By Raza Habib Raja
Tracing Bhutto’s impact on the Pakistani Political, Social and Economic Landscape
I remember going through Stanley Wolpert’s very good book on this enigmatic politician. The first sentence more or less defines Bhutto’s legacy. Wolpert while researching his book on Jinnah wrote that during his stay in Pakistan, he found out that people either hated or loved Bhutto. He also wondered about the amazing contradictions in the personality of this amazing politician. Today, as we stand in 2010, and look back into the strange chequered history of this country, no discussion on politics, culture, economic and social ideology, military and its role in politics, and politicization of masses cannot even begin without ZAB. His contribution and impact has been tremendous. A few may object: why not move on? The world has moved on after all. Why are we time frozen in 1970s? Why cannot we let go of our obsession with Bhutto? This is 2010 after all and we are confronted by so many problems.
Well history in my opinion reveals collective psychology of nations and no discourse on history is ever enough. Whatever we see in our political and social fabric today was sown in the past and understanding of past is a prerequisite for understanding present. And past cannot be understood without discussing Bhutto. Plus in my opinion, he has to be demystified and right balance has to be found in our judgment of him. Frankly he was neither a total villain nor a complete Messiah and this recognition is important both for much needed de-Bhuttofication of PPP and also to pacify needless and often exaggerated opposition against him.
This article does not try to tread the familiar theme of praising or lamenting Bhutto, but tries to evaluate his impact whether positive of negative( depending how positives or negatives are interpreted by the reader) on the course of history in Pakistan. Impact, can be intended or unintended and can be in line with the objective of a particular policy or can at times lead to completely different outcomes. Impact by no means is the sole contributor or the sole causal factor. Impact is the influence of a particular person, policy or action over subsequent events.
So how do we evaluate his influence and impact?
First, Bhutto can rightly be credited with actually creating a mass oriented populist politics in Pakistan. Most important contribution was arousing a collective feeling in the masses that they were definitely a factor to reckon with. He was able to galvanize support and induce street politics and made masses a stakeholder as well as factor to definitely reckon with. His contribution in introducing street politics even transcends his contribution towards formulation of the liberal left. Politics of protest, using people as an effective force to reach to the ultimate objective, effectively started with Bhutto. This kind of politics was subsequently adopted by his opponents and over the years by various parties. Moreover, his styles of oratory and engagement tactics were also aped by various parties and their leaders.
Second, Bhutto is credited for popularizing and in fact assembling left leaning political spectrum into a cohesive electable mass. There is also substantial merit in this assertion although frankly he by no means was an indoctrinated socialist. He was basically a populist who was able to gauge correctly the despair caused by the rising inequalities of the Ayub era and used it to his political advantage. While this had a definite advantage for the genuine socialists initially, as socialism got popular due to him, but subsequently this also became a hindrance. Mindsets generally are the product of the class you belong to. And Bhutto was no exception. Feudal mindset went hand in hand the political acumen and sensitivity. This mindset, despite his adopted ideology, could not change and hindered socialist cause after providing it a break through. The composition of PPP candidates started to reflect increased feudal component over the years and left wing stalwarts like J A Rahim were thrown out and some of the others simply went into oblivion. Bhutto thus contributed towards socialism initially but his feudal background gave rise to conflict of interest. This conflict of interest partly explains as to why land reforms were not effectively carried out while nationalization of industries went overboard. Thus despite conducive environment for land reforms, the landed aristocracy not only survived but subsequently even thrived. Moreover, PPP’s steady descent from originally social democratic party into a strange ragtag of liberal cum feudal ideologies owes a lot to Bhuto’s own background and the way he conducted himself.