The season begins

Published July 3, 2015
The writer is Dawn’s resident in Lahore.
The writer is Dawn’s resident in Lahore.

SO many among the jiyalas and PPP sympathisers had complained, saying that Mr Asif Ali Zardari’s recent lightning assault on the establishment had gone unrecognised and uncelebrated. The scheme-seeing clan has just been provided more reason to say that the effort to demean and diminish the people’s party is not only on, it has been accelerated.

The long-delayed season of defections from the party is finally under way. The PTI wouldn’t mind the crossover into its ranks being taken as a sign of its ascendancy against the background of the judicial commission investigation. Its consolidation as the substitute to the PPP as the true challenger to PML-N is in itself sufficient cause for celebration. However, the reasons for it are more likely to be found in the PPP’s own deep-set corrosion.

Denied and frustrated and teary-eyed, the PPP’s Ashraf Sohna has fallen from the brink he had been standing at for so long now. Others, including ex federal minister Samsam Bukhari, have followed, and there are reports that yet many more may defect from the party in this month of repentance.


The PPP has never been poorer. It has been allowed to tread a slow, agonising path to total, and perhaps permanent, irrelevance.


The PPP’s reaction to the feared exodus has been of little use. Whereas Sohna’s departure led to inside calls insisting on adherence to the ideals of loyalty, it has failed to stem the flow towards the PTI. A couple of PPP men announced their crossover soon after the party had drawn a pledge of loyalty from them.

Does that mean that the party had so far been unaware of the pressures on its members to find a new, more secure, home for them away from the uncertainty they had been surrounded by? No, the message again is that the leadership knew and it couldn’t, or didn’t feel the need to, remedy the situation.

Everyone knew there were going to be defections and everyone knew that they were going to be towards the PTI.

Everyone understood the ramifications, except perhaps for those whose partiality had been affected by false illusions of them being political troubleshooters more than politicians representing a set of interests. They needed to be partial to avoid emerging as sitting ducks for the hunters.

They can well declare these grand, just wars on armies, except that they would be much more poised for a good result, even if martyrdom were more likely than victory, if they had a few foot soldiers of their own to advance their case. They — Asif Zardari, Bilawal Bhutto — needed to have a party by their side to justify their titles as leaders.

These ousters from the PPP wouldn’t have counted too much had it not been the paucity of the acceptable faces that has hit the erstwhile camp of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto of late. A hardworking Nadeem Afzal Chann and maybe Qamar Zaman Kaira in a very rare moment when he is able to, as if by accident, invoke the rugged, tenaciously combative yet increasingly romantic side to the PPP; this is about all the PPP has been able to offer in Punjab. The party has never been poorer and it has been allowed to tread a slow, agonising path to total, and to some minds, permanent, irrelevance.

It’s been eight months since Mr Zardari held a guarded durbar in Lahore to mark the party’s birthday. It had to be a tightly controlled affair, yet there were a few dissenting voices which managed to penetrate the thick walls around Mr Zardari and his son, touted as the real heir to the ZAB-BB legacy. The most audible of these dissenting voices belonged to the supporters of Ashraf Sohna, a respected name within the party, and they objected to what has been questioned by many for a while now: the top leadership’s choice of the PPP’s custodians in Lahore.

As one rare irritated jiyala in Lahore puts it, Mr Zardari is too obsessed with the past populated by the ever-polite and never-ruffled Qaim Ali Shahs and Manzoor Wattoo. And the jiyala says this could be because any other arrangement would hurt the slow-paced pacifist role that Mr Zardari proudly assigns himself. This is a personal end he is willing to sacrifice the collective, including the party, for. So long as the illusion is there, the reality about the falling graph of the party will not sink in and the urge to perform pro-people will not be felt.

This lack of action had to eventually disillusion those asking for respect from within and outside as political workers. Mr Asif Ali Zardari and Mian Manzoor Ahmed Wattoo have been total failures, if disaster is a word that has to be reserved for the time when the PPP’s annihilation is complete — through a combination of party policies, popular indifference and media witch-hunt.

The media is always there to highlight the fault lines within the PTI as well — as it did courtesy a recent call in Lahore by Imran Khan for ending differences and party unity. But for whatever shape they might take in the coming days, as yet these differences are not threatening. Far from it, they can be promoted as signs of life within a party that is gaining some ground somewhere.

When the PTI is not exerting visible pressure on the government to accept its demands, it is making clear inroads into other parties and expanding its popular base. This is not what many expected from the PTI when Imran Khan came down from the container and ended his dharna a few months ago. His is growingly a multi-dimensional challenge.

The PML-N is threatened by the PTI. The PPP has already lost to it, choosing to gift Imran politicians it should be fighting desperately over. At the November meeting in Lahore, Mr Zardari had warned Imran Khan Niazi aloud, warning possible PPP defectors they had no future in the PTI. There has been no effort to fight bar shouting. It’s been a meek surrender by the man without a party.

The writer is Dawn’s resident in Lahore.

Published in Dawn, July 3rd, 2015

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