By Saqib Saleem Qureshi
It was a first for the youthful Bhutto scion, his maiden protest rally from Lahore to Faisalabad on January 20. But the reception in Faisalabad proved a pale shadow of the past in what was once a PPP fortress. He was flanked by the senior Punjab leaders who were displeased at Zardari’s parliamentary ambitions and desired a proactive role in their province.
The PPP, after the government failed to heed its chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s four demands, decided to hold a series of processions as part of its drive to revive the fortunes of the party in its lost stronghold of Punjab. The four demands were: revival of the parliamentary committee on national security, acceptance of the PPP’s bill on the panama papers, appointment of a foreign minister, and implementation of an all-party conference resolution on the china Pakistan economic corridor. For the first manifestation of this mobilisational strategy.
Considering that this was PPP’s first foray in Punjab since its forgettable showing in the 2013 national elections, others pointed to how the arrogance of the party leaders had annoyed the workers. Differences among the leaders and the defection to other parties of some of those leaders had further disheartened the workers. Until 2008, the PPP won just about every constituency in Faisalabad. But in the 2013 elections, the party suffered a humiliating defeat in a sign of the changed times. On the one hand, there is an argument that the PPP currently should be focusing on rebuilding its grassroots organisation rather than showpiece rallies. And, without the kind of left of centre political programme that defined the original élan of the party,
But Bilawal compensated with hard hitting speeches lambasting to have a dual purpose: ramp up pressure on prime minister Nawaz Sharif over the panama case and re-establish the party as a force to be reckoned with, with an eye on the 2018 elections and demanding acceptance of his four points, vowing to continue his movement till the Sharif ouster and his refrain of ‘go, Nawaz, go’ and ‘Punjab, awake’. His rapport with the party workers was impressive.
But to have any chance of getting anywhere near these goalposts, the PPP has to return to the drawing board. The four demands around which the present drive is centred are unlikely to rouse its demoralised workers, let alone the people of Punjab generally. The demands may have their own importance but they are not about to set off any conflagration in Punjab since they have little relevance to ordinary people’s lives and problems.
The party had given up Punjab as a lost cause as a Sharif stronghold, concentrating wholly on Sindh, using it as a force multiplier in political negotiations and for keeping a high profile in the senate. The contact with activists and sympathizers at the grassroots was broken, potential political friendships and alliances could not materialize and even the irrepressible jiyalas vanished from the public radar.
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