Footprints: Revival of the PPP in Punjab?

Published November 8, 2015
PPP workers celebrate their party’s victory in the first phase of the local government polls in Lalamusa.—Photo by writer
PPP workers celebrate their party’s victory in the first phase of the local government polls in Lalamusa.—Photo by writer

THE young Shakeel Qureshi, owner of a small shoe store, has been an active part of politics in Lalamusa, the second major town of Gujrat district, for quite a few years. Until a few days ago, some of his friends would laugh at him for choosing the PPP, a party that many have totally written off in Punjab after its abysmal showing in the 2013 elections, to launch himself into town politics.

They no longer taunt him. The victory of 13 PPP candidates (Qureshi being one of them) in 24 wards of the Lalamusa Municipal Committee in the first phase of the local government elections in Punjab has given a new lease of life to the party.

The ‘comeback’ the party was able to stage in Lalamusa on Oct 31 has spawned hopes that it can still be revived in Punjab despite multiple challenges that include the deficit of active and popular leadership in the province.

“If we can defeat the ruling party in Lalamusa, we can repeat our performance anywhere in the province,” a jubilant Qureshi, who is the general secretary of his party in the town, told Dawn.

His optimism, which some may find unwarranted, is shared by other PPP workers from the town and elsewhere despite the fact that their party didn’t field candidates in most of the 12 districts where the local elections were held in the first phase, or lost badly to the PML-N, the PTI and independent candidates where it did.

“The challenges are formidable but not impossible to surmount,” Shoaib Ahmed, a PPP worker, argued. “If the party is to succeed in the province in the next [general] election, it will have to infuse young blood into itself and replace the lazy and unpopular leadership in the province.”

Most PPP activists say their party’s victory from Lalamusa, which some now see as the last bastion of the PPP in Punjab, is not sudden. After losing the town to the PML-N in the last general elections, Qamar Zaman Kaira, information minister during the earlier PPP government, and other party stalwarts from Lalamusa set out to reorganise the party at the grass-roots level.

“In six months, the party got a new city president replacing the previous one who mostly remained out of the country. Since the new leadership has taken charge, it has made it a point to celebrate every national and party event — be it Independence Day or the birthdays of Z.A. Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto — in the town,” said Qureshi. “If we have won a majority of the wards in the local elections, it is because of the consistent hard work of the new leadership and party activists, and the time they have invested in reorganisation.”

Qureshi and other party candidates started their election campaigns by holding small corner meetings and then gradually shifting to door-to-door canvassing led by Qamar Zaman Kaira and his cousin Nadeem Asghar Kaira. “Their support and active participation in our campaign has gone a long way in helping the party make a comeback,” said a PPP worker.

Since its creation, the PPP had never lost any general elections from Lalamusa. Only in 2013 did Qamar Zaman Kaira and Tanveer Ashraf Kaira lose badly to the PML-N.

“The victory in Lalamusa proves that the party could still make a comeback in Punjab if the younger lot is injected into its mainstream politics besides reorganising the party at all levels. The party needs a combination of active organisation and popular leadership, free from any blemish,” insisted a party leader from Gujrat who refused to give his name.

Many in Lalamusa believe that the Kaira group could have swept the local government elections in Lalamusa if it had chosen to contest as an independent group. Though the PPP secured victory in Lalamusa, it could only pitch three panels out of 30 union councils in the town’s rural areas, showing how hard the revival of the party’s fortunes in Punjab is going to be.

“The poor optics and the public image of its leadership as corrupt and inefficient politicians follow the party everywhere in Punjab’s urban areas and it is not going to improve easily,” the anonymous leader remarked. “It will take much time and effort, in addition to the replacement of the provincial leadership.”

This leader felt that Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and Aseefa Bhutto-Zardari could revive the party and reinvigorate the workers if they decided to frequently visit Punjab and interact with them. “The name of Bhutto still commands respect in Punjab’s rural and urban areas even if its present leadership is not approved of by the voters,” he added, clearly referring to the party co-chairman and former president Asif Ali Zardari. “People in Punjab still chant slogans like ‘Jeay Jeay Bhutto’ and ‘Zinda Hai Bibi Zinda Hai’ and dance to the drums. But they don’t like Benazir’s replacement and his politics.”

Some PPP workers are resentful that their party leadership did not field candidates from everywhere. “Fielding party candidates in all the districts could have kept the party name alive even if all of them had lost,” said Jamil Butt, president of the PPP in Jalalpur Jattan, another town of Gujrat district. “How do you expect voters to vote for you if you don’t meet them, don’t participate in party activities and don’t put up candidates? So the leadership shouldn’t complain if many PPP men decided to contest independently or from the platform of the PTI.”

Published in Dawn, November 8th, 2015

On a mobile phone? Get the Dawn Mobile App: Apple Store | Google Play

Opinion

Editorial

Population calamity
Updated 22 Jul, 2024

Population calamity

Pakistan can also control its growth rate by following the examples of its peers and implementing functional family planning programmes and campaigns.
Blow to occupation
22 Jul, 2024

Blow to occupation

THE International Court of Justice has delivered a legal blow to the decades-old Israeli occupation of Palestinian...
Seeking Priya Kumari
22 Jul, 2024

Seeking Priya Kumari

PRIYA Kumari — the minor girl who vanished on Ashura in 2021 while serving water at a sabeel in Sukkur district ...
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.