By Maleeha Manzoor
In a society that was stuck in the morass of misogyny, where women were surrounded by strangling mediocrities, a young woman emerged as the strongest and the most powerful: Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto. Muslim World’s first female Prime Minister, who broke all the barriers refuting the anti-woman narrative and paved way for all the female achievers, once caged in the prisons of patriarchy.
Not for the women alone, Benazir Bhutto rose as the hope to countless of the poor and destitute. A saviour to the marginalised who were subdued under dictatorship post the assassination of her father Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Pakistan’s undisputed leader who preferred to accept gallows but didn’t bow down before usurpers – for a people’s love; for country’s honour. He continues to be eulogised decades after his assassination.
“What gift can I give you from this cell out of which my hand cannot pass? I give you the hand of the people.” – writes Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in a birthday letter to his daughter Benazir Bhutto from his death cell on June 21, 1978.
BB was the father’s daughter. She held the people’s hand. Bhutto’s legacy as her raison d'être, she fought for democracy, for emancipation of masses till the last breathe. Inherited the prowess to woo popular support from her father, she ruled over the hearts of millions. Such deep-seated was her connection to the people that no exiles could keep them away, 1986 and 2007’s grand receptions remain unequalled in Asia’s political history. But BB’s rise to becoming Pakistan’s greatest political hope was not a piece of cake; it was a trial by fire.
In 1977 when tragedies befell Pakistan and its elected government was overthrown, BB was only 24. She was placed under house arrest as she returned home after completing her studies. Bhutto’s dismissal landed the young Benazir on a hard road and the PPP in dire straits.
Under the worst of the dictatorial regimes governed by the law of the jungle, where human rights were a fiddling little affair, BB had to fight for her father’s life and later on, for the PPP’s survival. During Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s homicidal trial and after his execution, BB was faced with a lot of challenges from within and outside. She along with Begum Nusrat Bhutto was left unescorted by the powerful political elite that once enjoyed perks during Bhutto regime. To change things outside, the biggest challenge for the young Bhutto was to first put her own house in order.
Apart from breach of trust by party leaders, she had to run the gauntlet of some egocentric elders. The New York Times in 1986 quoted some of her colleagues that she refused to be treated as a mere face to the campaign, asserted her command to lead instead. And what strengthened the BB-led PPP the most was her credence in workers’ loyalty. As she fielded young loyalists on important positions, the party workers backed her, the ministers and uncles did not – nor did she care about them.
BB was told that she could not win an election, that she didn’t know the language of the people. Nevertheless, she brought all her opponents’ claims to naught. The Oxford educated proved that she might be new to the political environment but was well acquainted with her roots; that she might not speak people’s language initially but knew their music.
Within a few years, she took party to a position where people would believe that even if a pole is given the PPP ticket, it would win. To quote two big examples of transfer of power from political elite to workers: the feudal lord and spiritual leader Pir Pagara was defeated by a PPP commoner Pervaiz Ali Shah and Mumtaz Ali Bhutto, ZA Bhutto’s cousin and his former aide, lost elections to a BB’s candidate Deedar Hussain Shah, who had once served as his manager. Her art of political war was her penchant for positioning the educated young people against the mightiest.
This day marks the 64th birthday of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto. More than 9 years have passed since her assassination but the party is somehow unable to grasp biggest of the popular support, and rightly so. The juxtaposition drawn between current popularity of other parties and the PPP’s is unmerited. PPP has not only survived the assassination of its leading figures but has also arisen to eminence in the political realm every now and then. Is it possible to imagine a PMLN and a PTI without their main leaders?
Today, the hullabaloo over defections is same as 80s. Bilawal Bhutto is confronted with many challenges similar to BB’s – he is living in better times though; living in a democracy restored with his mother’s blood where no political leader has to stay in the blazing hot Sukkur jail in political vendetta like she did. Critical opprobrium against him too is on the account of his young age and his first language etc. But he has this whole legacy of his mother to follow, which provides him best of the solutions to overcome crises. Empowering workers whilst giving no fig to the desertions and committing to not let them re-enter, prioritising loyalists over turncoats, making everyone abide by party policies, instilling faith into the workers – this is the BB Shaheed’s strategy.
BB was not concerned about the political elite. In an interview she said, “all ministers who betrayed us, people who made hay while the sun was shining. I decided I didn’t want such men around me, ever.” If the picayune reneging of party members had to matter, BB would not have re-emerged after sitting in the parliament with only 17 members in 1997, nor had she sustained betrayal of infamous party leaders elected on PPP tickets landing in Musharraf’s lap in 2002.
PPP has survived everything. What this almost fifty year old party will not be able to survive is the deviation from its ideological basis and that is out of question as long as the workers remain. PPP’s power headquarters lies among its ideological workers for BB gave them this empowerment; she is the lifeline of this party. She breathed oxygen into PPP with her sacrifices. She connects the third generation of the party to the first, links Bilawal Bhutto to Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. She is still the rescuer and what can make this party the most popular again, is the SMBB’s way of running the PPP.
BB’s son, like his mother, has the savoir faire to represent Pakistan internationally. He has inherited the same affection for masses; he too has his heart in the right place. PPP is undergoing an extensive reorganisation process under his watch and he has been personally interviewing every single candidate. With sheer commitment to mother’s cause, he is trying to connect to the masses. If the facts are not resented out of prejudice and if the history tends to repeat itself, then the party is not over yet - the party has just begun…
This snippet from SZAB’s letter to his warrior daughter should serve as the motivation for the young Chairman and all the supporters:
“I believe I still have a role to play. I believe people still want me on this stage, but if I have to bow out, I give you the gift of my feelings. You will fight the fight better than me. Your speeches will be more eloquent than my speeches. Your commitment equally total. There will be more youth and vitality in your struggle. Your deeds will be more daring. I transmit to you the blessing of the most blessed mission.”