PPP turns 50 today: Struggling to reconcile ideology with power politics
LAHORE – From ZA Bhutto to young Bilawal, the PPP has seen many ups and downs in its 50-year long history.
Emerging as an ideological party on country’s political horizon on November 30, 1967, the party of Bhuttos is now struggling to reconcile its basic ideology with power politics.
Interestingly, while PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto talks of reverting back to party’s original philosophy given by its founding father ZA Bhutto, his father Asif Ali Zardari believes in the politics of electables. And he has already started working on a plan to keep the PML-N away from the power corridors with the help of politicians with large following in their constituencies.
Senior party leaders including Ch Aitzaz Ahsan, Qamar Zaman Kaira and Ch Manzoor Ahmad have advised Bilawal that PPP could use the left-wing politics as a gimmick to activate the dying party cadres and to get political support from sections of the public believing in liberal values.
Looking from another angle, it also seems to be clever strategy to woo the electorate projecting party’s liberal outlook while also persuading the electables at the same time by showing them an election scenario with a hung Parliament after the elections. Only the time will tell if the PPP succeeds in reconciling the two divergent political approaches in the coming elections.
Before this, the PPP has passed through a phase of complete transformation from a progressive political party to a party which believed in power politics like other parties.
This process had actually started during the period when Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto was leading the party especially in her days of self-exile. Once known as a symbol of resistance under its founding chairman ZA Bhutto, and later retaining this disposition until the death of General Ziaul Haq, the PPP gradually became a party of reconciliation. It became evident when Benazir Bhutto signed a controversial NRO with a dictator only to return to power without getting into the hassle of actually launching a democratic struggle once a hallmark of this party.
Nonetheless, a complete transformation of the PPP was noticed during its last stint in power – from 2008 to 2013 – and in the later years. It was during this period that senior party cadres saw their party deviating from the basic principle which served as the very basis of its foundation. These were: “Islam is our faith; democracy is our politics, socialism is our economy and all power to the people”.
One fine morning in April 2014, party’s new leader Asif Ali Zardari declared in a meeting of party’s Central Executive Committee at Larkana that the notion of ‘left and right-wing’ politics had become obsolete in the present day politics. He rejected it as an ideology of 1960s, 70s and the 80s, stating it was no more relevant now.
Zardari had then uttered this in response to a proposal from veteran party leader Ch Aitzaz Ahsan that party should proactively pursue the left-wing politics and reach out to the masses fed up with the extremist tendencies in politics.
Also, ever since the assassination of its leader Benazir Bhutto, the PPP has lost much of its following especially in Punjab. In 2013 general elections and later in the Local Bodies polls in Punjab, the PPP was seen nowhere near to its rival parties.
At present, the PPP is confronting the biggest challenge of its reorganisation in Punjab where it has lost the support of many influential political families who are now part of the PTI. Several of its diehard workers are also no more with the party.
Seasoned politicians including Sardar Assef Ahmad Ali, Syeda Abida Hussain, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Nazar Muhammad Gondal, Ghazanfar Gull, Maulana Hamid Saeed Kazmi, Jaffar Leghari, Sardar Muhammad Hussain Dogar, Mirza Nasir Baig, Sahibzada Muhammad Gazain Abbasi, Munawar Hayat Abbasi, Mian Riaz Hussain Pirzada, Amjad Dasti, Muhammad Ashraf Khan Sohna, Samsam Bukhari, Niaz Jhakkar, Rana Aftab and Sahibzada Nazir Sultan have left the party for greener pastures in the PTI.
On the issue of party’s revival in Punjab, a section of opinion in the PPP supports the view that leadership should reach out to the middle class in the cities and deprived sections of society which had been supporting the party in the past.
Many also believe in the theory that in order to achieve this end, the party must keep a posture of its being a progressive party to attract a section of the electorate fed up with the power politics. This will also bring the estranged party men back into the party fold.
The present party leadership is also facing another daunting challenge of making the party a cohesive force at the grass-roots level.
While there is a total disconnect between the top leadership and the party cadres at this level, the activists also stand divided into small groups.
There is also a feeling in the party circles that a real transition from Asif Ali Zardari to his son Bilawal was the key to galvanise the party in the biggest province. It is believed that a charisma attached with Bilawal would help defeat the political opponents in Punjab.