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Pakistan poll 2018: The tale of Pakistan People’s Party has been like India’s Congress

By Shubham
|

Although the two countries have much dissimilarity in their political systems and functioning, yet the democracies in India and Pakistan also have a common feature and it is about the decay of their oldest political parties - the Indian National Congress (INC) and Pakistan People's Party (PPP), respectively.

Pakistan poll 2018: The tale of Pakistan People’s Party has been like India’s Congress

Pakistan is nearing its national and provincial elections on July 25 and the country, which has seen just two civilian governments completing full tenures of five years, will be hoping that its democratic stability continues uninterrupted despite the political chaos it is witnessing at the moment, thanks to the instability in the ranks of its last ruling party - Pakistan Muslim league- Nawaz (PML-N).

However, unlike in the past, the democratic tussle in Pakistan now is no more confined to the PPP and PML-N and rather a contest more between the PML-N and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf or PTI led by cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan.

The PPP has clearly seen a slide in Pakistan's politics today although it was in power as recently as 2013. Just like the INC, the 132-year-old party in India, has been reduced to a pale shadow of its former self in Indian politics, the 50-year-old PPP - Pakistan's oldest political party - also has been just a regional player now, limited to power in the southern province of Sindh.

But what is the reason behind the PPP's fading significance in Pakistani politics?

Like the Congress, PPP has been a dynasty-dependent party

Although the PPP called for an event last December to commemorate its 50th anniversary, there was a clear sense of hollowness. The PPP had once united the poor and the working classes of Pakistan, striven for socialist governance and had a charismatic leadership - first by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, then by his daughter Benazir Bhutto and currently under Benazir's son Bilwal Bhutto Zardari. The dynastic appeal of the party was as deep as it was in case of the Gandhis of the INC.

But just as the INC's received a severe setback by the assassinations of Indira Gandhi in 1984 and her son Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 - something which had seriously crippled the party's leadership till Rajiv's widow Sonia Gandhi emerged as a stable leader - the PPP also got serious blows by the deaths of Zulfiqar, who was hanged by army general Zial-ul-Haq in 1979, and Benazir, who was killed during a campaign in 2007.

Like Indira and Rajiv in India, Zulfiqar and Benazir, too, had served as the prime ministers of Pakistan.

Today, the PPP is just an also-ran among the political forces of Pakistan, far off from the power and prestige it had once enjoyed and its decline under the dubious leadership of Asif Ali Zardari, the tainted widower of Benazir, has been steep.

Rise of other political players has made it more difficult for PPP

After its heavy defeat in the 2013 elections, the PPP's stature has been further reduced and today, its influence in the parliament is limited to the province of Sindh. Besides, the rise of the PTI of Khan has made it more difficult for the PPP as the youths and workers have accepted Khan's leadership as one with more prospects. In India, the story of the INC which was last in power in 2014, is almost identical.

The PPP had once given hope as a centrist force in Pakistani politics, just like the INC in India, which could stop the country from leaning towards extremism of any form although policies adopted by leaders like Benazir Bhutto in the past were questionable at times. But its populist slogans like "food, shelter and clothing" for all still made it a popular one, as was Indira Gandhi's INC which had once laid stress on "Garibi Hatao".

Assassination of Benazir Bhutto was a deadly blow for PPP

But the assassination of Benazir at a time when she was trying to make a comeback into politics as the military-backed rule of the Pervez Musharraf era was nearing its end, gave a deadly blow to the PPP just as the killing of Rajiv in 1991 had done to the INC. Rajiv, too, was in the hunt for his second premiership when he was killed by a suicide bomber in Tamil Nadu.

Asif Ali Zardari neither had a goodwill image nor the grassroots connection, let alone his father-in-law and wife's charisma, and his presidency between 2008 and 2013 only saw the PPP's popularity dwindling father and its eventual loss of power.

Bilawal Bhutto, just like Rahul Gandhi, hasn't succeeded so far

The 29-year-old Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the current chairman of the PPP, has been the hope of the party's loyal supporters to resurrect its fortunes, but logical thinking doubts whether the man can really make any difference now, particularly when a lot of other players in the country's politics have become assertive - including Khan's party and the Justice Movement.

A similar development has also been seen in India where the successor of Indira, Rajiv and Sonia - Rahul Gandhi, 47, has failed to tackle the challenge that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ruling BJP has thrown at him. As the vice-captain and captain of the INC, Rahul is yet to produce a single victory, leaving his century-old party in a hopeless state.

As dynasts, both Bilawal and Rahul have lost their grassroots connect and the vacuum has been filled in by more assertive leaders. Both these leaders have remained largely inexperienced till they found themselves burdened with the expectations of dynastic succession.

Both parties need to reinvent themselves

Their parties have more depended on the appeal of the dynasties/families and the sympathy but in today's times, that will not help resurrect the fortunes any more. Like the INC, the PPP also needs fresh new political and socio-economic programmes to convince the voters and also mobilise support of the younger generations through effecting tangible changes. Modi and Khan have fulfilled those expectations and hence have emerged as more popular leaders in India and Pakistan, respectively.

The democratic records in India and Pakistan have been different but the trajectories of the INC and PPP have been almost identical.

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