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March 26, 2019

Bilawal Bhutto’s ‘train march’

National

March 26, 2019

PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has taken a political gamble by launching the first phase of party’s anti-government march from today by train from ‘Karachi to Larkana’ at a time when on the one hand party’s top brass was facing multiple cases of alleged corruption and on the other Opposition still stands divided, something which suits its much tougher challenger, Prime Minister Imran Khan, who will be visiting Sindh next week too.

It is a political gamble as young PPP leader, who was first launched about three years ago, when he made a fiery speech at a public meeting in Karachi opposite Mazar-e-Quaid, as he is trying to bring people on the street perhaps, too early, when the government has not even completed its first year in power and apparently looked strong.

Secondly, it’s a political risk as party was still struggling to get public response outside Sindh. While he will certainly get responsive crowd during his journey from Karachi to Larkana, the real test will come in the next phase when he will take route from Karachi to Pindi, next month or in May.

In his first-ever ‘train journey’, Bilawal, who in the past had travelled by train with his mother, former premier Benazir Bhutto as a young kid, will now be watched by both Opposition and the ruling party. It will also be a test whether this journey will remain under the shadow of his father and former president Asif Ali Zardari or will he try to go on his own. Most important part of his journey would be his ‘message’. If his speeches revolve around NAB cases he will only vindicate Imran Khan’s criticism on both Bilawal and Maryam Nawaz for trying to save their ‘fathers’. If Bilawal will focus on people’s problems, he will also have to defend what his party’s own government had done in Sindh or elsewhere. Important will be the way forward. Can he come out with any counter-narrative and promise good governance in Sindh instead of trying to defend the ‘historic wrong’.

The PTI government on the other hand sees this move from Bilawal as a movement to protect ‘corrupt’. “Mal Bachao movement will fail,” Federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said. Most of them will be in jail in the next few weeks or in two to three months, he added.

The PPP and the PML-N and other Opposition parties were still not on ‘one page’ over making any move to destabilise the government at the Centre or in Punjab. However, talks were under way between them in a bid to reach a consensus. Former president Asif Ali Zardari met JUI –F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, who will be leading MMA’s ‘million march’ to Islamabad in a month’s time.

However, the Opposition stands completely divided when it comes to action against outlawed Jihadi outfits. While the PPP and the PML-N both agreed on action against organisations like Jaish-e-Mohammed and Jamaatud Daawa, the MMA, comprising Jamaat-e-Islami, JI, JUI-F and others have different viewpoint. Sources said the PPP fears that government in the name of accountability will use the NAB and other agencies against them as they have already arrested some of its leaders. Some critics believe that it is too early to challenge the government as the timing of the move does not suits the Opposition and they may not get a good response. The move can be a good exercise for political mobilisation and it will be interesting to watch what Bilawal will say in his speeches and what programme the PPP will give.

During his journey, Bilawal will stay in the hometown of Bhuttos, till April 4, when he is expected to announce party’s future course of action on the 40th death anniversary of party founder Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Party sources said the PPP chairman will lead another ‘train march’ from Karachi to Pindi, but the final decision will be taken at the party’s central executive committee meeting.

The PTI government is confident that the Opposition would not be able to pose any serious challenge and fears no threat. Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has invited Bilawal Bhutto and other Opposition leader for consultation on National Action Plan and for a joint strategy to cope with the challenge of tackling outlawed ‘Jihadi outfits’ against whom Bilawal has been very vocal and not satisfied with government action.

“Bilawal is a leader of an important political party. If he has reservations or not satisfied with the kind of action we have taken so far, I invite him and even ready to meet him on implementation of the NAP,” Qureshi told journalists Sunday.

However, government’s more vocal team led by Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry and Railways Minister Sh Rashid believe Bilawal’s train march is an attempt to save Zardari and his wealth. “PPP’s train has already derailed and may not be able to come on the track again,” Fawad told me.

Bilawal will leave Karachi by train at around 11 am today from Cantt Railway Station, the venue from where his grandfather Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had launched the movement against former president and military dictator Field Marshal Ayub Khan in the 60s. His mother Benazir Bhutto had also used ‘train march’ from this very railway station.

However, politics has changed with the passage of time and although the PPP local leaders tried to underplay the ‘train journey’ as any formal protest campaign, the fact remains that about 1,000 workers would accompany the party chairman on the special train. “PPP will launch the train march from Karachi to Pindi by next month, party chairman has taken this route as airspace of Sukkur was still closed,” PPP leader Waqar Mehdi said.

But the PPP has given a call in Karachi, and asked workers to reach Cantt Railway Station by 9 am. Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah, former CM Syed Qaim Ali Shah, former leader of the Opposition Khursheed Shah and others would accompany Bilawal in the train march. Bilawal will address the party workers at different railway stations and will make a stopover and spend a night at Nawabshah before leaving for Larkana next morning. The PPP sources said Bilawal can announce countrywide movement during his speech on April 4, on the 40th death anniversary of ZAB.

It will also test as how prepared is the party for any anti-government movement particularly in case some of the central party leaders could be arrested on the alleged charges of corruption including chairman himself, Co-chairman and former president Asif Ali Zardari, his sister Faryal Talpur, Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah (who has appeared before NAB Monday) and others while some were already in jail like Sindh Assembly Speaker Agha Siraj Durrani and former minister Sharjeel Memon.

The writer is a columnist and analyst of Geo, The News and Jang

Twitter: @MazharAbbasGEO