Naheed Khan who during Benazir's life made and unmade PPP leaders was shunned by them when she came to Lahore to speak on the 81st birth anniversary of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. She was not invited to the party's official function and spoke in the company of Aitzaz Ahsan, her husband Safdar Abbasi and party MPA Sajida Mir at a separate gathering. She criticised party leadership for ignoring PPP workers, losing contact with the masses and delaying the probe of Benazir's murder. The first two grievances have been common whenever the party has been in power and have often been made by leaders who were being sidelined so they would move few PPP activists. The delay in punishing those behind BB's murder however is an issue that resonates with the PPP workers. The issues were raised by Naheed Khan at Hyderabad and Rawalpindi too where she also expressed solidarity with the lawyers demands. At the Lahore seminar Naheed Khan's criticism was targeted at Zardari's ministers and advisers, but none could mistake that the barbs were in fact directed against the co-chairman. She said people sitting in the corridors of power should come to the streets to fulfil the mission of Benazir instead of sitting in their drawing rooms and caring for their security. "I have raised the voice of conscience and I know hurdles will be created in my way but I will continue struggling to secure the rights of the party workers," she said. "I have no differences with the party leadership. I am against the system which should be changed." She suggested Zardari should acquire the help of local agencies for investigation. Aitzaz Ahsan shared her views regarding the delay in the probe. He was extremely cautious though while commenting on the issue. He asked why the venue of murder was thoroughly cleaned within hours of the incident whereas clues were carefully preserved in the case of the attack on Musharraf. He seemed to be targeting Musharraf more than anyone else. Aitzaz has been a dissenter who has rankled Zardari the most. He not only rejected the official line on the judges' issue but also led the Lawyers' Movement that vociferously opposed the government policy on the streets for months. For many lawyers Zardari was as much a target as Musharraf. What is unusual is not the dissenting voices but the fact that they continue to be tolerated for so long. While the PPP top leadership not only puts up with but also encourages lower level workers when they criticise local leaders, it has never allowed prominent party figures to publicly question party policies or challenge the party supremo. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto not only threw J Rahim out of the party but also got the old man roughed up by FSF men. No ordinary man, Rahim was a founding member of the party and had co-authored with ZAB the 'Foundation Meeting Documents' which were subsequently approved at the first PPP convention held in Lahore. Benazir was equally firm when handling "uncles" like Mubashar Hassan, Ghulam Mustafa Khar, Malik Meraj Khalid, Mumtaz Bhutto and Rao Rashid who were all shown the door without hesitation when they challenged her authority. In the present case, Aitzaz, Naheed and Abbasi continue to retain their seats in the central committee. Has the party co chairman suddenly acquired unusual tolerance? Are we through a new chapter in PPP history? Zardari has not so far given any indication of being an unusually tolerant person. What restrains him are a set of limitations. First and foremost, he does not have the clout of the leaders whose position he has inherited. He continues to speak in the name of Benazir and Bilawal and is content with the post of co-chairman. Zardari knows many party leaders and most workers entertain serious reservations about him. He is the party chief not in his own right but on account of an accident. Again, unlike Makhdoom Amin Fahim who expressed annoyance for not being made the prime minister, the issues being raised by the dissenters, i.e. restoration of judiciary and probe in Benazir's murder are matters of major public and party concern. The movement for the restoration of independent judges has the active support of most pro-PPP lawyers, as the election of Ali Ahmad Kurd against the administration's nominee would indicate. Similarly many PPP activists feel concerned about no progress in the murder probe despite Zardari's claim that he knows those behind the murder. If Zardari fails to act when PPP controls the centre and two provinces, and is a coalition partner in the other two, there is little likelihood of bringing the murderers to justice once it is out of power. Much as he would like to throw the dissenters out, Zardari is forced to reconcile with them. While the absence of a charismatic leader is a loss to the party, it has provided space to dissenters to manoeuvre. So despite Rana Aftab Khan and Samiullah Khan and their ilk, PPP is in a position where it can be made to function more democratically. E-mail: azizuddin@nation.com.pk