It’s been three decades since Zulfikar Ali Bhutto created the hype around his persona and politics, and lasting it has certainly proven to be.
Today, his children and their off-springs might have moved away from each other, but efforts are in full swing to retain and cash in on the Bhutto name in the upcoming elections.
In conversations with Dawn, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) stalwarts confided that even though Bilawal Bhutto Zardari would turn 25 in September next year – the minimum age to contest elections in the country – his father President Asif Ali Zardari is intent on launching his son’s formal political career by May when general elections would be held.
A sitting PPP member of the National Assembly from Sindh claimed that just like it is unimaginable for the Congress in India to go into elections without a Gandhi leading its campaign, it is unthinkable for PPP leaders to disassociate themselves from the Bhuttos.
“Whether somebody likes it or not, Bilawal, Asifa and Bakhtawar are the face of the party. The PPP is synonymous with the Bhuttos, and after the untimely death of their mother, they have to don this mantle for the party’s cause,” he tried to rationalise the dynastic politics at play.
“It’s an association that not even President Zardari can challenge. A Bhutto addressing an election rally always creates an extra amount of energy among voters, which the party cannot afford to lose with elections round the corner,” he pointed out.
He added: “Since Bakhtawar, 22, doesn’t take much interest in politics, and Asifa, 19, is too young to address public rallies, the PPP is left with no choice but to field Bilawal in active politics. The sisters will be making appearances in the run-up to the general elections.”
Indeed, a dedicated group of party leaders is actively involved in grooming Bilawal, and brief him on party affairs regularly.
Their job is made easier by the fact that over the last year or so, Bilawal himself has started taking interest in politics.
Insiders told this scribe that the speech that Bilawal delivered on Tuesday to a group of students invited to the Presidency under the programme titled “Pakistan: Leaders of Tomorrow” had more thought put into it than realised by people.
“Do you really think it was just an off-the-cuff speech,” remarked the PPP source, “It was a 4,000 plus words speech that highlighted every single issue of the country both on the domestic and international level. This series of public interactions to selected students from universities all over the country is the launch of his political life.”Indeed, Bilawal talked about the country’s on-going fight against militancy, PPP’s so-called achievements over the last four years and his willingness to work with Nawaz Sharif, Imran Khan, Jamaat-i-Islami, and any other political force willing to participate in the election.
And quite expectedly, he brought in his late mother Benazir Bhutto’s resolve and vision for the betterment of the country, and repeatedly drew parallels between his mother’s struggle for a liberal and educated Pakistan with Malala Yousafzai, a young girl shot by the Taliban for advocating girls education.
Another parliamentarian told Dawn said that familial links have deep roots in Pakistani politics and will stay for a long time to come which will not give new people a chance to come in and prove their mettle.
“Can the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz contest elections without the Sharif brothers as the party’s premier candidates, or can someone else besides Asfandyar Wali Khan lead the Awami National Party?” the PPP leader went on, “I can’t predict the future, how these political parties will play out 10 to 20 years down the road in the country, but for the moment, it is all about families and their iron fist on their respective parties.”
“These families do not want to share anything with people sitting around them,” he concluded.