PPP at 50

Published December 1, 2017

FIFTY years appear to be a very long period in the case of the Pakistan Peoples Party that was born on Nov 30, 1967. Think of an upheaval and the PPP has experienced it.

Jail, execution, splits, forced exit, triumphant return, compromises, intrigue, conspiracy, assassination, feuds, relentless persecution, betrayal — the PPP has been through it all. No other political entity in Pakistan draws reactions as extreme as this party has done over the decades.

The 1970 election which saw the party as the biggest force in the then western wing of Pakistan had been a momentous occasion in the country’s history; the people had finally spoken out. This was the foundation of the country’s democratic edifice which has been under constant threat.

Back in the 1970s, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and his PPP were a part of the emerging setup which couldn’t prevent the breakup of Pakistan. Later, the central authority in Bhutto’s truncated Pakistan faced a series of hostile situations before he was overthrown by an opportunistic general in 1977.

The PPP founder’s judicial murder two years later heralded a grave chapter in the party’s history. The shaheeds have been synonymous with the PPP since then. So have accidental leaders and the altogether new organisations they have had to create to suit their command — Benazir Bhutto’s PPP, Asif Ali Zardari’s PPP, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s would-be PPP.

The PPP as a popular party has been consistently in the thick of things, in Sindh, in Islamabad, and elsewhere in Pakistan. Its role in the opposition at the federal level easily eclipses its two stints in power in Islamabad under Benazir Bhutto.

The latest chapter in the PPP’s history has been defined as by far the most disappointing. It began with the killing of Benazir Bhutto 10 years ago, just when so many believed that Bhutto’s mature daughter was now best equipped to lead the party and country towards a solid democratic order.

The current leader’s unabashed courting of the establishment indicates just how far the PPP enterprise has moved away from its ideals in its search for relevance.

But this doesn’t mean that Mr Zardari is the first person to tamper with the PPP ideology, or whatever remains of it, to stay in the run. The ‘anticipatory’ steps taken by his predecessors were no less traumatic.

However, the diehard jiyalas feel that they are not to be written off as yet — many continue to dwell on the days of glory and speak of the time when the new party had eliminated a degenerate system and its selfish protagonists in the 1970 election.

A national-level revival of the PPP to counter the burgeoning centre-right camp is still widely considered to be one of the most viable options, if not the only one. While it may not be the most flattering option to have been considered, it is still a compliment the PPP is badly in need of.

Published in Dawn, December 1st, 2017

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