The word ‘jiyala‘ has come down to become an iconic term in the realm of Pakistan’s populist politics. Almost entirely associated (in this context) with diehard supporters and members of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).
So, who or what is a PPP jiyala and where did he or she appear from; and why can such people only be found among the PPP’s supporters, in spite of the fact that in the last two decades, almost all mainstream political parties have successfully adopted the antics of the country’s first ever purveyor of populist politics, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (the founder of the PPP).
But as a former PSF comrade of mine who quit politics altogether in 1990 recently told me, ‘No matter how much of a distance a jiyala would like to put between himself and the party, a jiyala will always remain a jiyala. It’s a spiritual state, as well as an existentialist dilemma.’
A jiyala is a PPP supporter who is bound to stick with the party or with the Bhutto family’s overriding claim over the leadership of the PPP no matter what state the party is in. He or she would defend it passionately, even fight on the streets and campuses for it, and there have also been cases in which jiyalas have died for the party.
Contrary to belief, especially among the party’s opponents, that jiyalas are ‘blind followers of the PPP ‘ who unquestionably nod at everything that is dished out to them by the party, the fact is that jiyalas have also been some of the harshest critics of the party that they so intensely love.
There have been a number of reported cases in which jiyalas have publicly confronted the party’s leadership over various issues. According to political economist and researcher, Haris Gazdar, the party’s traditional voters remain passive and almost impersonal to the fate of the party when it is in power, but become highly active when it is in the opposition or facing a challenge from the establishment or the opposition.
Of course, the traditional voters of the PPP that Gazdar was talking about – mainly the rural peasants, small farmers and folks from the urban working classes – are not all jiyalas, but this shift from going passive to active in the context of Gazdar’s initial findings is also reflective of the general jiyala mindset.
Jiyalas are at their most active and passionate when their party is in a political or existentialist crises.
My own experience as an active member of the PPP’s student-wing, the Peoples Students Federation (PSF), between 1984 and 1989, facilitated my understanding of the above-mentioned mindset associated with jiyalas.
My close interaction with the party’s leadership and support (in Karachi and the interior of Sindh), in the mid- and late 1980s, saw me being left rather baffled by the way many jiyalasswitched from being daring, impassioned and uncritical activists and street fighters during the reactionary Ziaul Haq dictatorship to becoming either disinterested or severely critical of the PPP leadership once the party was voted back into power in November 1988.