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Bhutto: an icon of resilience


April 4, 2021

It was the late 60s and this part of the world also witnessed the wave of socialism. It came with the downfall of Ayub and the rise of a new phenomenon in Pakistan’s politics: Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, an icon of resilience and symbol of democracy who faced dictatorship with utmost valour.

One of the students in those days who later on became a close aide of SZAB and a minister in his government was my father Abdullah Baloch whose memoirs about his leader are shared below as a tribute on SZAB’s 42nd death anniversary that falls today.

My father narrates that: “During the late 60s, one named echoed all around: people used to talk about and discuss Bhutto everywhere – from drawing rooms to tea cafes to public forums. As a youngster, I was fascinated by the charisma of Bhutto and during one hot summer day in 1967 I made up my mind and went to 70 Clifton where Mr Khar received me and took me to Bhutto Sahib who was having tea in his drawing room along with Hafeez Pirzada, Hayat Mohammad Sherpao and Meraj Mohammad Khan.

“I introduced myself and expressed my desire to work for his party; he asked me to visit the party office and start working. The first party office of the PPP in Karachi was at SMCHS; the office was rented in the name of Mohammad Khan Ghangro as it was Yahya’s martial law, and nobody was willing to give us space on rent for the party office.

“SZAB had impeccable style when it came to his clothes. Even his ministers were given a particular dress code – white for the day and black for the evening with different collar strips for the president, prime minister, senators, ministers, MNAs and MPAs, quite similar to the attire in China; this was later on replaced in Zia’s regime by the sherwani. SZAB was so charismatic that many of the party leaders including me used to follow his dress sense.

“He was a great admirer of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar and as an Auqaf minister he assigned me to install the golden gate gifted by the Shah of Iran; as a mark of respect, he always used to salute it on entering the dargah.

“The late 60s was the peak of socialism; the red book was a proud possession of every leftist in those days. During the Hala convention the leftist group of the party led by Meraj Khan were of the view that the party should not contest elections, but SZAB said “Don’t give me examples from the red book; you have read it, but I have done dialogue with them. We cannot serve the people unless we contest elections and come in power.”

“In 1970, he formed a parliamentary board for general elections and nominated me as its member. He emerged as a challenger for Ayub, such that the feudals of those times used to avoid any encounter with Bhutto to avoid Ayub’s wrath. And believe me those were the tough days – when Ayub’s government was struggling before the might of the rising leader, Bhutto. In 1972, when I was an MPA my house was burnt in the Karachi riots. SZAB called me to 70 Clifton, consoled me and tapped my shoulder to which I said this is a very small sacrifice for the party and the cause. This resulted in a smile on his face and he responded: “I expected the same from you”.

“SZAB was very encouraging. Seeing my passion, he appointed me in charge of the party secretariat. He used to encourage competition within his party to extract the best amongst all. The classic example of this was to keep extreme leftist Meraj and Hafeez, both poles apart, together in the Karachi chapter. He inculcated trust and confidence in the youth by inducting a young person like me in the cabinet as I was just 28 years old at that time; he also appointed me general secretary Karachi with Kamal Azfar as president, again poles apart.

“In 1976, during the super flood despite being an MPA from Karachi I was appointed minister for flood relief by SZAB. I tried my best and saved Sehwan and Dadu from being inundated by the floods with his guidance. Later he appreciated me for my efforts in his historic speech. He called labour conferences yearly where I used to participate as labour minister of Sindh and saw firsthand that he always wanted to have a grip on the pulse of the proletariat class.

“Once I went to see off SZAB at the Karachi Airport. He asked me: ‘where will you head from here?’ I replied home, as I was not feeling well. He immediately took out some tablets from his pocket and told me: ‘even though I am not well but still travelling; now you should also go back to work.’ He worked tirelessly and inspired all of us.

“Every passing year, April 4 reminds me what an enormous loss his death has been for the country. Shaheed Bhutto was a mentor and leader for me. I will always cherish the time spent with him, the lessons learnt from him and the pearls of wisdom he shared with me. His words still echo in my ears. Such leaders are born in centuries.”

The writer is a columnist and social activist.

Twitter: @MustafaBaloch_