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Whose party is it?

October 29, 2012

Workers gather during the Pakistan People’s Party’s pro-local government bill rally in Hyderabad. – Photo by INP/File

ZED Ain is a diehard jiyala. His natural place is at a Pakistan People’s Party jalsa, raising deafening slogans of ‘Jeay Bhutto’.

He has been attending PPP rallies since Benazir Bhutto’s historic return from exile in 1986. For this purpose, he has travelled the length and breadth of the country and ignored his personal and family needs.

But he was in his native city, Karachi, on Oct 15 when he should have been in Hyderabad for the much-talked about PPP public meeting on the volatile issue of the new local bodies’ law.

Why? “Because it wasn’t a traditional PPP rally and had new and strange features to it,” he says.

His outburst, coupled with a lack of enthusiasm among many other party activists regarding participation in the event, gives credence to the allegations that the PPP used government machinery to make the Hyderabad rally successful.

“Every deputy commissioner of Sindh was given the task of arranging 25 air-conditioned buses to transport participants to Hyderabad and low-grade government servants were told to attend the rally or face the music,” says a journalist known for his connections with the bureaucracy.

Besides, the party leadership had reportedly approached tribal chiefs of the Kohistan area — the hilly tract along the Superhighway — to herd their ‘subjects’ to the rally to increase the headcount.

The phenomenon of obtaining the support of heavyweights was not confined to this rally. It seems the party leadership has adopted the strategy to lure ‘winnable’ feudal lords and tribal chieftains to the PPP.

It should be remembered that this was a party which had pitted a middle-class candidate against the mighty Pir Pagara in the 1988 general election; the man defeated the Pir by a wide margin.

The latest such entrants to the party are the Shirazis of Thatta, who have deserted the PPP more than once. Earlier, the Mahars of Ghotki, who like the Shirazis had ditched the party to join the Musharraf bandwagon, rejoined the PPP.

They were preceded by Altaf Unnar, who was booked in a case involving an attack on the convoy of Dr Azra Pechuho, President Zardari’s sister, outside a Kotri polling station in the 2008 polls, as well as by Salim Jan Mazari of Kashmore.

The entry, rather intrusion, of these elements into the PPP has annoyed not only the party’s political workers like Zed Ain but also local leaders of the areas from where the newcomers belong. Obviously, they have been promised party tickets for the upcoming general election at the cost of those candidates who had refused to ditch the party in difficult times.

Though silent now, there are indications that the party leaders on the ‘losing’ end (at least some of them) will not remain docile if they are not given party tickets for the 2013 election.

For example according to a taluka leader of Khairpur district, President Asif Ali Zardari held a one-to-one meeting with Manzoor Wassan last month to persuade him to leave one of the two national and provincial assembly seats the Wassans had been winning over the years; a blunt ‘no’ was the answer.

But why this metamorphosis? What compelled the PPP leadership to look towards ‘winnable heavyweights’ at the cost of eroding its own powerbase? Perhaps the answer is in the feelings expressed by an octogenarian resident of Ratodero. “It’s the third consecutive year under President Zardari’s rule that Sindh has been facing the wrath of nature (floods),” he argues.

He says the president has captured the treasure collected by someone else — a reference to the sacrifices rendered by the Bhuttos for the PPP. “If not fully, then partially, the PPP base is eroding with apparent cracks and fissures.

“People no longer look at the PPP as a sacred cow and not much love is left for it. A vacuum is there,” says analyst Dr Inayat Magsi.

New bloc

An emerging bloc — led by the new Pir Pagara and comprising the PML-F, National People’s Party of the Jatois and Ghous Baksh Mahar of the PML-Q — will try to fill this vacuum in the election. Their success may be limited but even then some people say the Pir will be the next chief minister of Sindh.

“In the backdrop of the divisive Sindh People’s Local Government Act, the Sindhi people should vote for anyone to topple Zardari’s reconciliatory empire,” says a nationalist worker, echoing popular sentiments against a party for which Sindh’s people had been ready to sacrifice their lives.

Will this popular sentiment prevail or will power politics triumph in the election? This remains to be seen. But one thing is clear: the PPP will not be able to sweep the election in rural Sindh as it has been doing for decades. It will face tough competition from different quarters, which will make the election an interesting affair.