While Bilawal Bhutto instructed the party leaders Thursday to finalise a programme for rallies in Punjab as part of the Peoples Party’s strategy to prepare itself for the battle in the heartland of the country, analysts were wondering whether his father and co-sharer of the PPP leadership Asif Ali Zardari has actually bailed Nawaz Sharif out from a difficult situation.
A clearer picture will take time to emerge, but the Garhi Khuda Bux speech of the PPP co-chairman on the death anniversary of Benazir, has evoked a mixed reaction. Political scientists appeared divided. Some saw it as a genuine “surprise” which the party leadership had promised for Dec 27, but a great majority looked disappointed by his tone and tenor.
Insiders reported that Bilawal held meetings with party’s top-notch asking them to prepare for elections, but priority should be on organizing rallies in a province, having decisive edge over the remaining provinces of Sindh, KPK and Balochistan. This was in keeping with his announcement to tour the country for support mobilization against the sitting government. The reason is not difficult to understand.
The sheer number of 115 seats in the National Assembly for Punjab has to have focus in any plan or scheme of things for victory in the principal province, both at federal and provincial level. That alone will count in the end.
A strategy for contesting in Punjab, therefore, has to be flawless. Therefore, Party leaders have been asked by their leader to arrange rallies in the central Punjab before looking at the southern part, or the upper regions like Rawalpindi, Gujrat, Murree etc. That automatically raises questions about the kind of role the Party has or will chose for itself.
Zardari’s announcement to opt for parliamentary politics for himself, and son was seen as a plus point. Their presence in the lower house will indisputably raise its stature, but minuses for such a decision easily outweigh the pluses. The terminology of “surprise” has many connotations, could be interpreted either way, but as rule of the thumb, it is taken as “spreading good news”. While it was a “good news” for party cadres, but it poured water on those who, in the backdrop of the hype built by the party, were expecting something dramatic from Larkana.
By its latest announcement that Syed Khursheed Shah, will remain the opposition leader in the National Assembly, PPP has helped settle the dust. Interpreted conversely, it would mean occasional speeches from the father-son combination. Whether these speeches will also be hard-hitting, picking Nawaz Sharif as the main target appears to be the mission now.
It should also be kept in mind that while Zardari did attack Nawaz Sharif directly, labeling him to be a Moghul prince, but his tone was conciliatory, and aimed more at clearing the deck of suspicion which he himself had generated by targeting the army leadership before going into self-exile. He did praise the army as great defenders of the motherland, and also dwelt at length on the Kashmiris plight accusing Nawaz to be unmindful of the barbarism population in the Indian-occupied valley have been facing for years.
But Bilawal in his lengthy address to the rally issued a long charge sheet against Nawaz, using tough language, and threatening to chase him till the success kisses his forehead. Contrary to this, Zardari made it abundantly clear that he did not wish to pull Nawaz Sharif down from authority, but would not spare him either for his follies.
It is also clear that those predicting Zardari to bid good-bye to politics, and rest abroad for treatment etc, were proven wrong. Zardari will now be in and out of the country, shielding himself simultaneously from possible arrest under the protective umbrella of the parliament. That would make Bilawal’s job easier to address crowd at different places, and also concentrate on the re-organisation of the party, whose popularity had been on the wane since after the 2008 elections and plummeted in 2013.
It has to be rebuilt and re-structured now—not an easy job with several dead woods holding key positions, especially in the Punjab. Whether that would happen and when, remains to be seen, but one conclusion is clear. Nawaz Sharif stands bailed out. He is firmly placed in Punjab, and has not done bad either in KP or Balochistan. He must have been a relieved person after listening to Zardari’s Dec 27 speech.