(On Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s 94th Birth Anniversary, The Quint is republishing this story from its archives. It was originally published on 6 January 2016.)
Friendships, one of life’s most enduring joys, are also notoriously hard to maintain. If time and distance don’t wreak havoc, private jealousies, insecurities and betrayals do. Add a country’s partition, decades of mutual national hostility and ideological differences into the mix, and you have got yourself the story of Piloo Mody and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.
Bhutto, to say the least, is a controversial figure on both sides of the border. But before Operation Gibraltar and 1965, before the Pakistan People’s Party, before the 1971 war with Bangladesh, before the emergency and years of political coups, assassinations, and upheavals, there were two young boys in school, on the precipice of their lives.
On the 91st anniversary of Bhutto’s birth, The Quint recounts his life, in Mody’s words.
‘WAIT, I AM going down!’ were the first words that I ever uttered to Zulfikar Ali Shahnawaz Bhutto. I was ten, and he was nine years sold. Both of us were at the Cathedral Boys’ School in Bombay...Zulfikar was only skin and bones held together by a squeaky high-pitched voice...[After I finished school] I again ran into Zulfikar who helped me quite considerably in passing the time. It was a carefree life devoted to much pleasure. In these hours we thrashed out the problems of the world, formed partnerships and broke them, acquired professions and dismissed them, and generally discussed the politics of the day, which by then had grown to exciting proportions as India faltered forward to independence. When college opened and we had less time for pleasure and politics we made up for it on the weekends and during the holidays.Extract from Piloo Mody’s ‘Zulfi My Friend’
Their Friendship, Their Disagreements
[By 1946] Zulfi was a confirmed follower of Jinnah and I was a confirmed devotee of Mahatma Gandhi. Psychologically, I could never accept the partition of India and could not understand its rationale. Zulfi on the other hand was a great advocate of the two-nation theory and felt that without Pakistan, the legitimate rights and interests of the Mussalman could not be safeguarded...What is remarkable is how our friendship was to deepen and mature in spite of these radical differences and violent arguments. For this, I feel that I must give greater credit to Zulfi. His personal loyalty, his capacity to absorb abuse and anger from his friends, and his refusal to allow such incidents to diminish his respect for them was quite remarkable. This perhaps was the most attractive facet of his personality. A much uglier aspect of his character was his total incapacity to extend the same courtesy to those for whom he did not much care...Extract from Piloo Mody’s ‘Zulfi My Friend’
In Sickness and Grief
In that moment of shock [Gandhi’s death] I felt fatherless, country less and creedless. The next few days were spent in utter despondency. Throughout this period, it was Zulfi who consoled me and nursed me out of my condition, sharing my sorrow, and in commiserating with me, being careful not to say or do anything which would upset me in any way. Eight months later, I did the same for him when Jinnah died in September 1948...Extract from Piloo Mody’s ‘Zulfi My Friend’
Cohabitation in College
In January 1949, Zulfi migrated to the University of California at Berkeley and enrolled as a major in the Political Science Department. He moved into our digs and started sharing my room. [Our new house] became the centre of a great many activities—parties, political discussions and weekend camps. Many nights we would sit up till two or three in the morning discussing politics and economics with whoever was willing to listen...Each year Zulfi kept improving in his studies, doing ever better in his course, reading more and more, broadening his mind and preparing himself for a political future in Pakistan about which he never had the least doubt or hesitation.Extract from Piloo Mody’s ‘Zulfi My Friend’
Zulfi: The Young Ideologue
His attachment to socialist ideas is not a new one, nor did it come about suddenly—or so he claims. He is irritated when I tell him that somehow or the other, he stumbled into becoming a socialist! He indignantly maintains that his commitment to socialism is an old one which found its origins in the grotesque poverty of Sindh, that it is a commitment that stems from human values and from human reactions to the realities of life...Many years later, he was to translate his thinking into the programme and manifesto of the Pakistan People’s Party. It is indeed tragic that his brilliant mind and lucid thinking were to founder on his uncritical attachment to the glamour of socialism and his paranoiac distrust of India. In the foundation papers and manifesto of the PPP is to be found abundant evidence of lucid reasoning in the best liberal tradition, only to be marred by illogical conclusions of socialist affirmations.Extract from Piloo Mody’s ‘Zulfi My Friend’
Zulfi and India
The formative years of Zulfi coincided with the growing and painful divergence between the two countries...Zulfi matured in an atmosphere of passionate and fanatical zeal among the Muslims to prove the viability, necessity and inevitability of Pakistan. That zeal has stuck to him throughout and along with it the fear that Indians would never reconcile themselves to a partition of the country and would forever seek to undo it...Zulfi’s obsession with Pakistan’s security in relation to India arises out of this sense of fear...[and] is the keystone in the arch of his political theory.Extract from Piloo Mody’s ‘Zulfi My Friend’
Bullets and Bloodshed: After 1965
In the atmosphere prevailing after the war, Bhutto’s options were severely limited. He could have continued with the doctrine of confrontation and bravely borne the consequences. He could, on the other hand, change the course of events and give a new lead to a disenchanted and shocked nation...He was humble enough (and to a man of Bhutto’s nature this must be truly galling) to come to India after he had already told the people of Pakistan that they had been badly battered in the war and could no longer afford the luxury of a confrontation with a vastly stronger country...Having known Bhutto down the years, I can state from personal experience that he can be magnificently responsive to even the smallest gesture. I believe, therefore, that he was in earnest when he claimed he desired a just and genuine peace.Extract from Piloo Mody’s ‘Zulfi My Friend’
Mody’s book, published in 1973, ends with a question – “Will Zulfi make it?”– to which the author says a hopeful yes.
Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, tried by the Supreme Court for authorising the murder of a political opponent, was hanged at Central Jail Rawalpindi on 4 April 1979.