Monday, November 21, 2016

Business Recorder Column Nov 21, 2016

PPP revival? Rashed Rahman The passing away of PPP leader Jahangir Badar the other day could be considered another milestone in the decline of the party generally, and in Punjab in particular, since its halcyon days in the late 1960s/early 1970s. Badar was perhaps the last of the Mohicans (jiyalas, committed, militant party workers) amongst the current PPP leadership. His rise to the top of the party hierarchy began from his days as a student leader in Lahore in the 1960s. When Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (ZAB) fell out with his mentor Ayub Khan in 1966 over the 1965 war and the subsequent Tashkent Agreement, he first explored the existing political parties as an option to join and continue what he described as his abiding Muslim League politics. However, the opposition parties’ landscape did not attract him. By 1967, he had agreed to the approach by a group of left wing intellectuals to form a new party with a radical Left-democratic programme. Badar was one of the founding members and remained faithful to the PPP till his last breath. The trajectory of the PPP since its founding in 1967 has its fair share of triumphs, failures and disappointments. Its formation presaged the great storm waiting in the wings in the shape of the anti-Ayub 1968-69 general uprising. It proved the most widespread and sustained countrywide agitation in Pakistan’s history. Its effects and fallout were to change the landscape and destiny of the young state forever. After some initial hesitation when the student-led uprising broke out in October 1968, just when the Ayub dictatorship was trumpeting its Decade of Development (since the military coup in 1958), ZAB saw the opportunity and jumped onto the movement’s bandwagon, displacing at its head in West Pakistan Asghar Khan. In the East wing, the National Awami Party (Bhashani) (NAP-B) and the Awami League (AL) led the agitation. By the time Ayub saw the writing on the wall in April 1969 and handed over power to General Yahya, the uprising had exposed the dark underbelly of the state’s structure and lit the fires of nationalist and class struggle on an unprecedented scale. The Yahya regime attempted to cool down the agitation through a combination of repression and the announcement of reforms. Amongst the latter, the most significant were the breakup of One Unit, which dismantled inter-wing parity that had depreciated the value of an East Pakistani citizen’s vote by equating the more populous East wing’s total seats in parliament with West Pakistan’s; the announcement of general elections in 1970 on the basis of one man one vote, and a ceasefire agreement with the Baloch feraris (insurgents). Despite being held under the umbrella of Pakistan’s second military dictatorship, the 1970 elections are acknowledged as the freest and fairest elections in Pakistan’s history. The Yahya regime calculated it would throw up a fractured mandate and a hung parliament. Instead, after the NAP-B inexplicably boycotted the election, the field was left clear for Mujibur Rehman’s AL to sweep the polls in East Pakistan, while ZAB’s PPP won in Punjab and Sindh and the NAP-Wali (NAP-W) and Jamiat-i-Ulema-i-Islam (JUI) combine in NWFP and Balochistan. This presented the Yahya regime with a dilemma. On the basis of one man one vote, the AL had a clear majority in the National Assembly, but all its seats were garnered from East Pakistan. The hesitation of the Yahya regime to transfer power to the AL on the basis of its virtually confederal Six Points triggered a confrontation with the AL. The Yahya regime launched a military, genocidal crackdown on the AL, Bengali intellectuals, and the populace at large. A general rebellion followed while Mujibur Rehman and many AL leaders were incarcerated. ZAB’s dubious role in supporting the military crackdown remains a blot on the PPP’s history. Meanwhile the influx of Bengali refugees into neighbouring India presented Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi with a golden opportunity to invade and dismember Pakistan, an outcome helped more than a little by the country’s international isolation because of the butchery in East Pakistan. The surrender in Dhaka in December 1971 brought about the downfall of Yahya at the hands of another military junta, which then proceeded to install ZAB in power as the most popular leader with a clear majority in the remaining Pakistan. Seizing the opportunity, ZAB’s government enacted radical reforms under the umbrella of a civilian martial law. These included nationalization of the commanding heights of the economy and land reforms, as the PPP’s radical manifesto had promised. However, within six months of coming to power, ZAB turned on the working class in Karachi, incrementally sidelined or removed the left intellectuals in the PPP, and by 1975 had opened the doors to rightists and landlords, the latter succeeding in reversing the land reforms through muscle. In 1973 he had dismissed the Attaullah Mengal ministry in Balochistan, evoking the resignation of the NAP-JUI ministry of Mufti Mahmood and triggering a nationalist insurgency and militant resistance in Balochistan and NWFP respectively. The compact arrived at in 1972 by ZAB with the opposition to respect the mandate of the 1970 elections thus unravelled, plunging the country once more into strife. ZAB’s repressive treatment of the opposition in general also eroded trust in an increasingly rightward tending, repressive regime. These chickens came home to hatch in 1977 when the general elections were rigged by the incumbent PPP, stoking a new agitation by the opposition that eventually led to Pakistan’s third military coup by General Ziaul Haq. Although sections of ZAB’s opposition had collaborated with Zia to get their revenge on ZAB, his hanging by the military regime in April 1979 paved the way once again for a united opposition to emerge, the PPP magnanimously forgiving Zia’s collaborators for the bigger cause. The 1983 Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD) was crushed by Zia, but this led to the outbreak of spontaneous armed resistance in ZAB’s home province Sindh. Unprepared and reactive as it was, this armed resistance could not sustain itself and soon degenerated into dharels (banditry). The Zia regime, alarmed by the depth of support for the post-ZAB PPP in Sindh, created the Mohajir Qaumi Movement (MQM) in 1984 as a counterpoint to the PPP and Sindhi nationalism, a move that mired the province in endless ethnic strife. Zia’s iron fist and sly moves seemed to leave him master of all he surveyed, with the religious parties benefiting most from his political and material largesse. But then the dark clouds seemed to part and Benazir Bhutto (BB) returned from exile. Her overwhelming reception in April 1986 in Lahore owed a great deal to the political and organizational skills of Jahangir Badar. Unfortunately though, during her exile BB seemed to have been persuaded to embrace real politik, which in the obtaining circumstances meant toning down anti-US rhetoric/actions and adopting the neoliberal paradigm instead of the Left-democratic original platform of the PPP. The rightward shift of the party under BB continued post-Zia and through the 1990s. It had perhaps attained its apex by the time BB returned from her second exile, only to be tragically assassinated in December 2007. The seal on this trend became apparent after Asif Ali Zardari’s takeover. Manzoor Wattoo, a political wheeler-dealer of the old Muslim League political culture was appointed Punjab PPP president, perhaps because he suited Asif Zardari’s temperament. However, as expected, Wattoo failed to take along, let alone inspire, the already disillusioned and dejected jiyalas of the PPP. Jahangir Badar never seemed to recover from the death of BB. His receding into the background in the last decade or so reflects the present trends in the PPP. The party has acquired a new young chairman: Bilawal Zardari Bhutto. The young man, in whom the PPP and its supporters’ hopes of revival reside, has still a long way to go to mature in the political battlefield and emerge from under the shadow of his father. Sindh remains in the PPP’s pocket because of its wadera (large landlord) political base in the province. It is in the lost heartland of its past support in Punjab that battle will have to be joined. Qamar Zaman Kaira seems a good choice as the new Punjab PPP president since he is in touch with the party’s workers and therefore still existing mass base, albeit the latter seems dispirited and quiet. For Kaira or anyone to succeed in reviving the PPP in Punjab, so critical to the restoration of its credibility of its position as a countrywide party, the new PPP Punjab leadership is advised to revisit the original PPP programme and, with appropriate updating/changes, take it to a mass support base hungry for the kind of hope the PPP offered the people in its early years.

No comments:

Post a Comment