Power marred by tragedy: Kennedys, Gandhis and Bhuttos

Published: October 23, 2011
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These ill-fated families had everything in abundance including loss, yet continued to become much-loved legacies.

Fairy tales will always be just that, fairy tales! Happily ever after can never reach the extraordinary heights reached by its antagonist, tragedy. And when tragedy strikes real people, it hits where it affects the most and becomes history.

Perhaps the biggest ambassadors of misfortune are the three cursed, first families that we loved, believed in and mourned over the years. The Kennedys, Gandhis and Bhuttos sow a similar fate and carved the same destiny for themselves.

The intertwined dynasties of these families were given the same screen play, with different settings and dialogues.

John F Kennedy the 35th president of the United States enjoyed the stature of a glamorous movie star instead of a customary, dry politician. He gave rise to the media and was a god-like figure, globally plastered as an enigmatic, revolutionary leader. A glamorous couple, he and Jacqueline were the epitome of allure, power and immense fascination.  His trademark revolutionary dialogue – Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country, was matched by Indira Gandhi’s Gharibi Hatao and ZA Bhutto’s, roti, kapra, makaan.

Indira Gandhi rewrote history by becoming the first woman Prime Minister in India’s male dominated society. For rural India, she was their mother and to date her devotees show unprecedented support for the congress.

The pioneer of Pakistani democracy was the open buttoned, sleeves folded, not adorning a khaki uniform, the revolutionary — ZA Bhutto. A country starving for a voice that could free them from military rule welcomed ZA Bhutto with open arms. He gave Pakistan an identity through the Islamic Summit in 1974, gave it security by founding the nuclear programme and initiated peace dialogues with India. To date, ZA Bhutto arguably remains the most popular leader of the nation.

The power legacy set by these leaders was embellished later by their next of kin.

Robert Kennedy who worked with his brother as Attorney General, became the forerunner for the Presidency.

Rajiv Gandhi a professional pilot, became the youngest Prime Minister of India in 1984. His widow, Sonia Gandhi leads the ruling party in India today.

ZA Bhutto’s daughter, Benazir Bhutto, became the first woman Prime Minister of a Muslim state in 1988 and in 1993. Her widower, Asif Ali Zardari is the current President of Pakistan.

However, it wasn’t all fame and power for these ill fated families.

The Kennedys have had a tragic end to their dynasty with unnatural deaths haunting all male members of the family. The most shocking assassination, perhaps more so than Ceaser and Lincoln was that of John Kennedy. In 1963, the president was shot dead in his motorcade. Captivating scenes of JFK Junior saluting at his father’s funeral, Jackie’s blood-stained pink dress and America’s public grief were etched into memory. Younger brother Robert was later shot dead while campaigning and another brother, sister and son died in plane crashes.

The Gandhi legacy was blood stained in 1984, when Indira’s own guards opened fire on her. She succumbed to 19 bullets an hour later. Grief was overshadowed by anger at the death of the nation’s mother when thousands died in an anti-sikh massacre. In 1991 her son and  then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was killed when a woman bowed down to touch his feet and detonated explosives on him. The bomb was so powerful that he could only be identified by his tennis shoes. Younger brother Sanjay had already died in a plane crash in 1980.

The Bhutto’s maintained a similar sordid tale, as the family saw a death almost every decade.

ZA Bhutto was hanged after a murder trial in 1979. With him died the visionary and commanding leadership of a man becoming too popular in the region. In 1985, younger son, Shahnawaz Bhutto, 27 was poisoned while surviving son, Murtaza Bhutto was assassinated in front of his house in 1996 when his sister was the Prime Minister. She too met a similar violent end a decade later when she was shot in 2007. Benazir Bhutto had survived several assassination attempts before she finally lost the battle and her blood flowed in the same spot where Pakistan’s first Prime Minister was assassinated.

The images of a convertible cruising with the first couple of America and gun shots being heard; Benazir Bhutto waving to the crowd and then going down with the explosion; the assassin bowing down to touch Rajeev Gandhi’s feet — all images that will perhaps always remind us of life’s unpredictability. These families have seen power, money, success, tragedy and sorrow like no other. They had everything in abundance including loss, yet continued their ill-fated tradition becoming much-loved legacies shortly after they dramatically came, saw, conquered and surrendered to the will of God.

Nusrat Bhutto, in her struggle and her sorrow continued this Bhutto legacy, departing from this world today. May her soul rest in peace.

Parkha.Zeb

Parkha Zeb

A freelance writer based in Lahore.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.