In the introduction of her book, Syeda Hameed writes, “For twenty years I lived with a man I never met”. She repeats almost the same sentence while finally summarising her assessment of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto: “An extraordinary man who I never met, but with whom I have lived for almost twenty years”. Clearly, Hameed has been awestruck by Bhutto. She worked on his political biography off and on for two decades; hence, a full consideration of all facets of his complex political journey could be legitimately expected. This is sadly lacking, as is an examination of some of Bhutto’s policies and actions that particularly impacted India. However, on offer are many interesting aspects of Bhutto’s life and career which make Hameed’s work worth reading. What adds interest are the questions raised, although tangentially, on the criterion to judge great political leaders.
Bhutto was the scion of a leading Sindhi landed family. He inherited many of its feudal traits—fondness for the good life, supreme confidence, arrogance and disdain for opposing views. But he also displayed qualities that went beyond the confines of his class—intellectual depth and vigour, powers of articulation, an ability to identify with and therefore mobilise and sway the masses. Their impact was eroded though by a suspicious nature and vicious vengefulness. Thus, many contradictions combined in his varied personality, which took him to the pinnacle of power to give hope to a defeated country but which also plunged him from the execution platform. Fascinated by the elements, often at odds with themselves, in Bhutto the man and politician, Hameed sees ‘parallels’ in his life and Sophocles’s Oedipus. True, there was much drama in Bhutto’s crowded, charged and short life, but did the fault lie in him or in his stars?