By Sohail Sangi
Ever since becoming party head in 2012, Bilawal has been asserting in his speeches that his is a progressive party, a way forward. He repeatedly talks up the need to continue his mother’s mission to serve the people.
Bhutto supporters and PPP voters took Bilawal as a new star, expecting him to strive for a direct connection with them and venture into populist activities. They also expected that he would have his own chosen team as his mother did by freeing herself from party ‘uncles’.
Bilawal also claimed he would play a greater role in his party. But that miracle is yet to happen.
In his talk, he is bold, progressive and pro people. But I was informed that he is facing an internal conflict: whether to follow his mother and his grandfather’s legacies, or practical politics like his father. Bilawal has not come out of his father’s political shadow, and maybe he does not want to.
So is he the party head in name only while decisions are made by his father who is actually running the show?
Yet to rise as an independent leader, Bilawal has no personal following even after six years as chairman; whatever he has is because of his mother’s and grandfather’s legacy.
Lack of personal experience, plus having no sway in nominating party candidates, he will not be in a position to play a meaningful role in the post-election landscape.
A hung parliament is anticipated, hence politics of manipulation and manoeuvring in post-election scenario, which is the domain of his father.
This will be first time Bilawal will get a chance to enter parliamentary politics. In case the PPP opts for opposition, he will have a good opportunity to gain experience and political maturity.
His rivals call him a poster boy for the PPP with nothing to show for his claims. They say he speaks well, but will he walk the talk?
Bilawal calls himself a strong proponent of democracy and his party's socialist principles.“My mother always said that democracy is the best revenge,” Bilawal had told a news conference after his appointment as PPP chairman, adding that his party’s long and historic struggle for democracy will continue with a new vigour.
The young politician is also a critic of judicial activism, saying "judicialisation" of politics is not good for democracy."Judicial activism must be lessened and the judiciary should do its work and let politicians work. If we [politicians] are bad or failed then masses have power to reject us through vote,” he told journalists earlier this year.
The PPP leader also advocates peace between Pakistan and India, and has stressed the need for bilateral dialogue. "Despite hostilities on both sides and genuine complaints, ultimately the youth of both countries understand that the only solution is peace. We just have to figure out a way to get there," he told an Indian TV journalist in January 2018.
Bilawal is also a staunch advocate of rights for Pakistan's religious minorities. He vowed to defend the country's minority communities after the killing of then Punjab governor Salman Taseer. Taseer was murdered by his own bodyguard for speaking out in defence of a Christian woman, Aasia Bibi, who was issued a death sentence under blasphemy laws.
The young politico, who came to political prominence following his mother's assassination, stresses that dynastic politics was forced upon PPP with the deaths of his grandfather Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir.
He also accuses former military ruler Pervez Musharraf of having a hand in his mother's murder, crying on one occasion: "Qaatil! Qaatil! Musharraf qatil!" (Murderer, murderer; Musharraf's the murderer!).
For the upcoming election, Bilawal says the PPP will look back to its original slogan of roti, kapra, and makaan.