The whistle-stop campaign


Saving Murad Ali Shah

The seminal whistle-stop campaign was conducted by Harry S Truman when he was running for re-election as US President in 1948. PPP Cho-chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari is not really following suit in his ‘Train March’, for he was going only from Karachi to Garhi Khuda Bakhsh in Larkana on Tuesday to attend his grandfather’s birth anniversary, rather than the length of the country, and he is not running for office. However, the overt purpose of the ‘Train March’ is to raise awareness on the issues of inflation and economic mismanagement by the PTI central government. Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry has tweeted that the march is designed to save PPP Co-Chairman Asif Zardari, who has been questioned by the National Accountability Bureau, as has Mr Bhutto Zardari, about his connection to the Omni Group. However, more relevant to the March is the questioning of Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah in the same case, not so much because of Mr Shah’s guilt or innocence, as because of the threat posed to his government by the PTI.

Because the elections threw up a solid majority for the PPP, the only path to toppling the Shah government would be for the PTI to create a forward bloc within the PPP parliamentary party. It is perhaps no coincidence that the ‘Train March’ will pass through a large number of PPP constituencies. Not only will the presence of Mr Bhutto Zardari firm up voters, but his ability to draw crowds will dissuade any waverers from deserting. This will be a more valid motive for the move, rather than whipping up sentiment against the government.

Such sentiment is inevitable, considering the IMF conditionalities which the government has accepted, most notably a precipitous devaluation of the rupee. The argument that the government deserves more time is also wearing thin; it must now accept responsibility for the situation. It is probably not meant to save anyone from court cases. As Nawaz Sharif’s example has shown, investigating agency and court proceedings are not influenced by manifestations on the streets. The PPP must be aware of that, so this ‘Train March’ does not represent an immediate threat to the government, though its long-term consequences may be momentous.