Today, more than 3 decades have passed to the death of Zulifqar Ali Bhutto; however we still haven’t been able to, as a Nation-State, establish his real stature in the character of Pakistani history. Not that for any politician, it is possible to have universal acceptability across the board, nonetheless there are people in the history of humanity, who have been able to get themselves acknowledged from all hues of various sects, and ideologues. People may disagree with their methods, their opinions, but they are unable to deny them their niche in world politics. Politicians or reformists like Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jawaharlal Nehru, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Nelson Mandela all conform to that league of individuals, who altered the course of events, and as a result left indelible mark in the history books. Does Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto belong to that exclusive group of people? This is a question for the political science pundits to answer, however what we can say that even today Bhutto remains the most controversial names in the political history of Pakistan.
For some, he represents the liberator, who, for the first time, made the down-trodden realize their strength. To others he emblemizes a beacon of hope and change, which quickly blew off, once the winds of power blew in. There are people, who think of him as a Pan-Islamic Muslim leader, who had immense foresight, and was capable of uniting the Muslim countries on a single platform. Some qualify him as the first real populist leader of Pakistan, who gave politics of the country its contemporariness, before which it was a vocation only for the elite to be played in drawing rooms. I have met and read about people who believe that had, Bhutto not been assassinated, the condition of Pakistan would have been much better than the nightmare it finds itself in today. I have also come across people, who believe that it was due to Bhutto’s impractical socialist economics that the period of rapid growth and development, which had begun during Ayub’s tenure ended, which makes him the culprit who cut the roots of development, which were expanding fast during the military regime. In between these myriad and heavily guarded points of views lay the real significance of this slain leader, the truth. The purpose of this article however is not to form a consensus across these various shades of thoughts, neither is it to establish a permanent unalterable opinion of Bhutto. It is to rather underscore, the cultural implications of this watershed event. The impact it had on the people. What Bhutto meant to the people.
Having grown up in an environment where hagiography of Bhutto was a daily routine, I still was never able to ever grant any individual that larger than life status. However over the years that I have spend under the shadow of these narrations, I have come across a number of stories, which force me to draw similarities between lives’ of much acknowledged Saints and Bhutto. The first instance of course is his Mazaar at Garhi Khuda Baksh, which could also be called the Makkah of a new religion that may be, coined PPP. Devotees from all over the country fill into this tiny village, throughout the year, and in large numbers during the times of the death anniversaries. All the activities that take place there are similar to the ones that are taking place at the tomb of any Saint.
Around a year ago I was researching for an article that I wrote on Wasti Ram, who’s Smadh still exists, outside the wall of Lahore Fort, facing the Minar-e-Pakistan. I read that during that time period Ravi still used to flow from nearby. Every year the river would inundate causing havoc for the inhabitants of the city. When Wasti Ram (a Hindu Saint) settled at that location, where his smadh stands, the river changed its course. Here a natural event is related to life of an individual, to establish his authenticity as a chosen one in front of the people. I hear a similar story resonating from Sindh, which easily elevates the status of Bhutto from a politician to a Saint, attributed to perform miracles.
The Indus throughout its course was once inhabited by a species of crocodile called Gavial, also known as the Indian Gharial. This reptile has a sleek but long snout, and can grow up to a height of 4.5 m. In mature male Gavials, who are bigger than the counterpart, there is a bulbous mass known as the ghara, right at the tip of the snout. The Indian Gharial, which was unique to South Asia, is extinct in Pakistan. No scientist has seen one for over 25 years now. In 2008 it was reported that someone had seen a Gavial in the Nara Canal, which sprouts from the Sukkur Barrage. As a result, a team of scientists from WWF, which included Dr Masood Arshad reached the spot to confirm the claim. They spend days going up and down the 100 kilometer Canal, during low flow of water but found none. To make sure, they interviewed around 8-10 people from the local fishermen community. The eldest of them narrated that the last Gharial was killed when Bhutto was hanged. If this statement contains any veracity than today also marks the death anniversary of the last of the Gharials. There is no need to point out that this is an apocryphal claim, however the underlining is the cultural tones that this statement illuminates. A larger event is related to the death of a politician, similar to the case in Wasti Ram. My uncle Dr Masood Arshad pointed this event out to me, when I was telling him of another Bhutto story that I heard.
