KARACHI: They may be saying that the name ‘Bhutto’ sells, they may be screaming the slogan ‘Bhutto zinda hai’ at the top of their voices, but the original Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) slogan of Roti, kapra aur makan (bread, clothing and shelter) was what really drew all the crowds and the caravans to Bagh-i-Jinnah on Sunday.

It is the ‘peoples’ party. It raises the people’s concerns and highlights their agony. And what better time to address grievances and dress wounds than right now when fuel prices are soaring and commodities are almost beyond the reach of the common people.

‘It’s important to stand with Bilawal to show our strength’

Karsaz? Karsaz and anniversaries of explosions, however big, are not as big as the petrol bombs being hurled at the people every month or every half a month or so. That’s how a few with hearts on fire and so many with fires in their tummies headed towards the Bagh-i-Jinnah.

They were well organised. Well sorted. The red, black and green banners with yellow circle in the centre also had the name of the place a group waving the flags belonged to. Thus the people from Karachi had ‘Karachi’ printed on their flags under the circle, the visitors from Jacobabad had ‘Jacobabad’ written there and the same was the case for those getting off the big coasters with their flags from Naushahro Feroze, Ghotki, Sukkur, Tharparkar, etc.

They arrived by buses, by air conditioned coasters, by cars, by pickups that just recently were used for carrying cattle for sacrifice during Eidul Azha with sturdy bars on either side to keep the animals from falling off. The way to the ground, with capacity for thousands, was closed off with water tankers ahead of the underpass on main Shahrah-i-Qaideen and with containers at its other end on M. A. Jinnah Road.

The folks being brought in from all over to take up the 40,000 chairs in the ground and also cover any space between the chairs had to get in from the two pedestrian gates for men and one for women after leaving their rides in any of the four big parking lots around the ground. And that’s how they provided a good feeling to all those looking down at them from the 50-foot-high, 120x60-foot stage as they also looked up to their leaders.

But not all arriving were there to fill up the ground.

Mohammed Talib had gotten on the coaster from Naushahro Feroze to sell scarves and badges in PPP colours. “The badges are for Rs20 each and a scarf is for Rs100 each,” he informed a newspaper reporter there to cover the event, hoping to make a sale.

Some others were selling roasted corn on the cob. But the moment they uttered the word bhutta, meaning corn, they were firmly told to say ‘Bhutto Saeen’ with respect or ‘Bhutto zinda hai’ by the scouts and volunteers around. The situation turned out to be quite hilarious in the end.

Meanwhile, Deedar Baloch, president of PPP’s Kisan Committee, Larkana, said that he had arrived not just to observe the 14th death anniversary of the Karsaz victims but to raise his voice against inflation. “You’ll soon find petrol being sold for Rs200 per litre,” he pointed out. “Already, those of us who had bought cheap China-made motorcycles for Rs30,000 are thinking of selling them. Imran Khan’s government doesn’t care,” he said.

Ghaus Bux Jakhrani, a coach from Jacobabad, said that he wanted to come here to show solidarity with Bilawal. “There is strength in numbers. It was important that we come here and stand with Bilawal to show the selected government our strength,” he said.

Noor Jahan from Tharparkar said that she was there for her people. “We have no water and now Imran Khan’s government is also taking away food from our children’s mouths. We can’t afford basic food commodities. Bilwal can reverse all that,” she said.

“He is sincere. He is the son of the martyred Benazir, he is the grandson of the martyred Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. He understands how to run a country because politics runs in his blood,” she added.

Gulzar Samoon from Umerkot added to that: “You tell us who Imran Khan is? What does he know about the people of this country and their problems? In fact, he is now part of their problems. He is not here to give us roti [bread]. He makes it more and more expensive. He is here to give us naswar [snuff], which he has kept affordable because he probably likes it,” she said.

As all headed towards the ground, one family of four was getting on their motorcycle and preparing to leave. Asked if they had changed their minds, Vincia Wilfred, the mother, shook her head. “We didn’t realise there was going to be this circus here today. It was Sunday. We wanted to visit Quaid-i-Azam’s mausoleum but the museum and main hall there are closed due to some renovation work so we are going back,” she said.

Reminded then that they could still make it an outing for the kids by introducing them to a real political gathering, not to mention give them an added peek at so many politicians, the father smiled and shook his head. “No, thank you,” he said before heading off in the opposite direction.

Another bystander, also not really there by choice for the jalsa but stuck in the traffic, had the following insight to share: “Imran and his government has provided an opportunity for PPP to blow its own trumpet. And people are listening to this music because they are hurt. But what have these leaders, Bilawal’s uncles, done for the people here except point fingers at others? In fact, they have all been eating and sharing all the roti, kapra and makans among themselves as they push the poor, well okay not really poor, and unassuming Bilawal in front so that they can hide behind him.”

Published in Dawn, October 18th, 2021

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