Volume 23 Issue 4, April 2019


By Justice (R) M. Shaiq Usmani

Post-India-Pakistan War of 1965, during negotiations preceding the Tashkent Declaration, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto appeared in pictures looking sombre yet defiant. He suddenly shot into prominence and his image was metamorphosed from that of a dandy, a playboy to a hero. He used this sudden popularity well and a few years later, launched a new political party, the Pakistan People's Party with a socialist agenda which was quite in contrast to his downright bourgeois upbringing and inclinations. But what caught the people’s imagination was the catchy slogan "Roti, Kapra aur Makan", which the party adopted virtually as its manifesto.

Thereafter his demeanour supporting the cause of West Pakistan vis-à-vis Mujibur Rehman's heresy of his six point programme earned him more kudos. Then the only truly fair elections in the history of Pakistan conducted by Yahya Khan in 1970 catapulted him as a leader of West Pakistan, in particular of Punjab, who, true to their nature, liked his belligerent attitude towards India. There was no turning back for him then onwards, except that being an ambitious man he soon realised that given the majority that the Awami League of Sheikh Mujibur Rehman commanded in the Assembly, he could never be the Prime Minister of whole of Pakistan and reconciled to the idea of governing only the Western part of Pakistan. His subsequent moves further increased the cleavage between the two wings which suited the purpose of General Yahya and his coterie and hence endeared him to them. This led to his being appointed the Foreign Minister by Ayub Khan after the 1965 war, thus giving him the opportunity to use his inherent brilliance and flamboyance to his great advantage and, after the break-up of Pakistan, leading him to become the President and first Civilian Martial law Administrator and then the Prime Minister of the riven Pakistan.

There is no doubt that immediately upon becoming the Prime Minister, ZAB took steps to live up to his party's socialist agenda and took steps to nationalize banks, insurance companies, shipping companies and other industries and even privately owned school networks and also gave a boost to labour unions. All these measures had a devastating effect on the economy and the country reels from the after effects of these measures to this today. But at the time these were popular moves amongst the masses because they liked the twenty two families of industrialists being trounced, even though they themselves gained nothing from it. There is no doubt that the policy of nationalisation initially brought political dividends to the party but ironically the spate of nationalization also resulted in the emergence of a system of patronage because of increase in state power to benefit its favourites and it is this system of patronage that the PPP has depended upon for its survival whenever it had the opportunity to govern in the succeeding years.

However, the greatest impact of these measures was on the attitude of the working classes and the underprivileged. Hitherto Pakistan’s was a caste-ridden and class-conscious society where the working classes and the under-privileged were treated with, if not disdain, with condescension. But the Bhutto era transformed that and brought about an attitudinal revolution amongst the common people of the country. Even though PPP failed to deliver on the Roti, Kapra, Makan front, essentially it is this attitudinal change that resulted in the PPP movement being catapulted from the realm of mundane, which the slogan Roti, Kapra aur Makan essentially transported to the realm of romance and it is this romance that later saved the PPP from being obliterated inspite of the succeeding dithering stints of Benazir in the nineties.

As time went by, the system of patronage that the PPP depended upon attained enormous proportions and spread its tentacles into every sphere of activity, in particular the civil service and financial institutions. This led to an abandonment of the system of selection on merit, Intensification of bureaucratic sloth and emergence of a culture of corruption to the extent that corruption came to be regarded as synonymous with the PPP rule. However, since PPP during ZAB’s times had essentially built up a macho persona through adoption of an anti-India posture and acquisition of nuclear power which was in accord with the Punjabi psyche. It nevertheless resulted in the electoral success for the PPP in the Punjab and hence assured it a majority in parliament. Moreover, because of ZAB’s liberalism and egalitarianism and his liberal and left-leaning clichés that he expounded with great eloquence in his public speeches, support was provided by the progressive elements in society as well as the common man in the rest of the country which was inflicted with widespread poverty and this was music to their ears.

However, when in the wake of the rigged elections of 1976, the leadership of the movement against ZAB was hijacked by the religious and conservative elements, ZAB, in order to appease them, abandoned his liberalism for political gains and PPP’s romance began to wane. Later the emergence of its own indigenous Punjabi leadership in Punjab in the shape of Nawaz Sharif took the shine off PPP and it no longer could lay claim to be the true representative of Punjab. In the intervening phase of Zia-ul-Haq's rule, who was intensely anti-PPP and hence did everything possible to suppress it, the party began to wither to the extent that even the hanging of ZAB by Zia-ul-Haq did not bring about any mass protests or demonstrations. After PPP experienced a brief resurgence in the post Zia-ul-Haq era, purely because of the charm and personality of Benazir and the sympathy that PPP evoked due to suppression of the party by Zia and then by Ghulam Ishaq Khan and Nawaz Sharif, the emergence of Zardari as the leader of the PPP after Benazir and his depredations when in office, banished the romanticism attached to the PPP’s name forever. The PPP then on survived in the province of Sindh alone because of emotional attachment of the indigenous people of Sindh with the Bhutto name and the poignance surrounding Benazir’s assassination.

Unfortunately, the recent passing of the mantle of the party to Bilawal has not helped the PPP either because Bilawal has failed to impress the masses due to the baggage of his father that he carries and because of his lack of eloquence in public speeches and also his persona which is not in accord with the macho propensity of the Punjabis. Moreover, the image of the PPP being a party of the people, the majority of whom are regarded as corrupt, does not attract the masses any more, particularly when the political atmosphere in the wake of Imran Khan’s rise is one of condemnation of corruption.
Thus bereft of its macho image, anti India posture, liberalism and egalitarianism and being imbued with corruption, PPP today on the political scene finds itself in a quandary and if any alternative to it emerges in the province of Sindh in the next decade, which PTI is aiming to become or if the Establishment gets tired of Zardari's occasional burst of an anti-establishment diatribe and decides to sideline the party, it is more than likely that PPP’s end will be no different to that of MQM, another party primarily based in Sindh.

The writer is a former Judge of the Sindh High Court. He can be reached at contactus@ usmaniandiqbal.com.pk

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