For the last few days, we’ve been reading much about Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s trip to South Punjab’s flood affected areas. This, after the announcement of his plans to contest the 2018 general elections from his family constituency in Larkana, is seen by many as the launch of his own political career.
Seeing Bilawal walk among the people (as against his previous public appearances, which saw him sitting on top of distant stages), was indeed heart warming and a welcome sign during the increasingly partisan polarisation in national politics.
A few weeks ago, I wrote on these pages about Thar’s disastrous famine and voiced the people's desire to see Bilawal personally going to them to bring them hope and support. Surely, now, the trip to Multan and Chiniot has corrected the balance lost in Thar.
This increased interaction in Punjab between the people and the Chairman of the PPP feels like a breath of fresh air amidst the stale politics of Right vs Right that has been playing out in Islamabad. Bilawal’s move in Punjab will give life to the diminishing Left and also allow Punjab, and in extension, the whole country to have a more vibrant and pluralistic political landscape.
Indeed, while the Right, including PML-N and PTI, was pushing for dialogue with the Taliban, it was young Bilawal who, stood on the historic Makli Hills, and called for national action against unrelenting extremist militancy.
One hopes that Bilawal's foray into Punjab is not as calculated as PPP’s critics allege and that his interaction with the people of South Punjab was not a stage managed photo op; because only a genuine connection with the public who have been left at the mercy of old feudal politics can save PPP from a complete rout in the region.
The road to political glory for Bilawal in Pakistan’s complex and dangerous politics lies not only in Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar, but also through the old broken mud houses and flooded fields of Sindh, Punjab, KPK and Balochistan; for Bilawal, it lies not through the high walls of the big houses of Defence and Bahria Town, but through the broken hearts of unfortunate millions of brick kiln workers and fishermen of the Ravi and Keti Bandar.
It was they who carried Benazir in their hearts through hell and high water, and it is them who will follow Bilawal to all ends if he chooses to follow them too, through their miserable existence and be with them in person and heart.
Roman emperor Julius Caesar once famously sat under a towering statue of Alexander the Great, in Spain, and cried because at 35 years of age, Caesar thought, he had not achieved anything compared to Alexander, who had conquered the known world at a younger age.
Similarly, at 26 years of age, expecting Bilawal Bhutto Zardari to fix our problems is a deeply flawed aspiration.
But then, logic dictates that those with the best of opportunities must be expected to present the best results.
Unlike Caesar’s conquests, we need Bilawal to conquer the hearts and minds of Pakistan. We need a Bilawal who is more Soreh Badshah, (Sibghatullah Shah Rashdi, who challenged the British during the famous Hur uprising at a very young age) and less Rahul Gandhi, who has failed to inspire India.
And we also need a Bilawal who, despite the huge burden of expectations, builds his political career brick by brick, mile by mile, by visiting all corners of Pakistan and listening to the people he wants to serve; and also by distancing himself from advisors who themselves stay behind high walls and armoured vehicles.
Explore: Serious politics eludes Bilawal
While Bilawal wears the golden handcuffs of privilege and position that don’t allow him easy access to the common man, he must know that in Sindh, under the PPP government, development has been dismal; that sometimes, up to 80% of development funds are distributed among the corrupt bureaucrats, politicians and contractors; that even the remaining 20% funds, at times, are misused to satisfy a stakeholder in some form and shape.
Sindh is fast losing infrastructure and hope. If the PPP is to impress Punjab, which has seen better development under the Punjab CM Shahbaz Sharif, it must drastically change its public development policy and curtail massive corruption within its ranks.
If there’s anyone who can initiate much needed change, it is certainly Bilawal, who not only exudes charisma like his mother Benazir Bhutto and his grandfather Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, but also presides over a ruling party (unlike young Benazir Bhutto who, at a similar age, was in the notorious Sukkur jail facing an uncertain future).
Editorial: Bilawal, finally
Those are indeed big shoes to fill, but hopefully Bilawal will walk humbly and do justly; and if he finds himself surrounded by people who advise compromise on all issues, he will go back to the people of our country and resist the seduction for power at all costs.