Bilawal’s first words of party manifesto

Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari is doing a meaningful, pro-poor public and forward looking politics in Punjab if the contents of his speech to a huge rally in Sahiwal are to be considered. He announced support for the tenants of Okara military farms and vowed to come up with a manifesto centered on agriculture reforms and job opportunities. In the tumultuous events of the present day economy and politics, when the corporate sector, reinforced by the onslaught of the CPEC, is encroaching upon every segment of life, only a progressive leader like Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari can dare extending his open support for the downtrodden tenants of Okara and overall agriculture reforms.

The Sahiwal speech also sets in the PPP manifesto for the elections 2018, which is sure to lift the beleaguered party, after the recent NA-120 bye-elections drubbing where it lagged far behind the winning candidate. The young leader of the once most popular party of Pakistan has been holding huge rallies in Khyber Pahtunkhwa, Sindh and Punjab for the last couple of months, where his speeches were punctuated with satirical phrases for opponents and brags about his family’s sacrifices for the country and democracy. Attacks on opponents and self-praising are, though, accepted norms in the game of politics, but it seemed just a waste of resources and occasions not to come up with pro-people policies at such massive public shows. In Sahiwal, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari took lead in announcing his party manifesto when his major rival leaders Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif are obsessed with their years-old obsession: attacking corruption of the ruling families (in the case of Imran Khan) and bragging about the mega projects undertaken by their government (in the case of Nawaz Sharif).

Supporting the tenants of Okara needs guts as the matter directly involves the military establishment. The landless tenants have been struggling for landownership rights. Recently, the leaders of tenants’ representative body, Anjuman-i-Mazareen Punjab, have been arrested and charged under terrorism sections. The support for Okara tenants sheds the impression that the PPP has reached a deal with the establishment. It is true, the PPP has taken the line of the establishment on issues like internal security and ties with India, but its stance on the tenants sends a clear message that when it is people versus establishment, the party will go for the people. The coming days will unfold more developments if the party weathers the establishment pressure or not.

Agriculture and farmers were considered the most unlovable sector and people during the traders-friendly and pro-urban centres PML-N government. Low support prices for wheat and no support prices for sugarcane and cotton have put small farmers railing against the anti-farmers policies of the government. Lately, the PML-N government woke up to the growing complaints and a visible downfall in the sector growth and last year it came up with billions rupees farmers’ packages but their trickle down effects could not reach the grass roots farmers. For such reasons, the PPP leader announced introducing the Kissan Support Programme and agriculture support centres.

The announcements are laced with good, worm words. The party, however, shows always dismal play whenever in power. The last regimes of the party, under prime ministers Yousuf Gilani and Raja Pervez Ashraf, though introduced good pro-farmers policies, their implementation failed to bring about any change in the economy. Moreover, the party has its strong party in Sindh. Who is stopping Bilawal Bhutto Zardari to introduce pro-farmers policies there?

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