Certainly an emotional moment; for obvious reasons. Not only for him, his family, his party associates and his supporters, but, to some extent, for his detractors as well. The oath-taking ceremony on first day of the newly-elected National Assembly, aside from celebrating a successful transition to the third parliament in a row, also marked the debut of parliamentary career of Bilawal Bhutto, who has been purposely groomed with utmost attention for this coveted career. A handshake and a photo with Imran Khan is how he started his first day in the parliament – a well-timed but positive ‘stroke’ from both. But many people are disappointed with this photo. With high expectations to witness an explosive entry of Bilawal Bhutto, a certain quarter within the PPPP was propagating and even motivating him to launch his parliamentary journey with loud protest on the floor of the assembly against the electoral rigging. But much to the disdain for these PPP enthusiasts, Bilawal Bhutto spent his first day in the National Assembly with the calmness of highly disciplined school-going kid.
Pressure from certain quarters? Part of a post-election strategy of his father? Or just recuperating from acute fatigue caused by the strenuous election campaign? Ever since the announcements of the election results, Bilawal Bhutto is keeping a very low profile. He is not seen in any of the protest meetings or rallies organized by the opposition parties, where his party is taking part, though with a lackadaisical interest. This is little surprising. Despite the current noisy and volatile political atmosphere, he is trying to eschew the media attention – reportedly not even regularly attending the routine internal meetings of the Pakistan People’s Party. Till the midnight of July 23, Bilawal Bhutto was amongst the most active players running their pre-election campaign at top gear. In fact, he has travelled more vigorously and extensively than Imran Khan and Shahbaz sharif in the pre-election days. Upper Sindh or rural Punjab, Bilawal Bhutto was on the wheels all the time. Indubitably, he was the most active campaigner, going from town to town and addressing dozens of small rallies and corner meetings each day - and that too in the sweltering July with heat and dust all around.
On two accounts, Bilawal’s campaign was different from the rest of the contesting lot. One, unlike the Khans, Sharifs and Maulanas, who were not sparing any chance to unleash the barrage of personal attacks against their political opponents, Bilawal conspicuously, avoided indulging in any kind of personal tirade with any of his opponents. The second key feature was his complete focus on the propagation of new manifesto of his party. The main thrust of Imran Khan was to highlight the corruption; Shahbaz Sharif was more obsessed with targeting Khan than his development work, while Maulana Fazlur Rehman was busy in his venomous theme against Imran Khan and his PTI. But Bilawal was the only one who kept his focus exclusively on his new manifesto. Reflecting some of traits of his mother, Bilawal has exhibited a lot of political maturity in the last few months. Without going into the details of the impracticality and clumsiness of new manifesto that contains a surfeit of swaggering claims and lofty promises, but the passion and commitment with which Bilawal was trying to do its marketing was the most positive aspect that was completely missed by his “experienced” opponents.
In every rally and corner meeting, Bilawal was seen waving the PPP manifesto booklet proudly and regularly referring to the salient features of his manifesto during his public speeches. This was conscious and very mature attempt from Bilawal to highlight the “concept of manifesto” and educate the people about the ideological contours of his party manifesto. The tautness of the compulsions due to the changing ground realities of local politics in Punjab and KP did not allow Bilawal to make any tangible in-roads. He did not receive any palpable response from Punjab and KP for his new manifesto. This was expected. In the past few years, Asif Ali Zardari made two well calculated and ambitious attempts to launch the political career of Bilawal Bhutto in a big way, but both attempts collapsed miserably in the initial phases. At one stage, Bilawal was so much frustrated over these spluttered launches that he started talking about leaving political arena. He even went into a temporary hibernation.
Not too long ago, speculations were being fomented by certain insiders of the PPP about the existence of deep chasm between Bilawal Bhutto and his father on various strategic matters and that Asif Ali Zardari was seriously contemplating to replace Bilawal with his sister as his political heir. Though many close associates of Asif Zardari did not subscribe to such speculations, but a certain section of the press kept on promoting this version. Nonetheless, this time Bilawal Bhutto has started his new innings with a positive stroke. His transformation into a mature leader is phenomenal. Not only he has demonstrated his leadership skills by running the election campaign independently, but also he has increased the weightage of his voice within the party to a reasonably assertive level. The appointment of Murad Ali Shah as new CM of Sindh, against the wish of powerful Faryal Talpur group, is a reflection of his growing personal clout within his party. But, Asif Ali Zardari, on the other hand, still seems to be quite hesitant to let Bilawal to play the game independently at least at this juncture when things are not going easy for the compromised PPP. So, Bilawal is compelled to play safe and low at the moment.
The writer is a freelance columnist.
This time Bilawal Bhutto has started his new innings with a positive stroke. His transformation into a mature leader is phenomenal.