Withdrawal of bill hints at existential threat of PPP

The Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP), once reckoned amongst the most powerful street forces of the country and a representative of leftist ideology, faced another debacle on political and ideological fronts when it withdrew a law on January 7, 2017. The law, against forced conversions also known as the Criminal Law (Protection of Minorities) Bill, was pulled in Sindh where PPP runs the provincial government.

The bill, jointly moved by the ruling PPP and the Pakistan Muslim League (Functional) lawmakers, was unanimously passed by the Sindh Assembly on November 24, 2016. The bill recommends that change of religion by a person below 18 years will not be recognized. The bill prescribes severe penalties for persons who forcibly convert others including imprisonment for a minimum of five years and maximum of life imprisonment. The bill was moved by the two parties after increasing complaints about forced conversions of young Hindu girls in Sindh.

The withdrawal of the bill, a ray of hope for minorities in Pakistan, has now added to the sense of insecurity amongst minorities.

In a tweet, the PPP’s young chairman, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, called the bill a landmark achievement. But religious parties rallied against the proposed legislation, calling it an anti-Islam law and threatened to launch street agitation.

The deceased Governor of Sindh Saeeduz Zaman Siddiqui refused to ratify the bill and sent it back to Sindh Assembly with a message to ‘reconsider’ the legislation. PPP insiders say the PPP government has succumbed to pressure mounted by religious groups and agreed to make amendments to it.

According to PPP insiders, a few leaders of the PPP, in a meeting of the Central Executive Committee in April 2014, had proposed that the party revive its leftist ideology to motivate the PPP’s activists and masses. But the co-chairman and former President Asif Zardari rejected the idea calling it old-fashioned.

Politically, Awami National Party, Muthida Qaumi Movement, Pakistan Peoples’ Party and some of the nationalist parties were carrying forward the leftist ideology as an embankment against extremism. ANP and MQM and the nationalist parties had roots in certain provinces while the PPP, one of the two largest parties, had a strong following across Pakistan. But this hasn’t lasted. ANP faced its worst defeat in the 2013 election in KP, while MQM crumbled in splinters in Karachi, the nationalist groups are getting weak in Sindh and Balochistan and the PPP is deviating from its original political philosophy.

Already, the PPP has lost Punjab, the biggest electoral battlefield of the country and the most populated province. Now, Sindh is the only province which can help the PPP stay alive in electoral politics. The leftist supporters of the PPP fears that the rapidly prevailing extremist narrative and groups in Sindh may jeopardize PPP’s existence in Sindh. To ensure its continued existent, the PPP must go back to Bhuttoism, leftism and street politics.

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