Roads blocked, barricades erected, universities and colleges closed, vehicles halted, mobile services suspended, ads published, and trains carrying listless people- this is how the PPP tried to flex its muscle and stood sharply in contrast to PTI’s political gatherings- where there is freedom to go to colleges, universities, offices. People pour into PTI’s gatherings of their own will, let alone being forced onto trains, buses and vans assigned by the state.

And yet, Bilawal’s “launching” was good, and his speech elaborate; it talked of almost all issues of importance and addressed all key political and apolitical players. The harangue sounded emotional, fiery and logical, interspersed with slogans, some trite and others new.

Bilawal’s directors have been striving to make him stand in the shoes of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and his assassinated daughter. That is why the imagery and gestures studded with slogans exhibiting the glory of a charismatic Bhutto were used to revitalise the old Bhutto in him. As ever, the political slogans of food, clothing and shelter (roti, kapra aur makaan) were exploited for the ever exploited.

Was he able to play the part of a Bhutto? Uttering like his mother, and dwelling upon issues like the grandfather, he certainly posed it to the best of his ability. But there is a long way to go, to reach the worth and grit of the older Bhuttos. The glorious Bhuttos came through a process - the process that grooms and blooms a politician.

The experience starting off from the ministries of commerce, information, power, and foreign affairs along with the presence at various fora of the United Nations was what matured ZAB before anchoring him into the launch of his political party on 30th November, 1967. And then came Benazir Bhutto, to the greatest reception in 1986 at Lahore. But reaching this stage, she had to undergo the harsh pangs of incarceration, the establishment’s wrath and forced exile.

But Bilawal descends direct from the sky and commands to capture the same reverence and worth. No doubt, he has shown some nerve to speak unequivocally on the issues of the Taliban, Kashmir and his powerful political rivals at Karachi.

His dauntless posture to fight extremism incurring the Taliban’s ire earned him kudos amongst the left wing fringe of society. In doing so, he supports Pakistan army’s operations against these extremists. His voice for Zarb-e-Azb has invariably been more vociferous than any other leader of the country.

He also stands for the ideologies of civil rights, sociologists and intellectuals for making society free from the menace of sectarianism and orthodoxy. To materialise this, an attempt was made earlier this year at the Sindh Cultural Festival where his enthused presence spoke volumes to contribute to the socio-cultural revival of Sindh away from obscurantism.

But the PPP is tottering in other provinces barring Sindh. With Bilawal launched, the most vital question germinates; will he be able to give life to the dying PPP especially in the Punjab. Punjab is the province where the PPP was founded by Bhutto in 1967; and its city Lahore gave the effusive welcome to Benazir in 1986. It is the land that has evermore been hosting the lords of the People’s Party. But now the lords are turning their coats. Their future politics are at stake. So they are looking with wistful eyes at young Bilawal, expecting some miracle out of his bag.

Reality is harsh; people have awakened, the public conscience has grown, good sense has permeated, and a new party has emerged. The challenges are tough. Something different has to be done. Mere slogans will not serve now. Bhuttoism mired with sloganeering may still work in Sindh, but the winds in the Punjab have veered – Multan has shown defeat to the PML-N and PPP.

And wait! Another challenge stands in the way: corruption. This is the fruit his party has tasted, chewed and swallowed with relish in the last full-term tenure. Possibly, this is the genie that caused the nosedive of the PPP, especially at Punjab and KPK.

Just rake up the recent past: Transparency International Pakistan claimed in 2012 that Pakistan suffered losses of more than Rs. 8500 billion of corruption, tax evasion and bad governance during the four years of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani at the helm of affairs. Even the chosen chairman of NAB, Syed Fasih Bokhari confessed Rs. 10 billion of corruption done daily.

Bilawal has a tough task ahead. Surely he cannot ameliorate past deeds.

The vast political landscape presents itself for this young scion of the Bhutto dynasty. He can capture it; but how. The answer lies in credibility. Restoring the PPP’s credibility to its pre-Zardari era, is the main issue.

Being in the centre demands winning Punjab where the PPP is now in rags. A prompt change of party heads; those with credibility and character, is the first step. Aitzaz Ahsan and Qamar Zaman Kaira still enjoy worthwhile credibility in the Punjab. The reins ought to be given to one of them, and the announcement should come at a gathering in Lahore.

Challenging times await Bilawal. He must resurrect the PPP, and its resurrection is good for the federation; a nationalist party from Sindh with a left-wing agenda is the need of the time, to cope with the challenges of sectarianism, extremism and provincialism.

    The writer teaches at Punjab Group

    of Colleges, Lahore.