Written by Owen Bennett-Jones, The Bhutto Dynasty: The Struggle for Power in Pakistan provides a fascinating insight into the Bhutto family. It details the influence they had in Pakistan over the years. The book includes unpublished documents as well as strenuous research. Published by Penguin Random House, India, here’s an excerpt.
If Shahnawaz’s first marriage was conventional, the same cannot be said of his second. According to Nusrat Bhutto, ‘Sir Shah Nawaz’s first wife was very old and he wanted to marry again, and he selected a younger woman: the generally accepted story is that, at the age of thirty-seven, he wed Lakhi Bai, an eighteen-year-old Hindu ‘dancing girl’, a phrase often used in South Asia as a euphemism for a courtesan – and while family members are loath to confirm her history, they don’t deny it either. When she converted, Lakhi Bai took the name Khurshid, and she lived with Sir Shahnawaz until his death. But that could not protect Zulfikar from the insults hurled at him as a result of his parentage. A political rival, the nawab of Kalabagh, for example, called his mother’s status into question. And the fact that she was a Hindu, poor and not related meant many Bhuttos considered the marriage scandalous.
For all three reasons, she was ostracised within the family. Salman Taseer, whose biography of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto relied on briefings from the man himself, recorded: In 1924 Shahnawaz had fallen in love with, and married, an attractive Hindu girl who, before marriage, converted to Islam, changing her name to Khurshid. The ‘nikah’ was held in Quetta at the residence of the Nawab Bahadur Aazam Jan of Kalat. Khurshid’s humble origins were anathema to the feudal Bhuttos, and for a considerable period they remained adamantly opposed to the union. Even as a young boy, Zulfikar was aware of this clan hostility towards his mother and her anguish made a deep impression upon him. He never forgot his mother’s mortification at her treatment by the clan.
‘Poverty was her only crime’ he once said and even attributed his own equalitarian attitudes to his mother’s talk
of the inequities of the feudal system. The remark about his mother’s poverty was something Zulfikar returned to in his death cell, writing to his daughter Benazir: ‘Your grand-father taught me the politics of pride, your grand-mother taught me the politics of poverty. But there was in fact another aspect of Khurshid’s story. One of Zulfikar’s fellow feudals in Sindh described helping Shahnawaz secretly book a train in Karachi that took him and his fiancée to their wedding in Quetta. According to Khuhro, she was in a burka and carrying a baby daughter in her arms And there was another issue regarding the family tree that was a deep source of anxiety to Zulfikar throughout his life. Zulfikar believed that his mother was the offspring of, at best, ‘temporary marriage’ between her mother and a well known Sindhi landowner, Sir Ghulam Hussain
Throughout his life, Zulfikar would refer to Sir Ghulam’s descendants as his cousins. When she recalled her grandmother, Benazir said: ‘my grandmother was the offspring of the first marriage of her father. We don’t know much about her family except that when he remarried she was not well treated and was shipped off to look after aunts rather than being looked after.’ One relative recalled that as a student in Oxford Zulfikar lay on his bed bemoaning the fact that ‘people say I am not a real Bhutto’, by which he meant that, unlike his relatives, he was not the product of successive generations of marriages within the family. The issue was so important to Zulfikar that one night when he was a student in London he raised it with his cousin Mumtaz. ‘You people in the family look down on my mother,’ Zulfikar said. When Mumtaz argued back, the two came to blows and had to be separated.
But Zulfikar was right to believe that some of his relatives rejected his mother: when she died, some members of the Bhutto family said she should not be buried in the family graveyard ‘His mother’s background had a damaging effect on him,’ Mumtaz later recalled. ‘He had a deep complex about that which made him more aggressive and intolerant. It affected his character quite adversely.’ Another close relative and admirer of Zulfikar agrees. ‘His arrogance came out against his own class. I know from Sindhi landlords that when he was prime minister and these feudals would visit him, even if only to present an invitation to a child’s wedding, he would keep them waiting in the sun for hours to humiliate them completely. This was his way of fighting back for the way they treated his mother.’
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was very close to his mother, so much so that she accompanied him on his honeymoon with Nusrat – and more than that, on the first night of his honeymoon in a hotel in Turkey, Zulfikar, anxious about his mother’s unfamiliarity with travelling, shared a room with her rather than his new wife. But his concern that he had shakier genetic antecedents than all his cousins left him with a sense of inferiority that he was always fighting. His energy and personal drive arose partly out of his need to prove himself. And his mother affected him in another way. Traditionally, the Bhuttos had quite sectarian attitudes. Two of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s forebears had been accused of murdering Hindus, and his father Shahnawaz had railed against Hindu financiers.
But even if, as we shall see, Zulfikar later failed the Ahmadi minority, in general terms he led the family to become much less sectarian, and Pakistan’s non-Muslim communities looked to it for protection. When they were in power, Benazir Bhutto and, perhaps more surprisingly, her husband, Asif Zardari, adopted pro-minority positions, at least to the extent that the political context in which they operated allowed them to. Dynasties are about attitudes passed down the generations, but successful ones are also able to change with the times and adopt new political values.
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