While still in a soul searching phase following the defeat in the 2013 election, the People’s Party has now to contend with another challenge posed by the party’s poor showing in the recent by-elections in Punjab. The poll results showed no let-up in the falling graph of the party in the province, highlighting the failure of the party leaders, collectively and in their individual capacity, to restore PPP to the place of glory it once occupied in Punjab.

The senior leaders of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) recently held an important meeting in Dubai with party chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari in chair to deliberate on measures to deal with the declining fortunes of the party in Punjab. Former federal minister Qamar-uz-Zaman Kaira and Senator Aitzaz Ahsan reportedly presented a working paper titled ‘revival of PPP in Central and South Punjab,’ pinpointing the causes of PPP’s downfall and containing proposals for changing party leadership in both central and south Punjab.

Needless to say, the biggest challenge facing PPP in Punjab is a crisis of leadership. Once known as the fortress of Peoples Party, Punjab is now an electoral wasteland. But don’t get it wrong. The grass-root PPP supporter – the underprivileged and dispossessed of the land - is still there. Thus the party’s basic strength is intact. The name of the Bhutto’s still resonates with the common man who even now consider PPP as his only hope for delivery from the current exploitative socio-economic system.

But what is lacking is a sense of direction and management from those who are at the helm of affairs in Punjab. For long years the party’s organizational set-up has remained moribund at the grass-root level. At one time very strong, the local party network barely exists now. As a result, the constant interaction with the masses, which creates a sense of ownership among them, has been lost.

The party slogan of ‘roti, kapra aur makan’ still tugs at the heartstrings of the people but the issues underlying it are no longer taken up with the vigour and urgency that can galvanize the people. PPP was once in the vanguard of the movement to challenge the oppressive status quo. But this is no longer so. The party has thus lost its touch with the people. The voting pattern analysis of the last general elections shows that masses are still attracted by the promise of change, and PTI cashed on that.

The PPP Punjab has been unfortunate is not having produced a leader having a fraction of the caliber and charisma of a Bhutto. No one can beat Jahangir Badar as far as party loyalty is concerned is concerned but he has his limitations. We have a string of other names like Qasim Zia, Azizur Rahman Chan, Qamruzzaman Kaira, Nadeem Afzal Chan,Latif Khosa and others. Two former prime ministers Yusaf Raza Gilani and Raja Perver Ashraf also loom large. But these leaders could not perform according to their potential because of internal wrangling and leg pulling. This ultimately resulted in Mian Manzoor Ahmed Wattoo being brought in as Punjab PPP president in October 2012 .

Aitzaz Ahsan is a case apart. His is a story of great promise and lost opportunities. At the beginning a rising star of the party from Punjab, he soon lost his shine due to his prevarication, shifting loyalties and vaulting ambitions. With his inherent abilities, Aitzaz should have been the natural leader of PPP Punjab. But due to his mercurial temperament he lost his credibility in the eyes of the party high command early on.

A little bit of history will be in order here. In the 70s Z.A. Bhutto, who wanted young people to join PPP, inducted Aitzaz into the party. When Chaudhry Anwar Samma, a PPP MPA from Gujrat, was murdered in March 1975, Aitzaz Ahsan was elected ‘un-opposed’ to the Punjab Assembly and inducted in the provincial cabinet in charge of information, planning and development. But he left the party at a crucial time when the PNA started its protest movement against the PPP government in 1977. Aitzaz was third to leave the party, the first being Sardar Shaukat Hayat Khan, followed by Sardar Ahmad Ali, father of Sardar Assef Ahmad Ali. One can understand the betrayal by Sardar Shaukat Hayat Khan and Sardar Ahmad Ali but Aitzaz’s case was different. He was product of PPP and expected to stand by the by the party in its hour of trial. Later he joined Tehreek-e-Istaqlal from where he was reportedly expelled on December 16, 1985 on the charges of self-promotion and self-projection.

Afterwards he made his entry into the PPP through his professional services to the party and having managed forgiveness from Benazir Bhutto. Aitzaz was sidelined by the PPP in recent years because of his role in the lawyers’ movement in violation of the party policy. His membership of the central executive committee was suspended in 2009 and he was excluded from important party activities. Aitzaz however insisted that he would not quit the party that he had invested decades of his political career in.

There are other tidbits in Aitzaz’s political career like his encounter with journalist Christina Lamb who does not have edifying things to say about him in her book, ‘Waiting for Allah - Struggle for Democracy’. The spat with Chaudhry Nisar is still fresh in public memory. But let us not go into these. As they say, you cannot run with the hare and hunt with the hounds at the same time. Secondly, when you belong to a party, it demands total loyalty and unflinching commitment. It seems Aitzaz could not perform for the party as per his initial promise due to his overwhelming personal ambition at the cost of the larger party interests.

The writer is a freelance columnist.