Remembering the (real) PPP

Updated November 13, 2014

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Zulfkar Ali Bhutto's signature on one of his many personal notes to Dr Mubashir Hasan.
Zulfkar Ali Bhutto's signature on one of his many personal notes to Dr Mubashir Hasan.

November 13, 1968 is a significant day in PPP history.

On this day, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was arrested by Ayub Khan’s regime from the residence of Dr Mubashir Hasan where he was staying.

That day signified the start of (or when the gloves came off in) the fight with the military regime that ultimately led to Bhutto becoming the leader of Pakistan and his memory indelibly inscribed in the annals of this country’s history.

The PPP had held its inaugural meeting at the same house almost a year earlier on November 30 1967, with over 150 participants signing up to the PPP manifesto. To commemorate that day, Dr Hasan planted a 'shisham' (Indian Rosewood) tree at the approximate location of the stage, this verdant tree (photographed below) is now over 40 feet tall with some of its dead branches in need of trimming.

When Dr Hasan’s sister-in-law built her own house at the back, sentiments dictated that the orientation of the new house be adjusted to avoid uprooting the shisham.

Explore: Riding the arrow: An ideological history of the PPP

Much like this tree, PPP the party was also planted very firmly into the ground, with deep intellectual roots and rigor to help it withstand any onslaught from the military dictatorship.

During a recent trip to Lahore, I had the privilege of rifling through some of the foundation papers (which have been published by Dr Hasan in Urdu), including list of the participants; and internal papers that were circulated (including the notification from Z.A. Bhutto), that provide a glimpse into the thought and functioning of the party in its early years.

PPP had been founded on a strong socialist platform, and its founders strived to improve the quality of life for Pakistanis by helping reduce inequality and exploitation of the poor through socialism.

Unlike today, it is obvious that they were not in politics to enrich themselves or for the pursuit of power and influence.

I discovered from these papers that back then, there were rigorous procedures and accountability to justify every action.

For example there is paper by J.A. Rahim that justifies the choice of the PPP flag:

J.A. Rahim wrote another paper to argue why Bhutto was the most suitable person to stand for president, albeit under the much maligned Basic Democracy system; needless to say there was no mention of Bhuttoism.

Similarly, every expense incurred by party functionaries was accounted for; where the money came from and how it was spent; with signed receipts from each candidate.

The sheer organisational skills of the party leadership were fairly impressive.

By 1970, in Lahore alone, PPP had over 150 offices, approximately 40 per constituency; these were financed and manned by enthusiastic and trained political workers (the original Jiyalas), who had access to written documents and pamphlets to convince and win over potential detractors.

A leaf from history: Dissent within PPP ranks

The leaflet in Urdu reproduced below sought to counter Jamat-i-Islami’s argument and point out that inequality rather than religion was the key issue facing Pakistan.

There was a proper manual for the training of political workers, detailing how workers were supposed to approach potential voters, ethics with courtesy and without antagonise anyone.

To assess potential challenges, in 1970, PPP workers surveyed the entire city of Lahore, as part of a detailed needs assessment for every union council — a list of key infrastructure assets in the area and key community figures (including a list of 'ghundas' or local musclemen).

The principle here was that each PPP city/district president was empowered and judged to be the best link to the people of that area, but to do that had to study and understand his area well. The district president had direct access to the central executive committee or even to Bhutto himself.

Also see: Bhutto and I

The current enthusiasm surrounding Bilawal Bhutto Zardari's relaunch has rekindled hope among many under him that the PPP may succeed in reinventing itself; when there is a crying need for a left of center party that captures the aspirations of liberalism.

However, judging by the current set up, I see little chance of Bilawal emulating his distinguished grandfather, for what is absent in the modern day PPP is a strong moral compass, an articulated ideology, and a political road map to replace the lamentations and pointless slogans currently in vogue.

The performance or lack thereof of the Sindh government serves as a poignant reminder of the party's current ability and direction.

In stark contrast to PPP's current reputation, the party's foundation papers show painstaking auditing of all accounts and expenses. Below is the receipt for a mere one rupee.

Consider the precision with which the costs for the famous Jalsa at Gol Bagh in Lahore in 1970 have been put at Rs3,623.

There are receipts for every paisa, including a bill of Rs1,600 (reproduced below) for the renting of loudspeakers.

Comparing with today, neither the cost of Bilawal's recent jalsa in Karachi has been published, nor the facts of who contributed the money.

Bhutto was quite happy being driven around in Dr Hasan’s VW Beetle (pictured below), but Bilawal prefers CM Punjab's or Malik Riaz’s helicopter. Bhutto stayed either at the Intercontinental hotel (which he paid for himself) or party members’ residences whereas Bilawal prefers the large mansion gifted to his father by a property tycoon, with the cost and origin of funds again unclear.

I talked to a few Jiyalas recently, asking if they would make the 72km trek to Bahria Town to attend the convention in Lahore this year on Nov 30.

The answer was an emphatic 'No'.

"Only those with 'parchees' (metaphor meaning 'asking favours') go there now," said one.

"Yes," added another one, "and money to lubricate a smoother processing of the application."

Another worker told me the story of a long suffering Jiyala who had been lashed under Zia's reign, who arrived at Bahria town Lahore to meet Asif Zardari. He was denied entry as his name was not on the list.

When he complained and recounted his sacrifices for the party the years in prison and the marks on his back, he was correctly informed that the PPP now belongs to Asif Zardari and not to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto or Benazir, and it is solely and completely up to Zardari whom to give an audience to.

Take a look: The PPP jiyala: An existentialist history

To seek the truth and distance himself from the current PPP, Bilawal should consider withdrawing from the limelight to the cities and villages of Pakistan for at least 10 years, work in all corners of the country, and then come up with his own vision.

In 10 years' time, he would only be in his mid-thirties, mature enough for politics, and there would still be space. In fact some of the current froth may well have settled down.

But by jumping into the fray this early, he is proving to be a nail rather than a hammer to the coffin of the current PPP.

Read on: Herald exclusive: The diary of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari


Photos and scans by author