The curse of pulao politics-by Sardar Mumtaz Ali Bhutto


I propose that the term pulao politics be incorporated into Pakistan’s political parlance. It aptly describes the reality that there is absolutely no ideology, principals, truth, loyalty and honesty in our politics today and a person with the most abominable record may be voted into power. Pulao politics was most effectively practiced during the Raj by the elite of India in winning the favours of the hated Gora Sahib. It started with a lunch or dinner invitation to the Gora Sahib by a Raja, Sardar, Pir, Mir, Khan or Chaudhry. The Gora Sahib turned up to a dazzling reception at the host’s home, and a banquet to beat all banquets. This was accompanied by all deep bows to the guest and other forms of obsequious behaviour by the host.

This, of course, did not alter the underlying hatred towards the colonial masters and those who smiled had mischief in their hearts. Such greasy deception and manipulation must be called pulao politics, which remains an indispensible device in our country now.

We have had periods in our history when leaders have done us proud. There was the great Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, whose lofty ideals and principles did not allow for pulao politics. We have also had Liaquat Ali Khan, Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy and Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, whose intellect, erudition, sophistication and genius elevated Pakistani politics to a standard of excellence. It was the advent of Zia-ul-Haq with which politics really nosedived into pulao politics, which is at its slimiest today.

Hallelujah! We have Asif Zardari as president of Pakistan. But what are his credentials? None, except his marriage to Benazir Bhutto. What are his achievements? Jiyalas insist he has saved Pakistan by saying “Pakistan khape” in answer to the slogan “Pakistan na khape.” Is it so easy to save, or to break, Pakistan?

What is his reputation? The record contains four murder cases and 13 corruption cases against him, in which he could not prove his innocence in 11 years and feigned illness to avoid appearance in court, thereby prolonging the proceedings. He has now escaped conviction through the unconstitutional and immoral NRO, which has turned out to have been an instant cure for all his illnesses. However the Surrey Palace case stands proven, together with the Swiss money-laundering cases, in which 60 million dollars have been unearthed. His assets abroad are estimated at least two billion dollars, without any visible source of income.

What are his capabilities? He is a master of pulao politics who wins favours by prostrating himself before those he seeks the favours from. In her book Daughter of the East, Benazir states that her marriage was not based on love. She agreed after a great deal of pressure from her mother and aunts and Zardari’s unending pursuit of her over a long period. He showered her with gifts of mangoes (a popular way with waderas to start a romance), flowers and chocolates. One day she was stung on the hand by a wasp and Zardari got hysterical with concern, compelling her to go to hospital. He manifested all the qualities of a caring follower who would be happy to play second fiddle, a position in which most other suitors would be reluctant be.

What are his qualifications? Eleven years in jail. It is conveniently concealed by hangers-on that he was in for murder and corruption, and not for any service to the people. If being in jail in criminal cases is a sacrifice for the nation, then there are thousands who are far better qualified by virtue of having been in for much longer periods. In any case, the prisoner mostly received VIP status, with the time spent in a five-star hospital with vast freedoms and privileges.

What is the secret of his success? “Charm.” It is not the charm of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, nor the magic of Bhutto’s eloquence. It is the art of pulao politics, of which the late Jam Sadiq Ali was the undisputed master. Lavish hospitability and flattery being the essence of pulao politics, it served to keep Nawaz Sharif lingering in the coalition, make Asfandyar Wali abandon Pakhtoon nationalism, roped in the always willing Maulana Fazlur Rehman, offered a lifeline to the MQM, which cannot survive without being linked to the government of the day, made Pir Pagaro abandon the GHQ and cave in at the last moment, offered Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi a chance to exercise his preference of being on the side of every government that comes.

Perhaps the best example of pulao politics is the much trumpeted practice of “reconciliation,” which is nothing more than an invitation to sit at the sumptuous feast of power and grab a share rather than remain distant and go hungry. It does nothing for the people but works wonders for the participants while it lasts. One simply has to be in government, or as close to it as possible.

This is all very well as long as it works but pulao politics does not exclude stabs in the back from fellow participants. The PML-Q’s results in the presidential election have shown us how a party can be abandoned by its members. On the other hand, those who fell over each other in their haste to vote for Zardari manifested how a prospective winner may become the focal point for power hungry punters. Quite often the media, perhaps tongue in check, calls upon Asif Zardari and even Shaikh Rashid to share their political wisdom with the ignorant masses and out comes the philosophy that there is no last word in politics, that political commitment and declarations are not sacrosanct or binding. Nafisa Shah has said in an article published in this newspaper on Sept 9 that politics and morality are two different things without a nexus. This is quintessential pulao politics.

Zardari has been running the government since March 18 and has found himself to be way out of his depth. He and those around him have shown no ability to deal with or even comprehend the existing problems and have helplessly watched with their mouths open with the surge in lawlessness, non-availability and rising prices of basic food items, corruption and all the other evils which bring the desperate masses out on to the streets. The government’s repeated laments that these problems have been inherited only emphasises its lack of capacity to deal with them. Such failure, over which there is much disappointment even within the PPP rank and file, creates serious apprehensions. Then there is the fact that pulao politics is not going to be enough to sustain the inarticulate and unqualified Zardari in international relations and liaison with world leaders, We have seen the better equipped prime minister become a laughingstock in Washington during his first visit abroad. Now we shudder at the result of Zardari’s upcoming visit to China. Of course, there are many shoulders available to the president to lean on (although too much Sherry causes nausea). Nevertheless, a person on the pedestal on which he finds himself must have the strength to keep standing as a man. Unfortunately such is not the case.

However, the die has been cast and the sinking ship of the fifth-largest country in the world is caught in the storm of pulao politics, with the shore not in sight. When asked by a journalist whether he had voted for Zardari, Makhdoom Amin Fahim reportedly said yes, adding that he had to live to see this day. Makhdoom Sahab, the 160 million people of Pakistan have lived to see this day.

The writer is chairman of the Sindh National front

The News, 11/9/2008

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