ZA Bhutto Shaheed dared to challenge the status quo

 Shaheed Bhutto's only crime was that he stood for masses, democracy and constitution

Shaheed ZA Bhutto was hanged on April 04 1979 by the military dictatorship of General Zia 42 years ago. On April 04, 1979, the most popular leader of this country was sent to gallows.  General Zia was hoping to destroy both the PPP and the popularity of ZA Bhutto. But he failed on both fronts.

In his time and long since you either loved him or despised him as a demagogue or a populist or a fascist, a socialist or a feudal, a radical or an establishment person or Pakistan’s second Quaid, but a Quaid-e-Awam. He was a true leader of people. He inspired and mobilised millions of working people, layers of middle class and youth. He reflected the radical left wing populist politics of that era.  

He did made mistakes while he was in power. But it is not the day to discuss his mistakes. PPP can learn important lessons from the successes and failures of Shaheed Bhutto. But he sacrificed his life for the cause of democracy and masses. 

No other leader in the history of Pakistan has impacted the politics like Bhutto shaheed. One loves him or hate him, he undoubtedly become part of mass psyche. Despite all the propaganda to demonise him and paint him as a villain, Bhutto is loved and respected by millions in the country.

For more than 50 years, Pakistani politics has been divided between pro and anti-Bhutto forces. Bhutto shaheed is still relevant in Pakistani politics. His charisma and popularity is still alive. Bhutto was a man of intellect, integrity, vision and honesty.

Bhutto’s hanging was a judicial murder carried out on the wishes of a reactionary military dictator. Shaheed Bhutto’s hanging is a black spot on our history.

Bhutto was hanged because he dared to challenge the forces of status quo. Bhutto’s leftwing popular politics caused significant damage to ruling elite who was dominated Pakistan economically, socially and politically.

There was a strong nexus of power consisting of civil and military bureaucracy and traditional right wing politicians mostly rural gentry. Bhutto challenged that nexus of power with the help of working people, middle class intellectuals and poor farmers.  

Shaheed Bhutto was hanged because he dared to challenge the imperialist hegemony and persuaded an independent and sovereign foreign policy.  Pakistan was a close ally of US imperialism since the independence in 1947. Pakistan chose US as its ally in the cold war period.

Bhutto shaheed tried to take an independent position. Bhutto tried to improve the relations with Soviet Union. It was a crime in the eye of US imperialism. America wanted to have a strong pro-US government in Pakistan. Bhutto was not ready to blindly follow the dictates of US imperialism.

Shaheed Bhutto had a vision for Pakistan. It was vision to turn Pakistan into a democratic, prosperous, progressive and strong country. Within a year after taking power, he gives Pakistan a unanimous constitution.

It was ZA Bhutto who initiated many projects to build a solid industrial base in Pakistan. He established aeronautical and heavy machine tool complexes, Pakistan Steel Mill, Karachi Shipyard, Karachi Nuclear Power Plant and its automobile industrial base.

The economic policies of the Bhutto government rested on the premise that the control of the leading enterprises was to be in the hands of the state. It ought to be pointed out that while this policy of nationalisation has been much maligned by critics of Bhutto, his policies were a reflection of the times and of the age in which they were implemented.

Since Bhutto’s rise to electoral success was based on his populist critique of Ayub Khan’s economic policies of functional inequality resulting in the infamous ‘22 families’, issues of redistribution, nationalisation and social-sector development were fundamental to his economic programme.

 Literally within days of taking over power, in January 1972, Bhutto had nationalised 30 major firms in 10 key industries in the large-scale manufacturing sector, essentially in the capital and intermediate goods industry.

In March 1972, his government had nationalised insurance companies, and banks were to follow in 1974, as were other industrial concerns in 1976. In addition to nationalisation, extensive labour reforms were also initiated by the Bhutto government, giving labour far greater rights than they had had in the past.

With the need to break the industrial-financial nexus a pillar of Bhutto’s populist social agenda, in a country which at that time was predominantly rural and agricultural, the ownership of land determined economic, social and political power. Bhutto had promised to break the hold of the feudals (notwithstanding the fact that he himself owned much land) and undertook extensive land reforms in March 1972.

In a speech, he said his land reforms would “effectively break up the iniquitous concentrations of landed wealth, reduce income disparities, increase production, reduce unemployment, streamline the administration of land revenue and agricultural taxation, and truly lay down the foundations of a relationship of honour and mutual benefit between the landowner and tenant”.

The PPP manifesto laid the premise for this action by stating that “the breakup of the large estates to destroy the feudal landowners is a national necessity that will have to be carried through by practical measures”.

The government had decided that the land resumed from landowners would not receive any compensation unlike the Ayub Khan reforms of 1959, and this land was to be distributed free to landless tenants. The ceilings for owning land were also cut from 500 acres of irrigated land to 150 acres in 1972.

Although a lot of propaganda was churned out about the success of the 1972 reforms, the resumed land was far less than was the case in 1959, and only one per cent of the landless tenants and small owners benefited from these measures.

Nevertheless, like labour reforms, tenancy reforms for agricultural workers and for landless labour did give those cultivating land far greater usufruct and legal rights to the land than they previously had.

Along with these structural interventions in the economy which changed ownership patterns and property rights, an ambitious social-sector programme, consisting, among other things, of the nationalisation of schools and initiating a people’s health scheme providing free healthcare to all, was also initiated.

His economic policies lifted millions out of poverty. He provided jobs to millions of Pakistanis. Millions more were sending to Gulf countries which in return raised the living standards of millions of people. Social security was extended to hundreds of thousands of industrial workers.

For more than 50 years, Pakistani politics has been divided between pro and anti-Bhutto forces. Bhutto shaheed is still relevant in Pakistani politics. His charisma and popularity is still alive. Bhutto was a man of intellect, integrity, vision and honesty.

                                                       Khalid Bhatti 


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