I am known in the family as a compulsive hand washer, which in my opinion is a bit of an exaggeration. I wash my hands (amongst a few other occasions) before prayers, before and after every meal and whenever I indulge in my passion for growing things. After all, who in his or her right mind would eat food flavoured with cow manure? I can only remember one occasion where I did not follow my ‘so called’ compulsive instinct – that was when I shook hands with the Prime Minister of Pakistan Mr. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, while standing in an introductory line somewhere in the early nineteen seventies. The contact of both palms was for a few brief seconds, but the founder of Pakistan People’s Party exuded such charisma that I did not have the heart to wash my hand before dinner that evening.

Those were the days, when being counted as a Bhutto fan was the in thing. In historical retrospect we now know that the man was indeed fallible, but in spite of all his flaws, he was a genius, who had the wherewithal to take Pakistan, where our Founding Father intended us to go. That he did not do so and instead followed a path at odds with the one laid out by Jinnah, was something that had tragic consequences for the country.

Bhutto’s political vision had already dictated his choice of successor. It was to that end that he began grooming his daughter Benazir for the role that lay ahead. The process commenced, when this young Oxford University graduate began hosting a current affairs talk show on the black and white Pakistan Television. A large majority of Pakistanis were shocked, when the final act in the former Prime Minister’s life was played out inside Rawalpindi Jail, pushing his daughter into the political arena, perhaps a little too prematurely. She was nonetheless ZAB’s daughter and proved to be so. Mature beyond her years, politically savvy by nature, this young woman took up the challenge and prevailed.

It was General Pervez Musharraf’s NRO that paved the way for Benazir Bhutto’s return and she did so with élan, to be received by crowds much larger than what her father could draw. Her untimely demise, spawned multiple problems for PPP, the major one being that of succession. This issue was resolved, when her husband Mr. Asif Ali Zardari filled the vacuum in the role of what can be technically termed as a regent. PPP won the general elections that followed BB’s assassination, partly while riding a sympathy wave that put Mr. Zardari in the Presidency.

The Pakistan People Party era that followed and still continues in our Southern Province spawned corruption scandals and neglect towards genuine workers shattering party image amongst its most diehard supporters – changing PPP’s strength as a nationwide popular force to a shaky provincial one. The party leadership tried to rectify the situation by launching a reluctant Bilawal Bhutto Zardari into murky Pakistani politics – a move that does not appear to be paying much dividend in mollifying disgruntled workers.

For PPP, the situation is turning critical and ironically enough, the top leadership appears to have taken the easy (and the most undesirable) way out – flight to Dubai. The party voters (at least the ones that I have spoken to) are now seriously questioning as to why should domestic governance decision making be done in a foreign land? If the PPP leadership desires to salvage whatever party image (and by implication their vote bank) they can, they must show courage and return to face charges that are pressed against them. They must clear their names for the sake of those workers and leaders, who sacrificed their liberty and even their lives for what the party stood for.

A former ‘jiala’, told me that the reason for the downfall of Bhutto’s PPP was that the current top tier running its affairs were midgets, when compared to the party founder, his illustrious daughter and their old party colleagues. According to him it is a case of “small feet trying to fit into big shoes”. I wonder if what he said is true.

The writer is a freelance columnist.