Benazir and India

Compiled by Rohini Mohan 

Benazir Bhutto died a violent and tragic death earlier this week. Educated at Harvard and Oxford, Bhutto was a liberal leader and strong voice for democracy. Her grandfather was from Haryana and she was a keen proponent of bettering relations between India and Pakistan. Which makes this tragedy even more significant at a time when these ties truly need strengthening. Here are some snippets relevant to Benazir and India from news broadcasts around the world.

Manmohan Singh:
“Ms. Bhutto always expressed her feelings that relations between the two countries should be warm.”… “one of the outstanding leaders of our sub-continent, who always looked for reconciliation between India and Pakistan.”…(She left a) “deep impression on our time and the age she lived through. She always wanted South Asia to become a prosperous region in the world.” (Extracted from The Hindu, online edition)

Pranab Mukherjee:
"That she should fall to a barbarous terrorist attack is particularly tragic, and should strengthen our resolve to fight this scourge," Mrs. Bhutto's contributions to democracy, to the improvement of India-Pakistan relations and to the restoration of normalcy within Pakistan will be an inspiration." (Extracted from an article in the Times of India)

Benazir Bhutto and Rajiv Gandhi
“There is a terrible symmetry in the lives and deaths of these two political leaders. Both were the children of powerful people: Indira Gandhi as India's prime minister and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto her counterpart in Pakistan. Together, in 1972, they had negotiated an agreement over Kashmir, but their heirs were never able to build on it. Their respective children, Rajiv and Benazir, had seen those parents suffer politically motivated deaths: Indira murdered in 1984 by bodyguards revenging her attacks on Sikhs, and Zulfikar hanged under the regime of General Mohammed Zia ul Haq in what many Pakistanis consider a thinly disguised judicial execution. Young Gandhi and Bhutto, both killed by suicide bombers, ultimately became the victims of inherited policies. Rajiv Gandhi had tried to put an end to Indian meddling in Sri Lanka and its support for a vicious Tamil Tiger rebellion. He was killed by a Sri Lankan Tamil suicide bomber, a woman who moved toward him to touch his feet in an age-old gesture, then triggered an explosion that blew them both apart. While it is too early to know who killed Benazir, Pakistan's policies on Afghanistan are the backdrop to this tense and dangerous moment. Her father and his successors had supported Afghan rebels in order to become a player in Afghanistan and counter Indian influence in Kabul lately aligning riskily with American policies. Rajiv's mother, whose intelligence agencies roamed the region causing havoc, had set out to weaken Sri Lanka, South Asia's most developed nation.
Benazir Bhutto and Rajiv Gandhi were both campaigning to return to power when they died. Both had been elected, then vilified. She lost support among middle-class Pakistanis for her feudal ways and unwillingness to take on social issues — child labor or the mistreatment of women — or chip away at the power of the military, and was driven from office twice on charges of corruption, much of it attributed to her husband. In India, Rajiv was the perennial butt of attacks from unreconstructed leftists and traditionalists who scoffed at his Westernized style, Italian wife and fresh ideas that rattled the khadi crowd. On the night he died, a policeman told me they had identified his remains by his expensive imported running shoes. Suspicions linger that Gandhi or those close to him may have been involved in illegal payments for arms contracts. (Extracted from “An age of Hope Is Over” By Barbara Crossette, The Nation).

Benazir Bhutto:
“The Indian people will be understanding me well if they think this is a Pakistani leader who wants to build a different kind of South Asia than the one in the past. This is a Pakistani leader who realizes that it’s the 60th anniversary of India & Pak independence and we have to go forward. This is a leader who has worked with the Gandhi family, BJP and is ready to build a new page in our history with Indian leaders”. (Extracted from a Transcript of an interview with New Delhi based television channel CNBC TV18's program)

And finally… Shabana would like to play Benazir
Shabana Azmi was to play Benazir Bhutto in a film to be directed by noted British-Pakistani author-playwright and filmmaker, Tariq Ali. Ali, who had done the popular play The Leopard & The Fox on the arrest and execution of Benazir’s father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, had readied the screenplay for his proposed Benazir bio-pic with Shabana in the lead. And Shabana had begun to prepare for the part, studying Benazir’s body language and also getting the required haircut to look completely credible. But then politics intervened. Because of differences between India and Pakistan, the project was quietly abandoned. A disappointed Shabana had said at that time, "I know I can physically resemble Benazir. Once that’s in place the rest would just follow." Now, almost 25 years later, Shabana is still keen on doing the role. "My God! I still remember the project. I’d love to play Benazir in a film," Would Tariq Ali revive the project? According to a source the talented author has been keen to do the film, and had even obtained Benazir’s permission. Chances are it will be revived posthumously since there’s an incredible amount of curiosity and sentimentality about Benazir’s life. "Benazir has now become a part of the same enduring romance that Princess Diana represents. (extracted from Times of India Online, India Buzz )

3 thoughts on “Benazir and India

  1. Anand

    Let’s not get carried away with eulogies for Benazir because of her tragic death. You may want to add the following to your collection from ABC news online:

    “When Bhutto’s political career began, India saw the canny and charismatic leader as a secular, liberal opportunity: a prime minister who might bring less religion and less militancy to the Indian-Pakistani dialogue.

    But many say that’s not what happened. “She was very directly responsible for the jihad, directly inciting terrorists to intensify terrorism in India,” Ajai Sahni, the executive director of the New Delhi-based Institute for Conflict Management, told ABC News. “I would find it very difficult to find a single element with her relationship to India that is positive and for the betterment of her country or the region.””

    While it is important to be compassionate at such a tragic time, past national leaders also need to be judged and remembered by the actions they took when they were empowered to do so.

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