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Dude, where’s my party?

Published Aug 24, 2013 08:29am


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WHEN either a plot or providence removed Gen Zia from our midst 25 years ago, there was much speculation over who was instrumental for our salvation. One contender was the PPP.

When this theory was discussed one evening over drinks, my old friend Anis Hyder Shah sneered: “The PPP? You must be mad! That lot is incapable of chewing paan and crossing the road at the same time.”

Sadly, the party’s performance hasn’t improved since then. As a diehard pipliya, I have supported it — often reluctantly, and against my better judgment — through thick and thin.

Unlike so many others, I found myself unable to switch sides, largely due to an absence of choices. I obviously couldn’t support any of the Islamic parties; the army was out of the question; and the MQM, despite its secular credentials, has a dark side that is deeply off-putting. Nawaz Sharif has always struck me as a closet fundo.

Also, the PPP is the only major national party that speaks for women, the minorities and the poor. Despite its abysmal performance in its recent stint in power, it did manage to push through some significant pro-women legislation. And its Benazir Income Support Programme did improve the lives of many.

As Anjum Altaf wrote in these pages a few weeks ago, Pakistan needs a party of the left. Unfortunately, many leftist parties have either crashed and burned, or remained tonga parties with a handful of members. They have been unable to overcome their infighting and their ideological squabbles, thus consigning themselves to irrelevance.

Above all, since the 1970s, they were starved of oxygen by the presence of the PPP, a party that supposedly stood for socialist ideals.

So rather than setting up yet another left party, it would be far better to somehow rescue the PPP from the band of old fossils who have captured it.

Despite the drubbing it received in the recent general elections, I doubt very much if there has been any soul-searching about the causes of its defeat. Introspection is not in the party’s DNA.

While Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif were both able to attract millions of young people to their respective banners, the PPP’s appeal for the younger generation has declined over the years.

For most of those who voted for the first time in the May 2013 elections, the PPP represented a party of tired old men (and a few women). The leadership lacked ideas as well as ideals, and its pathetic track record condemned it to a well-deserved defeat. The fact that Rehman Malik led the party’s election campaign pretty much says it all.

However, despite everything, the PPP managed to win 6.5 million votes in the May elections. While this represents a huge setback, it’s still a significant number of core supporters that can be built upon. But if the PPP hopes to assert a national presence again — as opposed to being a rural Sindh-based party — it will need to do some serious thinking and some hard grind.

The present leadership is clearly incapable of either. The old guard still retains a sense of entitlement, and in Sindh, at least, they feel their feudal background will continue to win them parliamentary seats. But for how much longer?

If they continue to misgovern Sindh in the next five years, the portents for the party’s continued survival are not good. Appointing Qaim Ali Shah as chief minister yet again shows how loyalty trumps competence in the leadership’s eyes.

But as Zardari’s term as president draws to a close, and with his departure from Pakistan a strong possibility, there is an opportunity for a change of guard.

The younger Bhuttos have shown little stomach for the hurly-burly of Pakistani politics, and who can blame them? So perhaps we can move beyond dynastic politics and get some fresh faces to move up the ranks.

Unfortunately, few young politicians have joined the party unless they have inherited constituencies from their fathers. The party has always been a broad church, welcoming people with any — or no — ideological leanings. From the Baloch parliamentarian who defended the alleged murder of several women by burying them alive, to the guy who said on TV that it was the PPP’s turn to make money, all have flocked to the party when it stood a chance of winning.

Until Benazir Bhutto’s assassination in 2007, it has been the Bhutto name and charisma that have been the party’s major attraction. Even after her death, these assets got the party into government in 2008. But without any member of the family around, rebuilding and re-branding the party will be an uphill task.

Sadly, I don’t see any senior members who could shake the PPP up. A handful of people have shown great integrity: the names of Raza Rabbani, Sherry Rehman and Qamar Zaman Kaira spring to mind. Perhaps they and some others will be able to depose the shop-worn leadership that has brought the party to its knees. Any effort by Zardari to run the party from Dubai after his departure must be resisted.

The harder question is how to make inroads in Punjab, KP and Balochistan, and how to attract younger members. Clearly, the old mantra of roti, kapra aur makan is a non-starter. So, too, is the slogan of nationalisation. The PPP needs to reinvent itself as a modern, progressive party with a message for the poor, and with answers to our pressing problems.

In the recent elections, the PPP could come up with no convincing reason why people should vote for it. Both the PML-N and the PTI could, and were rewarded. The latter, in particular, achieved a stunning breakthrough.

I know the task ahead is difficult, and hoping for a PPP revival is a victory of hope over experience, but I want my party back.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (19) Closed

iftikhar Aug 24, 2013 10:46am

MY dear irfan u r living in fools paradise.Many leftists joined ppp in the hope for a socialist progrrame,few left during bhutto time others sidelined in benazir time.In zardari leadership, it is all loot & plunder.He is GHANTA GHAR of all loot during this tenure.Forget about socialist ideals.If u perform well poor,women,minorities of this country will be better off.As for liberal credentials of ppp is concerned, i can not understand that wadderas and their sons who can not allow schools to function in their areas can be termed as liberals.If drinking alcohle and partying with woman is termed as liberals yes they are.For u it can be said that"KAABA MEIN GARO BRAHMAN KO".SORRY IF U MIND IT.

