February 18, 2012
By Saeed Qureshi
The formal induction of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari into Pakistan’s murky political turf took place on the somber occasion of 5th death anniversary of his mother, former prime minister and chairperson of PPP Mohtrama Benazir Bhutto. Young and energetic Bilawal delivered his passion-decked debut speech on this occasion in that he lambasted the judiciary besides assailing certain politicians. His rhetorical outburst was reminiscent of his grandfather Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s highly emotional speeches captivating the audience.
But manifestly his political path is paved with grave odds and unforeseen hazards and proverbially is strewn with thorns that cannot be picked up so soon to take him to the garden path of cozy politics. Bilawal Zardari has to go a long way before he could come to the lofty political heights of his mother and grandfather.
Democratic dynasties are a feature of Asian politics. But in the backdrop of the ominous and ill- starred legacy of Bhutto family as that of the Indira Gandhi family in India, one would tend to harbor the troubling apprehensions about their unscathed survival in politics or power. The political culture both in India and Pakistan has been hostage to the family based dynastic overlord-ship. It should be replaced with merit earned through long struggle in the political arena and by serving the people selflessly and by dint of hard work and moral and political dignity.
The iconic political or social figures are certainly adored and loved by their admirers and fans. But this mindset should not turn into a psychological urge on the part of the leaders to undermine the national interests and principled politics. This kind of hero worship in prevalent in Pakistan because of a feudal system that survives on absolute obedience, clannish bonds as well as the slavish mentality from the common folks mostly bonded labor and farm workers.
Also the shrine culture has spawned the docility and reverence for the self-styled divine figures and for those who claim to have directed access with the powers that rule and run the universe. These intermediaries or so to say religious or mystical solicitors command limitless veneration and unquestionable submission from their followers and disciples who remain unmindful of their self dignity and honor.
We have to therefore, discard and reject this mentality of abject cronyism and servitude demanded by the privileged individuals or families in the spiritual or political domains. The democracy cuts across the parochial, clannish, and narrow considerations and urges, and instead gives ascendancy to the people who in fact, are the real owners of the power vested in a few individuals.
Earlier Pakistan’s incumbent president Asif Ali Zardari, who is also the acting chairman of the ruling party PPP, has indicated many a time that Asifa Zardari Bhutto would lead the party and carry forward the vision of her deceased mother, her grandfather and founder of the PPP Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
However, following the assassination of Mohtrama Benazir Bhutto, Bilawal was appointed as the chairman of the party with a new name: Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. It was a shrewd move on the part of Asif Zardari to integrate two clans, namely Bhutto and Zardari into one male successor thus crafting a semblance of unity and togetherness of the two tribes. He wanted Bilawal to represent Bhutto family to negate dissensions within the party.
Bilawal was named chairman of the PPP in December 2007. Zardari planned to serve as a co-chairman of the PPP for at least three years until Bilawal completed his studies overseas. Although Bilawal returned to Pakistan in 2011, and is a de-facto chairman of PPP, Mr. Zardari presumably plans to hold reins of the party till such time as Bilawal is mature enough to take charge of the party as its full-fledged functional head. That moment has perhaps arrived now.
Surprisingly, while it was a foregone and a settled matter that the next chairman to lead the party is Bilawal, all of a sudden, Asif Ali Zardari started propping up Asifa as the PPP’s leader and an intelligent successor of late Benazir Bhutto. Asifa who is now 19 years of age is being invited to various state functions held at the president’s house and at the prime minister’s residence. But presumably Asif Zardari has again modified his plans by recalculating that a male was better than a female to lead the party.
It should be recollected that when Asif Ali Zardari entered the presidential residence for the first time, he was ensconced on both sides by his two daughters Asifa and Bakhtawar. While initially Bakhtawar (22 years) was being bolstered, later she went into oblivion and was substituted by Asifa for making certain statements about her family, her vision, perceptions and aims with regard to the future of Pakistan and the party.
When president Zardari left for Dubai for his heart surgery, Bilawal Bhutto came to Pakistan. But he remained non vocal and reticent without issuing any substantive statements. He looked subdued and seemed to be in a state of introspection or introversion.
At that time, his visibly sluggish posture or quiet demeanor as reflected from his body chemistry could be due to the illness of his father or the lurking feeling that his father was heaped with a plethora of accusations or allegations one of which was that he could be also be instrumental in the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. He could also nurse a kind of forlorn feeling that why all of a sudden his sister was being promoted by his father as the prospective leader of the party and that finally the reins of the party could be handed over to Asifa.
But more potent reason could be his disenchantment with politics and like her aunt Sanam Bhutto; he might not like to delve in politics under paranoia of being the target of the elements that killed his mother. Or maybe by virtue of his temperament he is not attuned to getting into the political arena and instead prefers to lead a private life. It could also be possible that father and son might have developed some yet to be revealed differences on matters exclusively privy to them.
