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Travelling along Bilawal’s campaign trail


July 5, 2018

It’s a new experience. Travelling from Karachi to up north was something I always wanted to do and when the opportunity came to travel with Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari on his campaign trail, I grabbed it!

But before we hit the road, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Manifesto had to be launched. The Manifesto Committee formed months ago had done the basic work; Bilawal wanted it to be more detailed. Senator Sherry Rehamn and Senator Anny Marri stuck their necks out to help — quite a risky thing on their part; our party, the press and public could have dropped the guillotine if it wasn’t up to expectations.

The work on the manifesto began with sitting for long hours with Bilawal, putting his thoughts and vision into words, cross checking data and numbers, and after endless editing, a draft was ready to be unveiled. The PPP is the only party so far to have presented one and it received a reasonable reception too.

With threats all over, The security team around Bilawal has ensured the young leader follows it to the threadbare detail, something the young Bhutto detests. However whenever he moves, the security convoy shadows him everywhere, calling them the “bubble”. The kind of attention he draws, and the security shadow can get into anyone’s head, making him live in a bubble……..alienating him from the outside world, but he goes out to connect with the people with his polite manners. He does not relect the Wadaira, Khan, Sardar culture which shows his grooming under the hawkish eyes of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto in Britain and Dubai. Besides, I guess being an avid social media follower keeps him in touch with the masses and grounded.

We returned to Karachi the next day and sit down with the Karachi ‘tanzeem’ to fine-tune the details of his visit to Lyari and later with the provincial ‘tanzeem’ to sort out the Sindh visit. Six days from Karachi to Ubaro and then working our way up through South Punjab, the plains and to his constituency in the mountainous Malakand is quite an ambitious campaign goal. Keeping in view that the campaigning ends on 23rd July. Lots of old and new ground is to be covered.

His visit to Lyari started with a ‘hazri’ at Abdullah Shah Ghazi’s shrine, followed by inauguration of his main campaign office in Lyari and speaking to large crowds of workers in different chowks of Lyari. The images of women taking to balconies and roofs was quite inspiring yet distressing also. They certainly have a place outside their homes going about everything a man does. For an Islamabadi like me, diversity in Lyari was quite a treat — from lewa dances to highly competitive donkey cart races.

A minor disruption took place during his visit when baton-wielding and stone pelting group of 15-20 people attacked our caravan. Our workers showed immense restraint, we took a slight detour and were back at the same place within hours. The way this event was played up on the media is a different story altogether.

As I pen these words, we have left Karachi and are on our way to Hyderabad taking dual carriageway to Thatta, Badin onwards. Bilawal is being welcomed throughout by crowds large and small at different spots. By the way, if you are already thinking about the road, it’s pretty good and goes all the way up to Thar.

Guys, believe it or not, Sindh is beautiful! It has a certain kind of depth that is refreshingly mystical and it reflects in their culture. No wonder the Sufis called it their home and their teachings of compassion and tolerance were soaked in by the local lot.

Combine with this Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Shaheed Benazir Bhutto. Their lives and tragic ends have made them part of the folklore. Their names have been changed to Shaheed Baba and Shaheed Rani. ‘Shaheed jo putt’ is how Bilawal is introduced in the ‘jalsas’. Odd to non-Sindhi ears, isn’t it? Frankly, it only leaves one option for young Bilawal: to live up to the expectations. That’s it. He doesn’t rely on written speeches anymore. He’s quite passionate about the “Bhook Mitaao Programme” and “Benazir Kissan Card”.

As we are making our way through, what I’ve found striking is women participation. Not in large numbers but they are there. Walking alongside our truck in towns and villages. Greeting us, sometimes breaking out into a graceful dance. This is something I’ve not seen elsewhere.

We have been on the road for the last 30 odd hours and reached Hyderabad at 6am in the morning. Crowds had been waiting for hours. On average we are 5 hours behind schedule. We left Hyderabad at 2pm in the afternoon, and still three more places left before we hit the bed in Nawabshah.

Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar is Spokesman to the Chairman PPP, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari

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