Afzal Mahmood Aug 24, 2013 12:32pm

Things are not in good shape but I, too, want my party back.

Guest63 Aug 24, 2013 01:21pm


Parvez Aug 24, 2013 04:19pm

It's always worth the time and effort to read you and to be honest your style is so srtaight forward that it also becomes a pleasure. On reviving the PPP ........... all it needs is for someone, anyone to do what is right for the people of Sindh and that will not happen................but then poll rigging zindabad and if the ECP is not restructured various possibilities will emerge.

Abdullah K.Niazi Aug 24, 2013 05:36pm

I am amazed at the audacity of blogger & his blind devotion to Bhuttoism. Ms. Bhutto (BB) supposedly had passed the torch of leadership to then a novice, Bilawal Zardari. None from the top echlon of the party objected or protested, none from" intellectual" supporters raised voice.Result was obvious, AAZ's administration was the worst when it came to governance.No wonder party was decimated in previous election.

junaid Aug 24, 2013 05:49pm

@Afzal Mahmood: me too

Imran Sheikh Aug 24, 2013 06:20pm

A party that delivers on roti kapra aur makan, along with education, can never fail to attract mass support. Nothing wrong with these objectives. It's the lack of delivery that has torpedoed the party. The structure is there, which is a long and difficult requirement to put in place, and the brand is there. A sincere leadership seen to be trying to deliver the slogan, even if it succeeds only partially, will do it. But will the party move beyond it's feudal mindset and allow honest people committed to this in, is to be seen. I am not a PPP supporter, but any party that works sensibly and sincerely will have my support.

gangadin Aug 24, 2013 08:34pm

If recent election is any indication to you, PPP has lost its appeal to the general public. Last five years were PPP rule and the situation on the ground is quite obvious. Bhutto and then his daughter benazir never had any charisma or leadership skills. Coming out of 71 war, public was fed up with the generals and bhutto was able to exploit that. He was a safe alternative. Instead of blaming Zia, you should concentrate on what bhutto did with islamic parties. To say that PPP represents women and minorities is a biggest farce I have ever heard. As far as poor, just look around. Punjab has decided on PPP. Move on. Go to MQM, that's next.

K B Kale Aug 25, 2013 12:32am

Irfan sahab, I liked your comment about Zardari running PPP from Dubai! And why there is no mention of your 'Rahul' i.e. Bilawal in your article?

s.khan Aug 25, 2013 01:40am

The first major step to rejuvenate the party is to democratize it. There should be free election of the party leader and other office holders who, hopefully, will compete for the position on their vision for PPP. Let PPP members vote for those who will lead the party with integrity and enlightened vision for the country that would appeal to the potential voters. Cunning, maneuvering and playing favourites would relegate the party to irrelevance. You are absolutely right to suggest that Zardari out of sight should be out of mind. His departure for Dubai should be a final goodbye. Pakistan doesn't need another Altaf Hussain to manipulate folks from a distance.

fida sayani Aug 25, 2013 02:12am

PPP was and is still the party of Sindhi Waderas and Punjabi Chaudries. Slogan of Roti, Kapra and Makhan was a big phony farce, and still is practiced in Sindh. Nawaz and Imran parties are no different. Jinnah's Pakistan died with him. The future of Pakistan is DOOM and GLOOM. The people have betrayed the great Mr. JINNAH.

kish Aug 25, 2013 02:47am

Irfan sb agree wit u. Being a victim of ppp last govt, stiil I love the ppp and want it back in the same position as it wasvin the reign og muhatarma

TKhan Aug 25, 2013 02:49am

Dear Mr. Irfan Hussain, when are you going to stop believing and loving PPP? This party has disappointed its voters, plundered treasury, mismanage the country and not even honor the promissory note of "ROTI, KAPRA, MAKKAN". Its leaders have self enriched and benefited themselves. Giving away government money under one's own name should not be the claim to fame. Passing some laws with no implementation; Hmm, Are women better off now then they were 8 years ago?

Lack of options do not mean to continue to support those who had their chances but never delivered.

ssf Aug 25, 2013 03:03am

The party with tainted leaders and one of them even became the president also known among Pakistanis as Mr. 10% and some others as well can't govern and build the party. Its a shame, what they need is sincere honest fearless leaders who can build the party on the principles they believe in.

sja Aug 25, 2013 03:37am

I know the task ahead is difficult, and hoping for a PPP revival is a victory of hope ------------ that is soo goood that it is in reality the REAL AUDACITY OF HOPE or rather HOPES or being HOPEFULL or the least HOPELESSNESS besides the VICTORY OF HOPE.

Abdul Khan Aug 25, 2013 05:47am

It NEVER was your party. PPP has always been the party of the feudals and will always remain one. If you were/are too blind to see that, too bad...

Shahbaz Asif Tahir Aug 25, 2013 05:48am

Fear Allah .

sja Aug 25, 2013 10:07am

Dude, where

kay essu Aug 25, 2013 03:53pm

Keep hoping Irfan, sitting in your arm chair.