Young Bilawal Zardari Bhutto has apparently learned from foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar’s veni, vidi, Gucci charm offensive last year. Less is more.
Here is what we already knew about the Pakistan People’s Party’s dashing young chieftain before he set foot in India. He is 23, his first language is English, and he studies history at Oxford. He might be a rather bookish young man with Armani glasses and shy demeanour but he also likes horse riding and has a black belt in taekwondo. His name was changed from Bilawal Zardari to Bilawal Bhutto Zardari though somewhere along the line it seems to have flipped to Bilawal Zardari Bhutto. His father also decided not to become the chief of Zardari tribe and passed that ceremonial mantle to the son.
Now here’s what we learned about Bilawal after his India jaunt.
He is a modern young politician. On his first visit to India, he came, he saw and he tweeted. He tweeted from the moment he touched down in Delhi. “AOA India peace be with you. I have just landed in Delhi. 1st ever visit.”
He has a politician’s gift for talking without saying anything. As in this “revealing” tweet about his lunch. “Prez n I enjoyed Lunch with Rahul Gandhi and PM Singh. lovely meal. much to learn from each other.”
He understands that despite what his courses at Oxford might teach, over here history is a family heirloom and must be treated as such. “SMBB also accompanied SZAB to India.” This is for those in his 14,000 tweeple who were not yet born when 19-year-old Benazir (Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto) accompanied her father SZAB (Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto) to India for the Shimla accord.
That’s cute. Mother is SMBB, Daddy is Prez.
He is ready for higher things but not over eager. Like a good desi munda, he stood a few steps behind his father, clearly proving all those foreign years had not corrupted his manners. However his positioning right behind the Prez and the PM during their interactions did raise a few protocol eyebrows. “It was extraordinary, and not a little curious,” opined Deccan Chronicle, asking “was introducing Bilawal the aim?” Umm, yes.
He can play the equivalence game. India might trumpet its GDP, its democracy, its development to get out of that dang India-Pakistan bracketing but Bilawal knows how to pull it back in there. With charm. As in “My mother once said there is a little bit of India in every Pakistani, and a little Pakistani in every Indian. So true.” Or “It is a shame that 2 countries with such large segments of our population liv(ing) in desperate poverty must spend so much on weapons.” In short, we are sisters under the skin and don’t you forget it. Aah, killing us softly with a tweet.
He can play the young idealistic peacenik, still unsullied by the realpolitik of nasty issues like Kashmir. (There was a report that Kashmiri gushtaba was on the menu but that was untrue.) Bilawal got to tweet instead about investing in health care and education and business, rather than on weapons. Why the n-race? Indeed. Why? Talk is cheap. In fact, why talk when you can tweet? It is the easiest way to build up your brand as the great young hope of Pakistan.
He can pull at heartstrings. He played the mother card beautifully. The image of young Bilawal getting “sukoon” (solace) from looking at his mother’s handwriting in the guest book at the dargah in Ajmer was just right. “He was so happy to see his mother’s handwriting,” said Zeeshan, the son of the Bhutto family khadim. Another unnamed source told the media that when he laughs, he carries “shades of his mother.”
He did not change his black Pathani suit and white salwar and black snake leather finish shoes even once all day unlike Ms Khar’s frequent change of outfits. “Pathani & poise carry Bilawal’s day” gushed The Telegraph. And this despite a “hot day in Delhi and Ajmer.” “At the shrine of the Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti in Ajmer in Rajasthan, Bilawal did not bother to change clothes despite the blistering heat,” said Zee News approvingly. Obviously, that shows something in a young man being groomed for higher things. It’s unclear what (stoicism, unassuming confidence, or deodorant?) but it’s clear he knows politics is all about that close-up on television. Hence that hot pink turban and the embroidered scarf around his neck to add a flash of colour. He also avoided our filmstars and politicians’ penchant for designer sunshades despite the blazing sun thus guaranteeing a smiling close-up in every Indian newspaper this morning.
Of course, for us in India, the whole exercise was scrutinised as a way to compare our Prince Charming against their Prince Charming. The khadim at the Ajmer dargah told Hindustan Times “Bilawal looks like the Pakistani version of Rahul Gandhi… he is a soft spoken version and a thorough gentleman.” It’s unclear whether that’s the comparison Bilawal was after but it was unavoidable at the lunch of the scions. “There was a lot of parallel conversation happening around the table, especially between Rahul and Bilawal,” an obliging source told The Indian Express.
However given the almost two decade age difference between the two “young Turks”, the actual conversation might have gone like this quipped the satiric FakingNews.
Bilawal says, uncle please pass the achaar.