April Issue 2008
A Man of Principles
After outclassing party bigwigs like Makhdoom Amin Fahim, Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar, Yousuf Raza Gillani has the distinction of being the first non-Bhutto prime minister of the Pakistan Peoples Party. Gillani’s elevation to the post of prime minister comes after two decades of loyal service to the PPP. Since joining the party, he has been a steadfast supporter of the Bhuttos and is known to be a close friend of PPP co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari. According to the PPP sources, Gillani was the only senior leader of the party not to pressurise Zardari to make him prime minister. “It is this that assured Zardari that he will not create problems for him in the future and will quietly step aside if Asif Zardari becomes an MNA and, therefore, eligible for the post of prime minister,” say the sources.
Khalid Ghurki, a PPP leader from Lahore and a close friend of Gillani, for one, believes that Gillani is the best man for the job. “He is a man of principles, which he proved many times when he was speaker of the National Assembly and when he refused to cut a deal with the establishment to get out of jail.” According to Ghurki, Gillani is capable of solving all the country’s problems, such as strengthening government institutions and tackling terrorism, inflation and the power crisis.
Politics has been in Gillani’s blood since the day he was born. Gillani was born in June 1952 to one of the most prominent and influential families of southern Punjab. A descendant of Moosa Pak Shaheed, a highly revered saint of Multan, Gillani is also related to Pir Pagaro, Makhdoom Hasan Mahmood of Jamaldinwali in Rahimyar Khan and the Gillanis of Hujra Shah Muqeem in Okara. In 1921, Gillani’s great grandfather’s brother, Syed Rajan Bux Shah, was elected to the Indian Legislative Council and remained a member till his death in 1936. The Gillani family joined the All India Muslim League in 1940 and in 1946, Syed Mohammed Raza Shah Gillani, a cousin of Gillani’s grandfather, defeated the Unionist Party candidate Makhdoom Murid Hussain Qureshi, who, ironically, is the grandfather of Shah Mehmood Qureshi. Gillani’s father, Alamdar Hussain Gillani, served as a provincial minister in the 1950s, while his uncle Makhdoom Hamid Raza Gillani served as a federal minister in 1977.
A tall, soft-spoken man, Gillani has a long history of defeating political heavyweights since he first joined politics as a member of the pro-Zia Pakistan Muslim League in 1978. In 1983, Gillani was elected chairman of the district council in Multan after defeating Syed Fakhar Imam. Two years later, he was elected as an MNA for the first time as a pro-military candidate in non-party elections and also appointed as a federal minister.
In 1988, Gillani joined the PPP, becoming the first person from his family to oppose the establishment. His biggest win came in the 1988 general elections, when he defeated then-Punjab chief minister, Nawaz Sharif. He notched up another impressive win in 1990 when he defeated his uncle, Makhdoom Hamid Raza Gillani.
After his victory against Sikander Hayat Bosan in 1993, Gillani became speaker of the National Assembly. Gillani first earned respect as a PPP leader for the independence he showed as speaker from 1993 to 1996. In 1995, he issued instructions for the release of opposition parliamentarians detained by his own government. When the interior ministry refused to oblige, he had the matter brought on the record – an unprecedented action in Pakistan’s political history.
Gillani’s first and only general election loss came in 1997, when he lost to Sikander Hayat Bosan. In 2001, an anti-corruption court sentenced Gillani to a 10-year prison term and imposed a fine of Rs.10 million over illegal appointments during his term as speaker. The legal proceedings were perceived by many as politically motivated and his conviction by pro-Musharraf courts and subsequent prison sentence is seen by many as a mark of loyalty to the PPP. After being sentenced, Gillani told the media, “The charges were concocted and fabricated to pressurise me to leave the PPP. Since I am unable to oblige them, they decided to convict me so that I could be disqualified from contesting elections and additionally send warning to other political leaders to learn to behave.” Although he could have secured his release from jail by severing ties with the PPP, he chose to spend five years in jail instead.
Forced to sit out the 2002 elections because of his prison sentence, Gillani got his nephew Syed Asad Murtaza Gillani elected to the National Assembly. Asad later joined the PPP-Patriots, sparking rumours that Gillani may also ditch the party. Gillani denied these allegations and resigned from his post as party vice-chairman, but Benazir Bhutto did not accept his resignation and asked him to continue.
In October 2006, the Punjab High Court set aside his prison term and he was released on bail. While in prison, Gillani wrote a book titled Chah-e-Yousuf ki Sada (Reflections from Yousuf’s Well). In the 2008 elections, Gillani comfortably defeated Sikander Hayat Bosan.
Soon after the elections, Gillani remarked that the distance between the Prime Minister’s House and Adiala Jail was not very long and that “I have had my chair of imprisonment,” implying that he was not interested in becoming prime minister. However, now that he occupies that not-so-coveted chair, he will have to show the same spirit and resilience that he displayed during his confinement at Adiala Jail.