Bilawal Bhutto’s speech and why I will Vote for PPP

Raza Habib Raja
Let me be clear: I don’t like legacy politics. However, I do understand that in the context of South Asian politics, it is perhaps the only way for the political parties to survive. So when Bilawal was launched, I had mixed feelings. Knowing that PPP has a consistent vote bank and the internal culture of the party is such that if anyone drawing direct lineage from Bhutto is made the leader, the party workers generally accept it, I was curious to know what the young man had to say. After all, Bilawal would be the image and face of PPP which is the largest political party.

And yes, I was impressed. This young man was rhetorical as it was a political rally but it was the basic substance which got me interested. After a long time, I heard what I wanted to hear. He talked about extremism, referred to Malala and said clearly that war against Taliban was our own war. Yes his Urdu may be weak and he may have indulged in some pretentious sloganeering, but he was still impressive and his speech laid out his vision very well. He was clear that Pakistan’s real enemies were from within. He praised those who had sacrificed their lives for a liberal and tolerant Pakistan. And yes as he spoke, I was hopeful. Pakistan may have a horrible present but all is not lost. As the torch of political leadership passes to younger blood, and to someone who has gone through the experience of actually losing a parent due to monster of terrorism, there is a reason to believe that Pakistan will be taking steps towards the right direction.

After all a political leader is not merely a mere representative of the people, he also tries to give a direction to the party loyalists. I sincerely hope that the young Bilawal (as someone who has personally gone through a tragedy) realizes it and sticks to his articulated vision. Yes politics is a game of compromise but that compromise should arrive through striking a right balance between ideology and realpolitik concerns.

There are many, chiefly belonging from Pakistan’s urban middleclass, who hated that speech. In fact, when I praised Bilawal on my own Facebook page, I was swarmed by haters, many of them my very good friends. I heard what I have heard for zillionth times: PPP is “corrupt” and Pakistan has been made bankrupt by its rule. I was told that I was clueless about the common man’s problems. How they understand the common man’s problems is still beyond me considering the fact that almost all of them belong to more privileged, if not the outright rich class.

This white collar class wants rule of law and talks about merit. However, while it laments about these, it is completely divorced from much graver realities which the real common man faces. You will hear merit but hardly a word about a more egalitarian Pakistan. This class wants liberal values of freedom of speech and rule of law but is completely oblivious of the fact that these attributes don’t materialize from thin air. Even in West these have evolved over a long time and what we see today did not materialize out of nowhere.

You have to have a commitment to democracy and try to engage particularly with the mainstream parties. Parties like PPP and PML (N) represent Pakistan for whatever it is. You want to change Pakistan, then learn to engage with the real representatives of Pakistan rather than just shouting the word corruption ( of which you don’t even have any idea in the first place).

I hardly hear a word from this class about extremism. And when they do talk about it, it is often blamed at “foreign powers” or as a reaction to US hegemony. Most of them get their information as well as “philosophy” from rightwing anchors like Hamid Mir, Talat Mehmood, Javed Chaundary and Ansar Abbassi and hence their “concerns” reflect what the anchor persons are parroting continuously.
While they shout about “corruption of PPP”, I hardly hear them asking the same question about the corruption of other institutions particularly the armed forces. In fact many of them prefer the military rule over civilian rule. They blame corrupt politicians all the time and while those who are the real power brokers are hardly questioned. I have hardly heard anyone asking the right questions about the role of military.

They blame politicians for everything and yet do not even bother to ponder over the fact that political parties do not control everything in Pakistan. You can make political parties accountable to the extent they actually wield power.

Yes, since I am not a Jiyala, therefore I am not going to spin facts here or call all the critics of PPP as “civil society types.” I have always had a love hate relationship with PPP. I have loved it and hated it. It is a party which has the support of the poor and minorities. It is the party of the intellectuals. And at the same time, unfortunately it is the party thoroughly riddled by controversies. It is the party which passed second amendment and yet is also the party which brought political mass mobilization.

Moreover, PPP needs to improve in its governance and dispel the impression that it is incompetent. But at the same time, I have to make it clear; media and its target audience the white collar urban middleclass have seldom given any credit to PPP for its achievements. PPP is the party which successfully brokered an improved NFC award. It is the party which has tried out to reach to all the provinces and is chiefly responsible for 18th amendment which rectified the central province imbalances. It satisfied the longstanding demand of renaming NWFP. It made Gilgit Baltistan a separate province and tried to address its grievances. Pakistan is an ethnically diverse country and all that could have only been done by a party which has stakes in all the country. It also passed anti-harassment bill and tried what it could to modify the controversial blasphemy law.

These are all achievements and yet I hardly hear these white collar professionals and their source of information, all those anchor persons appreciating or even acknowledging PPP. But then their concerns do not venture beyond the word “corruption”.

Moreover as Pakistan continues its descent into mayhem and rightwing lunacy, PPP still remains the LEAST right wing party. For someone who thinks that secularism is the way forward, no party scores high as far as I am concerned. But eventually, we have to make a choice among those who are in the field. In Pakistan’s ideological spectrum there are no “secular” or for that matter even liberal/left parties. What we have is the variants of the same ideology and the ultimate niche of any party is less in ideology and more in economic sub groups or ethnicity. For example, PPP in my opinion is ideologically a centrist and it draws its main support not from those who believe in “middling” politics but those who are economically in lower segment. Yes it will have support from liberals ( who in reality are in a very low quantity) but this support is primarily due to the fact that PPP is the least right wing compared to other options and since it has political stakes in all of Pakistan, it will always try to cultivate a tolerant Pakistan.

For whatever its weaknesses may be, let’s not forget this party lost Benazir Bhutto, Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti from the hands of religious extremists. PPP still remains the obvious choice for minorities like Shiites, Christians and all others. Moreover, PPP still remains the only PARTY which draws support from all the provinces. It represents and articulates the interests of most diverse set of population.

Yes, since politics is eventually a game of power therefore it like all other parties has that Machiavellian streak. But then you need to have that streak in order to win. Many of my friends who think that Imran Khan is the epitome of “clean” politics are just simply overlooking the fact that he too right now has a large number of turncoats in his party. And yet they think that just because he built a hospital and is “sincere” therefore Pakistan will be on the right track if and only if he is made the Prime Minister. They often overlook the fact that Mr. Khan does not even openly condemn the monsters like Taliban and is a reactionary as his interests merely reflect the military’s interests. They call Asif Ali Zardari all sorts of names and yet don’t even mention that he willingly gave up his powers. They have never forgiven him for not restoring judges but don’t even remember that this judiciary is vindictive and ideologically reactionary. And by the way it is acting more like an executive rather than the ultimate arbitrator of justice.

Yes I have decided to vote and my vote will be for PPP/ANP coalition in the center and PML (N) in Punjab. My best wishes are for both the mainstream parties. Bilawal I am looking forward to your next move!!!

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