity for the party. He has to do away with the sticky perceptions of feudalism, bad governance and corruption. He must bring forward people from the intelligentsia and working class cadres of the party to give renewed hope to the disgruntled and tired workers of the party. The challenge is a formidable one but it is doable.