By Tirthankar Mitra
Run-ins within the family is nothing uncommon in sub-continental politics as even in the mediaeval period when Sahazada Selim unfurled the banner of rebellion against the greatest of the Mughals, emperor Akbar which seemed to have been a repeat act through generations in Indian history.. Democracy striking roots did not mark an end to this tradition of sorts which shifted action from the field of a bloody conflict to air-conditioned offices of political parties where plans of bloodless coups and campaigns can be chalked out sans the heat and dust of a war camp.
In this Instance, Pakistan is the scene of action. And the players are AsifAli Zardari, dubbed as an accidental leader and other epithets not so nice testing his luck and political skills against his son Bilawal Bhutto.
The father and son duo owe allegiance to Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) set up by Zardari’s father-in-law, late Pakistani prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. The PPP along with PML-N is now a partner of the coalition government of Pakistan.
Zardari stepped into politics after the assassination of his wife Benazir Bhutto and is reported to be taking strong and confident strides ever since. Having taken up his mother’s maiden sir name to retain a strong link with one of the most popular leaders of the country, Bilawal is foreign minister of Pakistan..
Ever since a government to which the political outfit he represents started giving support, Benazir ‘s son gave indications that he had inherited more of his mother’s political genes. Bilawal started on a course of mass contact especially in Punjab, once a PPP bastion. The party which Z A Bhutto founded no longer enjoys the nationwide support base it once enjoyed. It continues to be the dominant force only in Sindh.
The downgrading of PPP is laid at the door of Zaradari’s style of functioning. The strong connect with the masses has been replaced by a political wheeling dealing which is his forte. The differences between the father and son can be traced from this point. And none is willing to change his mode of political functioning.
The first blood was drawn by Bilawal when he a gave a call to old politicians including his father to retire and make way for the young. It was not only a clarion call to young and aspiring PPP activists, a message was sent out to many of the old guard of the party they should pull up their socks to reach out to the masses.
Pakistan has a paternalistic society and Zardari, a proud father retorted. “Stopping someone will create more problems” stuck on the raw he said. After all, his contribution is undeniable in expanding the political profile of Bilawal and securing him the post of foreign minister in the government thereby training him for the top job.
In a long television interview, Zardari said “Bilawal is not yet trained.” Indicating Bilawal’s ministerial tenure and his PPP association to be insufficient, he added “We are training him’ he added making no attempt to conceal in whose hands the reins of the career of his son lie.
Zardari’s deviation from the functioning method of his late wife and father-in-law came to the fore after he assumed control of the party in 2008 after Benazir’s assassination. The tragic incident propelled the PPP to power and marked its slide to the status of a regional party.
Though not enjoying either Bhutto or Benazir’s mass popularity, there is no denying the fact that Zardari is one of the shrewdest politicians of Pakistan. His skills in making compromises helped the party survive a full five year term in government, a feat rare in Pakistan. It had its price. Absence of popular leadership led to marked erosion to the PPP support base.
In the next elections, PPP was almost wiped out in Punjab. Winning a few seats south of the province was an apology of a political existence. Emergence of Imran Khan’s PTI saw PPP win in only six seats in 2018 elections in Punjab. It was its victories in Sindh which kept it in the reckoning.
Zardari’s skills came to the surface during the vote on no-confidence motion against Imran Khan. In the PDM-led coalition government, even if Bilawal was the foreign minister, the PPP did not take the responsibility of the fallout of the flawed economic policy of the Shahbaz Sharif dispensation.
So far, so good. But Zardari is upset at his leadership style being challenged. And the challenger is none other than his own son. Bilawal, his increasing profile notwithstanding no longer wants to remain in his father’s shadow. As elections draw near, he has become increasingly aware of the limitations of PPP’s approach and a decreasing support base being a fallout of the politics of wheeling dealing his father practises.
It remains to be seen whether Bilawal’s endeavour to go back to mass politics has come too late in the day. His ways are reported to have irked PML-N which has recently been joined by Balochistan Awami Party deserting PPP.
It is considered to have dented Zardari’s gamesmanship. Differences among the father and son duo leave PPP to be a divided house as election approaches and a political outfit whose hall mark once was mass contact struggles for relevance. (IPA Service)