But perhaps now Bilawal seems to have come of age and can be accepted more willingly by the PPP cadres. Compared to his father who is heaped in myriad scandals and allegations, such acceptance would flow from his having a clean slate and also for being the direct descendent of the daughter of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
Patently, these are all speculations. But notwithstanding the internal feuding within the family for ascendency in the party hierarchy, a keen observer of Pakistan’s misty politics would strongly argue that the leadership of the PPP should not be passed on to a member of the Bhutto family.
Firstly, it would be negation or deviation from the established principle of electing a leader from among the cadres. If the PPP is going to be the family property then its democratic credentials would remain questionable and its legitimacy as the national party would remain clouded.
Secondly, the progeny of Ms Bhutto might not be as competent as were their mother and grandfather. The Bhutto legacy is certainly a cherished and romantic phenomenon for the steadfast Bhuttoite, so called jialas (die-hard fans) and devotees of Bhutto family. Nevertheless, the ground realities of the political turf in Pakistan are, rough, unpredictable and uncharitable.
The raison d’être for this assertion is that the PPP needs to re-establish its popular image as a party of the masses managed by a brand of leadership that is clean, upright and democratically hoisted in the hierarchy of the party. It would be a tall order for all the three children of Benazir Bhutto to lead PPP at a much younger age when it is faced with monumental challenge of refurbishing its bruised image.
The party needs to motivate and reunite the cadres disillusioned with the corruption of its stalwarts especially Asif Ali Zardari who cannot come clean even if he endeavors to prove himself as an honest person for his whole life.
As for the children of Ms Bhutto, they would always, like their mother, remain vulnerable for their personal safety, and thus restrained from freedom of movement and speech. During the past decade or so, the free movement and open door politicking of the political and religious leaders have come under severe containment and rigorous restrictions.
If Bhutto family is the repository of an unsurpassed fame, immense esteem and eminence, they have foes and adversaries too. It should not be overlooked that four celebrated figures of the Bhutto family were murdered, with the founder of the family hanged through a fake and farcical judicial process.
It would be befitting to allude to the Nehru family that was as much loved and venerated in India as that of Bhutto family in Pakistan. One of the globally known strongest female head of a government, Indira Gandhi was assassinated by two of her Sikh bodyguards in October 1984.
Her assassination was viewed as an act of vengeance against Indira for ordering “operation blue star “in June 1984, entailing massacre of thousands of Sikhs. Her two sons also subsequently perished. Sanjay Gandhi was killed in a flying accident in 1980. The second Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in Tamil Nadu (May 1991) in a suicide bombing carried out by Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam.
It was a sagacious decision on the part of Rajiv’s widow Sonia Gandhi to remain in the background although she could have become the prime minister of India on the drop of the hat. She was well aware that she could be targeted as well. As such she has remained safe, as well as in a dominant position of leading her party and influencing the government with her decisions.
Rahul Gandhi, the son of late Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi has been kicking around in the political arena to begin with, but was perhaps prevailed upon by his well wishers and more by his mother to not challenge the traditional rivals as the scion of Gandhi family. He seems to have understood the message and is now modestly conducting himself that would be tolerable for both friends and foes. His position as the general secretary of the Indian National Congress and member of Lok Sabha is harmless. But the moment he would aspire for a higher status he could encounter threats to his life.
Politics is rather becoming a tough undertaking and a harrowing ordeal for traditional political families particularly in the third world countries. The people are now more politically conscious and want a free run for everyone to aspire and compete for top slots either within the party or in the government. If the families continue to occupy the parties’ pinnacle positions, then it stifles the spirit of free contest that is central to a democratic culture.
Unfortunately in several countries around the world, the politics and parties are known by a few individuals who founded the parties and then assume father figure or iconic status. These leaders maintain their overlord-ship until a stupendous shake-up within the party or in the political waters of the country casts them or their family successors away.
It is quite an objective approach by Sanam Bhutto, the younger sister of Benazir to keep away from the quagmires of politics in Pakistan. Perhaps she is not as brave or as ambitious as Benazir was. But understandably, what made her averse to politics is the tragic end of her family members that she does not want for herself.
Curiously, the profile or life sketch of Asifa and Bakhtawar can nowhere be found in chronicles or information channels such as face book, you-tube or Wikipedia or other similar blogs. All the information is either blocked or blacked out for fear of slanderous, mischievous and vicious backlash. We have come across comments in face book between the messengers that are dirty and diabolic and are dished out by culturally dwarfed people.
But while this is a prudent way of escaping the malignant and distasteful interactions, it closes the doors and avenues of wider publicity that are absolutely essential for the politicians and those who wish to tread upon the unpredictable and deceptive field of politics. Yet it depends as to what course one would like to adopt: stay in politics and face odds or steer clear and enjoy a safe private life.