A couple of months ago, I was having a discussion with an Uncle of mine, Tahir Manzoor. He told me that around 1995-6, while he was sitting in the chamber of a lawyer from Gujranwala, Malik Basit, he happened to meet a person, who voluntarily gave up talking after the hanging of Bhutto. The person would only communicate through writing, citing that in a country where a leader like Bhutto can be hanged, there is really nothing much to talk about. My Uncle however had no whereabouts of that person, and neither Malik Basit. It was told to me that the age of that person was somewhere around 35 then. I asked a few PPP people around, but nobody knew about him. I also asked a few people in Gujranwala, but in vain. After much effort I found the number of Malik Basit. Malik Basit, who is a member of PPP still practices law there and has his chamber 152, is in the District Courts Gujranwala. He also has some land in Kot Bhutta, which is nearby. Malik Basit confirmed that this man Abdul Bari Rajput, who belonged to the village of Amenabad, had relinquished talking after the murder of Bhutto. He used to visit his chamber regularly, and would never write until spoken to. He would keep a small pad and a pen with him all the time, and would retort in Urdu anybody’s queries. He would intake minimum food and drink. During the early days of PPP in power, the Health Minister from Gujranwala was Chaudary Ishaq. Abdul Bari was attached to him, as a worker of the Party. Sadly, Abdul Bari recently passed away, and did not utter a word till the day he died.
To Gujranwala, also belonged Parvez Yaqub, aka Parvez Masi, who immolated himself for the release of his beloved leader. He died on 1st October 1978. When Bhutto was imprisoned, there was wide agitation throughout the country, in which students were the vanguards. Universities and colleges were shut down in Sindh. From Lahore, Faisalabad, and Gujranwala, party workers performed self-immolation, of which Yaqub Masi became the first one to die. He was followed by five others. From Lahore, a female Begum Naseem also tried to burn herself outside the Mochi Gate, but she was saved by the spectators. She still lives here.
From Gujranwala, let’s travel to Lilyani, Kasur to meet another fanatic, Rana Muhammad Jamil. He was introduced to me by my friend Iqbal Qaiser. Rana Jamil belongs to a well-off landlord family from Lilyani. His father was a Patwari. All his sons, with the exception of Rana Jamil have well to do jobs in the Government and other organizations. His son runs a successful local business. Representative of his family also are part of the District Council. Even today all of them are loyal to PPP, however in his love and devotion for the party Rana Jamil surpasses all. He is still alive, and roams around the streets of Kasur, with a PPP flag in his hand, and another one draping his shoulder. Still raising slogans in favor of PPP, he openly abuses Zia-ul-Haq, Musharraf, and Nawaz Sharif. This makes him a source of entertainment for the children, and a source of embarrassment for his family. He is known to go to PML-N meetings, where he slurs the party and its followers, which no one, however, seems to mind. Not even the police and the local MNAs and MPAs escape his tirade.
Every year on Bhutto’s and Benazir’s death anniversary he travels to Garhi Khuda Baksh on public transport and attends the celebration there. According to him, he was present in Karachi, when the bomb blast almost killed Benazir. At the time of the funeral he declared his allegiance to Zardari, only if he follows in the footsteps of his predecessors, a trait, he doubts the President has. In his 70s, this man is popular around this area.
Before Bhutto’s assassination, while he was still kept in jail, Nusrat and Benazir Bhutto once traveled to Kasur, to visit the tomb of Bulleh Shah. On their way back, they stopped over at his khoti for tea, a crime for which he was later picked up by the authorities. After being missing for a couple of months, he was found naked in Lahore by his family. He has been mentally unstable since then, which nonetheless has not been able to put away the smile on his face. He narrated to us the following verses:
‘Bhutto Larkane wala
Baba Sewan alea
Zardari nu saai rasta wekha
Baba Sewan alea’
Bhutto ceased to be a politician the day he died. He became a legend, got incorporated into folk tales, myths, and became a cult, a creed, even a caste. Many people use the name Bhutto at the end of their names. This devotion which only increases over time is akin to how many reformers were made Saints after their death. Bhutto already seems to have achieved that level. Therefore to me, it’s not important to establish his right position in history. History is for mortals, and he has broken that barrier. He is part of a legend. No matter what status historians give him, Bhutto would remain to be a source of inspiration for many. For many years to come, people would keep on singing his songs, and narrating the events of his bravery. His devotees would always keep him alive. I am not sure that such myths and legends are attached to the group of leaders mentioned in the beginning of this article, but if they are not, than doesn’t Bhutto even surpass them?