What’s in a name?

The Nation

Humayun Gauhar on dynasty and the Bhuttos

People were hoping against hope that the PPP would take a quantum leap forward by making a break with its dynastic past. Sadly, it couldn’t rise above pleading ‘ground realities’, which often is a copout. So what we saw on December 29 was the coronation of a young boy with his father the appointed regent. The ‘ground realities’ are that the entire subcontinent is riddled with dynastic rule, “because this is something that our illiterate, unwashed, underfed masses understand.” Sure they understand it, because monarchy and dynastic rule is what they knew as their natural system before the British intervention and formal take over of India in 1857.


Our politics (our real politics, that is, whose fulcrum is the people and not the politics of stooges that the British created through whom they ruled the natives in return for titles, fiefs and gun salutes) went underground and mutated into a liberation movement. That is how only some 4,000 British in India at their peak could rule a country of some 300,000 at the time for 90 years. When liberation came our above ground politics had mutated into what can only be called ‘stoogery’. It doesn’t bear saying that the stooge becomes an expert at imitating the master – the classic master-slave relationship. This new intermediary class of stooges were perfect Macaulay caricatures – “English in every respect except for the colour of their skins.”
Our liberation leaders wanted to pursue the creed called democracy no doubt, but politics not having evolved normally in a healthy and free environment, they had no idea about the system that would dispense real democracy – one that improves the human condition consistently and significantly. Neither did they have the imagination to realise that no system would deliver unless it was cast in the native political idiom and inclination. Like all good pucca sahibs, they took the easy way out and simply opted for the system of the master. Is it any surprise, therefore, that not only Pakistan but India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka as well suffer from the deathly throes of dynastic rule. Which is why our politics are still of stoogery, but now stoogery of America in policy but still of England in behaviour.
The PPP simply followed that tradition at a time of great trauma to the party’s rank and file. Its leaders do not have either the intellectual wherewithal nor a native belief system (mouthing western social and political constructs is mimicking, not a homemade belief system or ideology) to risk electing someone either from inside or even from outside the Bhutto family; if not handled with great leadership, sagacity and wisdom, it could have splintered the party. But it underlines the fact that the party’s protestations about democracy are hollow. How can they preach democracy when they don’t practice it? The “democracy is the best revenge” gets reduced to only a hypocritical sound byte. Revenge against whom?” one might well ask. “Democracy is the best revenge against the people” for the oppressor regularly gets ‘elected’ by the oppressed to represent him and take him to salvation. Any wonder it never happens?
The American founding fathers were the only colonials who were different. Their Declaration of Independence is one of the greatest pieces of human writing, despite its errors. They proceeded to fashion a system of their own instead of adopting that of the British. They realised the contradiction in adopting the system of the master that they had just rejected and thrown out. They had revolted against the English monarchy and could hardly be expected to follow suit. They were lucky that their independence came some 81 years before we were colonised and 171 years before we became independent. At that time the Westminster parliamentary system hadn’t evolved to where we found it in 1947. When we adopted the Westminster parliamentary system, initially under, and later by mutilating, the British India Act of 1935 (so much imagination we have!) it perforce had to be rejected by the body politic as alien.
This is why I have always said that the PPP is not so much a party as a cult that needs a Bhutto as its icon. A non-Bhutto could not do it. Thus a Zardari (or whoever) stood no chance even if he was anointed by the outgoing Bhutto. They needed someone who had at least one drop of Bhutto blood in him or her to front the party. Benazir and Asif’s son has plenty. Since he is still young, it gives the regent the perfect opportunity to run the party in his stead. But the problem is that since Bilawal is descended from the female line, his surname belongs to the father in good Christian tradition. That’s true for almost all of us in the ruling elite. So he took (or was given) his mother’s surname as his middle name – Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari. Someone who is familiar with the English aristocracy and its practices placed a hyphen between the two family names and it became double-barrelled. Nothing wrong in that. A child has every right to take both the mother’s and father’s family names, especially if the names are something to write home about, and Bilawal was lacking the one name that was something to write home about. By the same token, a woman has every right to stick to her family name and not take her husband’s name, especially if her family name is also something to write home about. Former Turkish Prime Minister Tansu Ciller’s husband’s name was not ‘Ciller’. It was something else. He dropped his own and took his wife’s family name – precisely because it was something to write home about. It won’t be long before ‘Zardari’ gets dropped from the public mind and simply becomes ‘Bilawal Bhutto’, with the same famous initials as his mother.
Whilst people have every right to do with their names as they please, the point is that in this case it is patently obvious that Bilawal’s change of name was political: to ‘legitimise’ not only his being appointed (not elected) chairman but, most importantly, to legitimise his father as regent. So there is no point in jiyalas getting all uptight and saying that every person shall be called by their mother’s name on Judgement Day. The point here too is legitimacy – the theory behind it is that while one can be certain about which woman bore the child, we only have her word for it as to who fathered it. It doesn’t make woman superior to man in any way, however, nor vice versa.
God, of course, knows everything. He knows all and sees all including what is in our hearts. But human beings being cynical, even God feels the need to satisfy them that His verdict has not been rigged and a person has not been judged for someone else’s doings. Thank God He didn’t allow observers from the Commonwealth Secretariat, the EU, the NDI and all those other clowns to oversee the Day of Judgement, though this is another thing over which its Secretary General can protest vehemently. That is also why God says that He will call our limbs and senses as witnesses, not because He doesn’t know what we have done but to satisfy us that the onus of proof does not lie on the one being judged and that due process has been followed. God is indeed incredible, which is why there are so many who don’t believe in Him. They feel He has a credibility gap because we cannot prove His existence ‘scientifically’!
To be fair, many parties are no different – they preach democracy but don’t practice it. Wali Khan succeeded his father Abdul Ghaffar Khan. He in turn was succeeded by his son Asfandyar as leader of the ANP. Similarly, Maulana Fazlur Rahman took the reins of the JUI when his father Mufti Mahmood died. Nawabzada Nasrullah’s son took over the party from his father and recently Maulana Noorani’s son became the leader of his party upon his passing. Our backwardness, dear friends, lies not in our stars but in our primitive past that we are the underlings of dynasts, warlords and robber barons (and baronesses). Mr Jinnah could easily have written a will nominating his sister Fatima Jinnah as his successor. But he did not precisely he was a genuine democrat. Sadly, this is one more of his traditions that we didn’t take up.
To plead that America too is becoming dynastic with Bush the son becoming president after his father and Clinton the wife trying to become president in the footsteps of Clinton her husband is to miss the point altogether. For one thing, eight years have passed with presidents from other families between each. For another, Bush the son contested for the presidency both times and Clinton the wife is doing the same and having a bumpy ride for it. Sure, a father or a husband as past president can be an asset, but he can also be a liability – baggage. Clinton the wife is facing that problem. Their parties nominate them for the presidential race after gruelling rounds of primaries over two years of campaigning, not a few hours of a sham meeting attended by faithful followers.

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