AROUND the same time in 2008, Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani would rather not have had the prime minister’s office because of its proximity to jail. This March, he is a prime minister who vows to stand by his party and the constitution, even if this sends him on another writing excursion to prison.
He obviously prefers writing a whole book over signing a letter.
Then, he used the time to write a book of memoirs, and he says he could repeat the feat should it come to that. That book, by the way, can constitute a syllabus for aspiring politicians.
Chah-i-Yousuf Say Sadaa takes an ambitious young man through a maze of local and national alliances, watched, goaded, denied, betrayed and blessed along the way by uncles, friends, young and old allies, prime ministers, presidents and, of course, the pirs.
Politics since the publication of the book means there are chapters Mr Gilani may find worthy of adding to. As the old formula still delivers, he would be inclined to think he has done enough for the cause to be taken up more earnestly and has created leaders — the heirs, actually — who can take over from him.
There are a few who are wishing that soon the PPP will have a new martyr. Others fret over the future of Pakistan should the Swiss letter case lead to the ouster of the country’s chief executive. A vociferous group has called for locking up the disobedient prime minister. Amid all this Mr Gilani has been acting like a groom-to-be who is not satisfied with holding a single stag party as he faces the prospects of losing his freedom. It has to be big. He’s the prime minister, not a lowly peon.
Mr Gilani has been talking like he has never done before. The Seraiki subah is more than a weekend resort now. It is time for him to be covering the area more extensively and frequently, telling the crowds the difference between six months in prison and a possible death sentence. He cannot write the ‘unconstitutional’ letter, and would have quit as prime minister if that could solve the problem. Isn’t that what we all do — take the easier or the less dangerous option?
The same logic finds reflection in the PPP government’s decision to not write those couple of paragraphs to the Swiss authorities. Given the tough stance the PPP has maintained, given its opponents’ demand over the letter, it would expose itself to a devastating strike if it were to write it now.
It has no choice but to hope the chosen strategy will help it get away with a lighter sentence. Indeed, the PPP is hoping the case will add to the impression it is so desperate to create that it is a party which has not been allowed to rule effectively.
It is not a new cause, but this is a unique case where a party in power is set to go into the next election trying to win the sympathy vote. The Asghar Khan petition could also strengthen this impression, or so at least wish the PPP politicians who are otherwise confronted by popular demands that have become more impatient with time.
This is not easy given the situation the people find themselves in, and the PPP’s bias for ceremony and records at a time when people are suffering are hardly something of which the party should be proud.
The government completes its four years in power, the president speaks a fifth time to a joint parliamentary session and continues to build on his reputation as a master of creating alliances. Great, but what’s the point? What does this stability, these long years in power, translate into in the people’s ledger?
If anything, the louder the ceremony, the bigger the contrast between the state of the people and the shallowness of the slogans with which their rulers are feeding them.
The government then promises a friendly budget, but that is a mountain of a task if not outright impossible. The much expected masterstroke from Mr Asif Zardari has been delayed until now. The time it has taken in cooking, the dish may not thrill too many of the hungry if and when it finally materialises.
Yet the prime minister stands out as a PPP man — as far as the Punjab goes at least — who has actually been able to accompany his complaints about a denial of true power with some Shahbaz Sharif-style development work in his home territory.
Multan is richer by a few roads, and even when it is abuzz with stories of commissions and corruption, it does manage to flaunt an identity that is at variance with the rest of Punjab.
Mr Gilani’s reputation as a maker of alliances goes much deeper in history than President Zardari’s. His memoirs are full of details about how open and adept he was at striking the local partnerships that sustained him through the late 1970s and the 1980s and placed him in the national limelight.
He is known as the last real challenge to the Sharifs in Punjab; he says in his book that as the speaker of the National Assembly in the mid-1990s, he was Mian Nawaz Sharif’s alternative candidate to then prime minister Benazir Bhutto.
That he emerged as the PPP’s choice for the prime minister’s post after Ms Bhutto’s assassination could in some measure be due to the fact that the politics of little partnerships Mr Gilani had perfected over the years was in sync with Mr Zardari’s avowed desire for reconciliation.
The family’s hold on politics at home has increased. Two of Mr Gilani’s sons and a younger brother are members of the assemblies. And all his operations are provided with a decent, principled demand of a new province and backed by a major party. This is quite a lot of material to work on. It appears to be a good enough base.
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.