A Feudal Democracy?

bhuuto-and-rajiv-gandhi.jpgThe shock wave following Bhutto’s startling death has earned the Pakistan Peoples’ Party heaps of sympathy. Another article on this very site has the words ‘epitome of liberty and democracy’ conferred on her in the vein of a deserving wreath fit for a charismatic leader, which no doubt, she was. However, such views tousled with pity and shock, seem to be too deeply tied with above sentiments to take a broader review of the affair.

Benazir Bhutto, was a charming and intelligent politician. Several parallels can be drawn between the Bhuttos in Pakistan and the Gandhis here in India. For starters, the very first thing that comes to mind is the demise of Indira Gandhi in 1984, when she was gunned down by her Sikh bodyguards. Rajiv Gandhi, emerged out of the crisis as the undisputed leader of the Congress Party, riding chiefly on the sympathy wave created by Indira’s sudden death. Bilawal, the heir in the making, seems to have been accepted by the party and the party’s supporters on the same account that Rajiv Gandhi managed to harvest. The ‘daughter of Pakistan’, as Benazir called herself, managed to ensure that the new leader of the party was her own son, another ‘chairperson for life’. Aitzaz Ahsan, one of the party’s leaders, one who fought for the restoration of the Chief Justice earlier this year and was widely recognized for his efforts, has been unceremoniously sidelined.

Her ideology too was muddled at times, perhaps purposely kept vague, a sign of the workings of a master strategist. Her first term in power differed radically from the second. By 1993, she had taken an anti India stand, and the period was marked by a steady increase in Kashmiri militancy. She hobnobbed with extremist elements for installing the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, the same category of elements and private warlords that Zia-ul-Haq had employed, and which she had consistently criticized in the strongest of terms. She was dismissed in 1990, and 1996, on charges of nepotism and corruption. Currently, she had revised her stand again, taking a soft and friendly stand towards the Indian government, agreeing to do more to curb terrorism in the valley and even promising to allow access to certain criminals wanted by the Indian government for investigations in several cases. During her tenure, many accusations were made with regard to human rights’ abuse, where many of her opponents were allegedly abducted and murdered. Murtaza’s family, the brother who longed to be the party leader as well, accused her of having a hand in his murder. The most glaring example of how she valued the pursuit of power more than ideals, are the prolonged negotiations she engaged in with the army she always detested, for granting her an opportunity to come back to Pakistan and contest the polls. She did not once respond to the hoarse cries of Nawaz Sharif for both the parties to join hands to fight against Musharaf, preferring to talk to the general on her own terms. Karan Thapar, a good acquaintance of Benazir’s, has said that after Shanawaz, her brother’s death and the assassination of Indira Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi’s plane crash, she commented how both the families were ‘cursed’, admitting the similarities between the two monarchial descents.Though, let no doubt emerge, it’s a fact that a critic’s job is easy, and the environment was always rife with a continuous stream of setbacks for Benazir to deal with. Her father’s death, the religious zealots which gained under Zia’s rule, the suspicious death of her brothers, and the army’s stiff attitude towards her, made it immensely difficult for her to meander through the turbidity of Pakistani politics. It was near impossible for any politician to emerge out of the muddle with a clean slate.

Yet, Pakistan is desperately in need of a determined leader, and parties need to encourage honest decisions within their respective folds, for the shattered population to hope for better governance. For the people of Pakistan, such tomfoolery in the arena of politics would prove disastrous, being done in the name of democracy. The masses are inclined to take the events as the natural course of politics, and would obviously expect little of any new hope that might emerge. Some are even disposed to think that emergency and an army- led government are better and more stable alternatives.

At this juncture, the news of the installation of Bilawal as the party chairman sits uncomfortably in a ludicrous position next to the title of ‘martyr’ and ‘hero’ being used for Benazir, the ‘champion of democracy’ in her time. It’s hard to think how such a party, with its undemocratic selection of chairpersons, is expected to usher in a new era of democracy in the country, itself stricken by the malaise of star worship and fiefdom.

Rashmi Singh