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Moving Beyond Bhuttoism:​Reconfigur​ing Politics in Sindh

Ever since the hanging of Bhutto, the political fortunes of Sindh have been confined solely to the party he founded, the PPPP, which came to power twice under the leadership of his daughter, the late Benazir Bhutto, and now under her husband, the infamous Asif Ali Zardari. Bhutto has now ironically become a brand, one that can be packaged and repackaged and sold to party loyalists or an affluent feudal or simply, to the highest bidder. Consider how Bilalwal, the son of Zardari, changed his name to include the remnants of his grandfather’s legacy, a move that has secured his political future for the foreseeable future. It is colossally ironic to witness how the PPP has withered into a family heirloom.

Cyril Almedia, writing in the Dawn, captures the gist of the problem:

Bhuttoism may have given the people, the ordinary people of interior Sindh, a sense of self-worth, but did it also brainwash them into supporting a party that no longer has — or may never have had — an interest in their material and social progress?

But it’s also true that Sindh is Bhutto and Bhutto is Sindh. The PPP dominates the political narrative here in a way that no party has or will in the foreseeable future.

So, travelling through Sindh, seeing a society held back, a people still suffering, a ruling class that is distant and aloof, you can’t help but wonder: could the people’s love for Bhuttoism be part of what’s holding them back?

The crucial question emerges: Is Bhuttoism part of the problem, a component of the feudal structure that holds Sindh back, binds it to traditionalism and backwardness, or is the legacy of Bhutto, one of empowerment and consciousness of the masses, of political awareness to hitherto benign and subjugated people. Some contend that Bhutto rules from his grave in Ghari Khuda Bakhsh, that his sacrifice, one of blood and life, has immortalized him in the Sindhi political sphere, in the imagination of the impoverished peasants and laborers. It took me some time to understand the complex and multi-faceted(at times, contradictory) personality that Bhutto undoubtedly was, from his fiery speeches in the Security Council to his sycophancy and fawning of then dictator Ayub Khan, from his role in the breakup and eventful separation of East Pakistan(Idhar Hum, Idhar Tum) to his crucial role of uplifting a de-moralized West Pakistan after 1971 and bringing back the POWs, from his Oxford and Berkeley education and feudal background to his ease of interaction with the ordinary masses. While it is true that Bhutto became progressively authoritarian in his ways (consider the rigged election of 1977), the false murder charges leveled against him and his subsequent hanging remains a blot in the history of Pakistan, in that a democratically elected popular leader was unconstitutionally removed from office. The tragedy of his hanging remains afresh even today.

Bhutto was undoubtedly a complicated individual and so is the legacy he has bequeathed to the nation, and to his native province of Sindh, where politics, even today, revolves around him, his very name. The people still love him, after all these years; the man who promised them Roti, Kapra and Makan, the one who electrified a crowd of millions with his speeches and eloquence, who told the peasants and laborers that they too had dignity and rights. And yet if Sindh has to progress, it would have to detach itself from the memory of Bhutto, from his promises, his eloquence, his brilliance, as painful and difficult as that might be. The present generation of leaders are merely exploiting the name of Bhutto for their own bigoted political interests, to finance their exotic lifestyles, to plunder the exchequer. Politics in Sindh remains mired in an advanced state of stagnation and degeneration, owing to the emotionalism that is tied to Bhuttoism, as has been witnessed over the past three decades, with the PPP emerging victorious in spite of its dysfunctional and corrupt character. The complete absence of an alternative political voice for the Sindhi people accounts for the near monopoly enjoyed by the PPP in the political arena. Sindh would have to forget arguably it most favorite son and the populace would have to bury him finally in their collective imagination and do away with the slogan-Zinda Hai Bhutto Zinda Hai. Let him, for once, rest in peace.

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