Somewhere near Lahore

Published December 5, 2014
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

IT is heard that the PPP is holding a convention somewhere near Lahore. There are a few banners along some roads, suggesting that something is on. The faces of Manzoor Wattoo and Tanvir Ashraf Kaira peep out, advertising the fusion of the old political style epitomised by Wattoo with the, hopefully, new-wave PPP that younger men like Kaira must chaperone.

There are a few PPP flags on display serving as a reminder of how the party once dominated the battle of colours here, even if it didn’t dominate the politics of the time. Now a passerby may be excused for being unable to spot the black flanked by the red and the green.

Take a look: Bilawal — PPP’s last hope in Punjab?

People of late have become so accustomed to seeing the green and the red stripes flashed with such flourish and purpose by the PTI. Only the black remains with the PPP in Lahore, and for anyone keen on locating symbols the party refuses to see it as a signal requiring it to be in any kind of protest mode. It is too busy celebrating its contribution to democracy and recalling the tradition of sacrifices of its leadership.


The PPP’s fortunes outside Sindh have fallen to a level where some urgent, remedial action is required.


The debate is on. Some say Imran Khan’s PTI is a successor of the PPP that Z.A. Bhutto founded 47 years ago here, choosing a street off the Mall bang in the middle of Lahore proper to act as his party’s secretariat. Amidst the most unfair comparisons between him and Imran, ZAB’s legacy has been reduced to finding refuge in a distant Bahria Town palace that is said to have been gifted by a rich non-discriminating promoter of whoever solicits his help.

There have been a few sounds as well, although, again, these are a far cry from the loud crazy medley that was associated with the PPP in the past. These are no exciting slogans, not even rumbles, only quiet, uneasy, uncertain murmurs.

No one was ever sure if the occasion will provide an opportunity for the PPP workers to have that long-awaited audience with Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. In fact, the jiyalas who knew all along about the Bilawal no-show far outnumbered those who were giving the young heir an outside chance of finding his way to his party’s 48th foundation day ceremonies.

Bilawal, many of his workers have been hoping, is going to act as a counterweight to his father’s unending lecturing of Pakistanis on the merits of docility.

Once the younger leader announced he was unable to attend citing medical reasons, the course of the meeting could be predicted all the more easily. It was going to be a dull display of Asif Zardari preaching inaction, convincing himself and those who must hail him as a politician among political quacks that he has been able to pacify his deeply frustrated charges.

So, as the quiet, unexciting noises emanating from Bahria Town, Lahore, indicate, it was a familiar scene at the PPP event. From time to time, someone at the gathering would rise and chant a ‘Go Nawaz Go’ slogan. On another occasion, someone would stand up and, defying the Pakistani party etiquette of total obedience to the leadership, demand to know why Bilawal was not in attendance.

There was, of course, the more permissible and more expected criticism of the office-bearers that the PPP command has appointed to run the party’s affairs at the national and Punjab levels. To all this, as was foregone, Zardari’s response was yet another run of the same old lecture.

Maybe a few of those who were bothered to follow the proceedings of this once popular party might object to the meeting being labelled as useless, predictable fare. After all, it provided a venting forum for the jiyalas; Zardari did, eventually, find time from his pacifist endeavours to ‘formally’ acknowledge the presence of factions in the party and he did promise to undertake an organisational tour of the Punjab districts.

Some whose belief in his political acumen remains unshaken over the lackadaisical journey that he has been on for many years may take the argument even further. They may argue that while he did eventually allow himself an ostensibly desperate expression when he told some of the uneasy members to leave the party if they must, he had performed a thorough behind-the-scene cajoling of the angry jiyalas before that to contain the crossovers.

These are all good points for a fine discussion. The PPP’s fortunes — at least outside Sindh — have fallen to a level where what is required is some urgent, remedial action.

Those who put so much emphasis on the party’s organisation at the basic level are guilty of contradicting their own statements, in which they were heard eulogising the PPP as an organic movement that had grown over all these years without organisation or sometimes in defiance of the factional and other limits placed by organisation. A cause the people fancied would be tagged to the now sporadic and occasional PPP flag and the people would gather around it.

It is obvious that the grand ideals elaborated by the person of Asif Zardari are not having any positive effect on the people’s relationship with the PPP.

To overcome this huge deficit between the Zardarian vision and popular aspirations, some of the PPP members are looking to practise a middle-of-the-road brand of politics: they try to keep at an equal distance from the PTI and PML-N, taking critical or anti-government positions on issues. Somewhat like the stance Makhdoom Shahabuddin, who heads the PPP’s southern Punjab wing, took at the convention in Lahore’s suburbs.

Even if these reports that the Makhdoom was then summoned by Zardari and asked to calm down are exaggerated, Mr Zardari’s public speeches are sufficient to convey just how determined he is to persevere with his preferred brand. A party can hardly help it when its leader happens to be its biggest dissenter.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

Published in Dawn, December 5th, 2014

Opinion

Editorial

Olympics contingent
21 Jul, 2024

Olympics contingent

FROM 10 in Tokyo the last time, it is now down to seven in Paris, and split across just three disciplines. When...
Grave concerns
21 Jul, 2024

Grave concerns

PUNJAB Chief Minister Maryam Nawaz’s open assault on the Supreme Court for ruling in favour of the PTI in the...
Civil unrest
Updated 21 Jul, 2024

Civil unrest

The government must start putting out fires instead of fanning more flames.
Royal tantrum
Updated 20 Jul, 2024

Royal tantrum

The PML-N's confrontational stance and overt refusal to respect courts orders on arguably flimsy pretexts is a dangerous sign.
Bangladesh chaos
Updated 20 Jul, 2024

Bangladesh chaos

The unfortunate events playing out in Bangladesh should serve as a warning sign for other South Asian states.
Fitch’s estimate
20 Jul, 2024

Fitch’s estimate

FITCH seems to be more optimistic about Pakistan accelerating its economic growth rate to 3.2pc during this fiscal...