By: Atiya Naureen
Bilawal Bhutto has returned to active politics in Pakistan. However, the PPP co-chairman has begun to sound more and more like PTI chairman Imran Khan. Addressing the closing ceremony of the celebration of the PPP’s Foundation Day in Lahore, Bilawal promised that the Sharif brothers would either be in jail or in Saudi Arabia in 2018. Replicating Khan’s threats through the summer, Bilawal has promised to lead a long march against PM Nawaz Sharif after December 27 if his four-demands are not met. He promised elections next year, a return of the PPP to each province in Pakistan and a vague ‘Dama Dam Mast Qalandar’. He has predicted elections in 2017, and his fantasies include him as our prime minister and his father Asif Zardari as president. Bilawal is now the undisputed leader of the party and his words have weight. Should his advisers continue to push Bilawal to make statements like this, he will not be taken seriously and his political career will be stillborn. Sloganeering is the easiest part of politics. It is much more difficult to mobilise society and make a dent on electoral politics. This is the challenge that both Bilawal and the PPP face. Right now, Bilawal is not showing he is mature enough to lead the revival of the PPP as a party of national standing. He needs to be able to chart out his own agenda. If Bilawal is attempting to return the PPP to its social democratic roots – and this is a big if – it will have to be more than unoriginal sloganeering. Slogans need to originate from the real concerns of the people of Pakistan.
Since 2013, the PPP has been decimated in Punjab, supplanted by the PTI as the second largest party not just to the PML-N in Punjab but to the MQM in Karachi too. Bilawal spoke of democracy coming to conquer Punjab but it is hard to see how he can be the knight in shining armour when his party has done nothing to win over Punjab, or any other part of the country. It did recently make a host of changes in its Punjab leadership, painted as an attempt to sweep out old feudal figures and replace them with ‘modernists’. But it needs to go far beyond that and show that it is capable of understanding the needs of the people. For that, Bilawal will have to truly venture out of the fortress that is Bilawal House and show that he is a man of the people. He will have to come out of the shadow of his own party’s old guard. Chief amongst the old guard is the shadow of his own father whose five years managed to erode the support base of the PPP throughout the country.
Bilawal Bhutto may have inherited his political position but he can’t build politics as an inheritance. The PPP cannot take anyone for granted and expect to waltz into power, especially not since most of its electoral problems are of its own making. He should also focus on restoring governance to his party’s government in Sindh, which has not won many laurels in such matters. It is here he has to make a political, practical case first. Yes the situation is that bad for Bilawal’s party.