Feisal Naqvi

Weekend at Billy’s

In Uncategorized on December 18, 2014 at 3:39 am

Many years ago, there was a very bad (but highly amusing) movie called ‘Weekend at Bernie’s’. The essence of the plot is that two dopes working for an insurance company are invited by their boss (Bernie) to a weekend at his house. The next day, Bernie gets killed by the Mafia. Since people are just about to show up for a party, and since the boys don’t want to be blamed for his death, they put some mirrored sunglasses on Bernie and prop him up in a corner. Nobody notices that Bernie is dead. And the good times roll on.

I was reminded of ‘Weekend at Bernie’s’ because I recently saw an equally macabre exercise in gratuitous manipulation of the dead. I refer, of course, to the PPP’s recent jalsa and the political ‘launching’ of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.

As my friend Nadir Hassan has already asked, how many times is young Bilawal going to be ‘launched?’ From what I knew, he had already been launched many times over. The whole affair seems to be redolent of a bad Barbara Cartland romance in which the entry of a starry-eyed beauty into High Society is repeatedly sabotaged by evil aunts.

But I digress. To return to the jalsa, if this was all that the PPP had to show for their efforts, I doubt if either the PTI or the PML will be losing much sleep. Yes, there were a lot of people there. But remember, we are talking about a city of 20 million people and an event which was weeks in the planning.

Forget the numbers. The real problem was the vision being peddled.

I happened to be in Karachi a few days before the event and every single billboard on Drigh Road seem to have been commandeered by the jiyalas. On the drive from the city to the airport, I saw at least fifty different billboards. And on each one, the message was this: look at the quality of our dead people! Our dead people are better than your dead people!

I’m sorry if I sound callous. But there is a difference between a political party and a funeral procession. A political party does not inherit votes; it has to earn them. It has to make a bargain with voters about what it will deliver in the future and then actually deliver on those promises.

In any event, telling voters that they owe ‘the palty’ their votes because of the immense sacrifices made by the Bhutto family is a losing strategy. First, banking on gratitude is always a bad idea. Second, the people who might be expected to be grateful are those old enough to have memories of the pre-Bhutto days. In case the geniuses at Bilawal House haven’t noticed, the media age for Pakistanis is less than 25. That means more than half of all Pakistanis barely have any memory of when BB was alive, let alone when her father was alive.

Finally, how many times is this bloody card going to be encashed? Let’s be clear, Benazir may have fought bravely for women’s rights but each of her stints in power was marked by highly credible allegations of massive corruption. And as for the PPP’s most recent stint in power, the less said the better.

Many years ago, I went to the urs (the death anniversary) of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar. I rode there on the top of a train and returned with malaria. In between, one of the more memorable sights I saw was a fat gent in a leopard-skin outfit whose feet were being kissed by a long line of devotees. I was introduced to the portly pir, the guddi nashin of something or the other. It was a moment of perfect mutual incomprehension. He couldn’t understand why I wasn’t abasing myself. I couldn’t understand why people were grovelling before him.

Today’s PPP evokes the exact same lack of comprehension in me.

I know that the PPP has always been big on death anniversaries. For 35 years, jiyalas have gathered on the death anniversary of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. For the past six years, they have also gathered on the death anniversary of Benazir Bhutto. But there is a difference between a party which honours its past and a party which shamelessly and cynically exploits the sacrifices of its leaders. I don’t know when that line got crossed. I do know that this version of the PPP is very far on the wrong side of it.

One could forgive the shameless trolling for votes if the PPP actually delivered anything in terms of governance. But, it doesn’t. In fact, the one thing which emerges from scrutinizing the PPP is that it actually, really, truly does not care what people think. It has become so utterly and completely decadent, so indifferent to the plight of those placed in its care that what happens to citizens does not even remotely register as a concern.

Eight hundred years ago, Ibn Khaldun invented the discipline of sociology in the Muqaddimah, his introduction to a history of the world. What he posited was a cyclical theory of the world in which barbarian raiders from the desert, flush with military vigour, attack a settled and decadent civilisation. Once the barbarians take over, the next generation marks a high point in which the passion of the founders is tempered by the learning of the next generation. Then comes the third generation, in which learning and wisdom is abandoned in favour of the pursuit of pleasure. And as the decadence reaches its peak, a fresh generation of barbarians plans its attack.

The interesting thing about Pakistani politics is that you can easily place our parties on the dawn to decadence spectrum. At least for me, Imran Khan’s PTI occupies the energetic barbarian slot while the PML-N is somewhere past greatness but not yet a hopeless cause. The PPP, however, is beyond debate. It embodies decadence in full Roman bloom, the kind of time when horses are made senators and guests are buried alive under rose petals.

The PPP is not a dead party; at least, not just yet. But it is certainly a dying party. What it needs is fresh blood. Not fresh sacrifices.

This column appeared in The News on 23 October 2014


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