Saturday, December 2, 2017

Business Recorder editorial Dec 2, 2017

Reflections on the PPP at 50 Chairman PPP Bilawal Bhutto Zardari made some politically mature, insightful and praiseworthy remarks to the media in Islamabad on December 1 on the occasion of the celebrations of the party’s 50th founding day. He said he had refrained from taking advantage of the government’s difficulties during the sit-in and not asked for its wholesale resignation because he did not want to extract short-term political gains. For him, the country and democracy were more important than the PPP. The party wanted the present government to complete its five-year term in the larger interest of Pakistan and democracy. He called on “all forces” to let the country run under a democratic system. While these words reflect the letter and spirit of the Charter of Democracy signed by his late mother Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif in exile in London, they also provided a welcome relief from the partisan utterings of late vis-à-vis meeting Nawaz Sharif of his father and co-chairperson Asif Zardari. It also sent a message to the establishment to let the country run under a democratic system, a pointed reference to the alleged efforts for some months to weaken if not overthrow the incumbent government. Since Bilawal expressed himself in favour of a second smooth transition from one civilian government to another (a la 2013), he could do worse than ask his party to facilitate as soon as possible the passage of the 24th constitutional amendment in the Senate so that the elections next year can be held on time. While the PPP for many years now has been weakened and has shrunk to a provincial party confined to Sindh, this outcome has 50 years of a troubled and tragic history behind it. When the party was set up in 1967, it proclaimed a socialist programme, albeit tempering it with references to Islamic socialism in deference to the religious proclivities of the people. However, proclamation of and implementation of such a programme in practice in power proved two different kettles of fish. For one, the nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy, comprising large parts of industry and the banking and insurance sectors, and its handing over to bureaucratic rather than professional hands, proved a disaster and strengthened the opposing forces’ argument for privatisation. The land reform that proclaimed ‘land to the tiller’ proved, much like Ayub’s earlier land reform, to have so many holes in it that the bulk of large landholdings avoided redistribution to the poor peasants by the expedient and well tested method of fragmenting ownership in the name of family members and others to stay below the land ceiling specified. Soon the wily large landowning class re-entered the corridors of power through the auspices of the ruling PPP when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto felt his grip on the masses loosening because of the flawed results of the implementation of his left-wing programme. The military coup of 1977, Bhutto’s execution and the other repressive measures employed by Zia put paid to the ‘revolutionary’ pretensions of the party and steered it under Benazir in a ‘pragmatic’ direction that changed the PPP’s programme to one that accepted the neo-liberal paradigm. What this did was to disillusion its mass base in the two provinces where it commanded support, but especially in its once stronghold of Punjab. Unlike Sindh, where the loyalties of the waderas (large landowners) were a significant if not decisive factor, in Punjab the appeal of the party was to the poor because of its left-wing programme. The abandonment of that programme post-Bhutto alienated the poor masses and jialas (committed workers) of Punjab incrementally. Benazir’s tragic assassination in 2007 and Asif Zardari’s taking over the reins of the party won it power in 2008 because of the sympathy factor, but under him eventually resulted in the virtual wipe out of the party in its erstwhile fort in the 2013 elections. Benazir’s ‘pragmatism’ being followed by Asif Zardari’s crony governance was arguably the last nail in the party’s coffin, at least as far as Punjab is concerned. The portents for a revival of the party in Punjab, despite numerous attempts, do not seem very bright. The martyrs and sacrifices mantra no longer has the emotional appeal it once enjoyed. The party can only restore its former glory by reviving its socialist orientation with a programme geared to today’s realities and by speeding up the transition to new generation leadership.

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