The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) formed in Lahore at the residence of late Dr Mubashir Hasan on November 30, 1967 is celebrating its 54th Foundation Day with the ‘Workers Convention’ in Peshawar amid criticism where the party stands today from ‘hope to disappointment’.
From the ‘Cold War’ era to ‘Islamophobia’, the challenges it confronted in the last five decades with the rise of a challenger Prime Minister Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in a new era.
The PPP, which once used to be the symbol of national unity, is now confined to Sindh. Apparently, it could not recover from the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, who along with Begum Nusrat Bhutto struggled after the hanging of party founder Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, arguably Pakistan’s most charismatic leader. No party had given the kind of sacrifices the PPP workers had given in Gen Ziaul Haq era.
It is also true that most of the elections held after 1988 were meant to marginalise the PPP through ‘political engineering’. But, equally true are the two major mistakes which the party leadership committed, compromise or deal with the establishment in 1988 and in 2007 particularly at a time when the PPP could have changed the course of country’s politics.
But one cannot live with the past forever and learn from time to time from the past mistakes. As one PPP critic says, “at least make new mistakes instead of living in the past”.
Once in 2015, the party revisited its politics during a marathon three-day meeting in Dubai and for the first time some leaders even suggested giving some space beyond family legacy like bringing some senior leader as president of Pakistan People’s Party Parliamentarians (PPP-P) after the death of Makhdoom Amin Fahim. Another suggestion was that former president Asif Ali Zardari should hand over the party to Bilawal Bhutto and stay back in Dubai as his presence at the top would not help the party in any way at least on ground. Zardari himself was present in that meeting but it ended with Zardari not only retained his position as Co-chairman but also became the president of the PPP-P and Bilawal as chairman.
Family legacy in South Asia in particular is still strong in politics but in some countries like Sri Lanka and India even decades-old parties and families like Congress and Gandhis have lost the popular support and are struggling. The PPP can learn from their experience if they want to regain the lost popular base.
Bhutto was a great leader despite the controversies around him and though he survived for 12 years after forming the party in 1967 as his hanging was termed judicial murder in 1979; he left very strong political legacy.
He himself never wanted party to be run by his family which could be judged from the fact that he asked PPP senior vice chairman Sh Rasheed Ahmad (Baba-e-Socialism) to assume position as party’s acting chairman till his release, the latter advised him to make Begum Bhutto chairperson as feudals within the PPP would not accept him.
It was Begum Bhutto who led from the front and after ZAB’s execution and the controversial role played by some of the central leaders or ‘uncles’ she became the symbol of Bhutto’s politics. Later, it was Benazir who emerged as the key leader. Though Bhutto was from Sindh, his popular base always remained in Punjab and had the PPP leadership followed Bhutto’s path in Punjab particularly after 1986, when the mammoth crowd came to receive Benazir at Lahore, the party would not have been facing the kind of situation they are facing in the big province today.
It is still a long way to go for Bilawal provided he as a young leader learnt from the past mistakes but so far it’s not a success story and it is generally believed that the major political decisions still rest with the former president who despite his poor health was using all his experience of ‘power politics’.
While the PPP is still the strongest party in Sindh as there is hardly any political challenger in rural Sindh, the closest so far is the JUI-F as neither the PMLN nor the PTI ever did serious political work but Bilawal needs to revisit its politics in urban Sindh. He could have ‘bridged’ the gap between rural and urban divide particularly at a time when there is a huge ‘political vacuum’, not in a manner to grab power through the highly controversial Sindh Local Government Bill.
The PPP could have gained a lot had it stuck on to ‘Charter of Democracy’, (CoD) and had not entered into negotiations with former president Pervez Musharraf in 2007. But the assassination of Benazir was the turning point as she was set to win 2007 elections (which was later held in early 2008).
‘Corruption’ is one area in which the PPP leadership failed to change people’s perception and none other than Zardari himself became the centre of criticism in this connection. It is time for the PPP’s leadership to revisit its politics success and failures with an open mind. It is unfortunate that the party has not been able to even compile a book on its history. Majority of party leadership what to talk of workers have not even read the ‘Foundation Document’, because the same was never distributed among them. While the decision to hold a ‘workers convention’ or public meeting in Peshawar is a bold one but it would have been even better if it was held at its birthplace ie Lahore, where the PPP did not form the government on its own since 1972. Peshawar, the provincial capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, was another city which once belonged to the PPP with leaders like late Hayat Mohammad Khan Sherpao.
More than mere Bhutto’s legacy is at stake and unless the party makes a new beginning and go to the basics ie democratisation of the party, revival of political nurseries like student unions, labour unions, completely empowered local bodies system; I doubt party would be able to improve its position beyond Sindh.
Lahore has unique history of giving birth to all the three mainstream parties ie PPP, PMLN and PTI but it is PMLN which since 1985 has maintained its grip but sensing serious challenge from PTI and not from PPP. As one former PPP leader said, ‘Bhutto Zinda hai apnay kam kay vaja say, magar PPP ko Zinda rakhna hai tu kam karna parey ga jo abhi nazar nahi aata’.
The writer is a columnist and analyst of Geo, The News and Jang.
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