By: Saleem Samad
Many keen political observers believe that the principal opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has come to a dead end on the road. Their strategy has been violent to demand that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina should step down and an interim government to hold a free, fair and inclusive national election.
BNP has announced to boycott the upcoming national election in January 2024. The party and its alliance have called for a countrywide general strike (hartal) and blockade (oborod). The blockade was announced in protest of breaking up the BNP’s 28 October rally allegedly by police in conjunction with the ‘golden boys’ of the governing Awami League.
Political historian Mohiuddin Ahmad said the opposition always envisages winning the election. If they access that they will not win, or even win a reasonable number of seats in the parliament, then they threaten to boycott the elections.
Demanding Hasina to quit power and form an interim government to oversee the elections is not happening. The rewritten constitutional provisions have deleted the sections for holding elections under a caretaker government, said Ahmad.
Winter in Bangladesh comes as a blessing when flowers bloom across the gardens and parks in the country. The village women prepare traditional pita (traditional cake made from fresh rice harvest). Some schools are done with their final exam. While others plan vacations during the winter.
The vibrant tourist industry is now challenged with negative business. This awkward situation has been caused by opposition actions and the governing party along with its alliance joining the election fest. In fear of political actions, the customers cancelled their vacation plans. Ahmad said it is understood what the BNP wants. But the party leaders before they were arrested and sent to prison had not spelled out what they wanted to do after they won the election.
They have not promised that they will abrogate all draconian laws which hinder democracy. They did not say they would ensure accountability and transparency and zero-tolerance for corruption and human rights abuse of law enforcement agencies. They did not say that the judiciary would become independent with no political influence and not harass and intimidate opposition, critics, and dissidents.
The opposition party has not spoken a word about freedom of expression, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of the press. Arson, agitation and protest rallies will not change the policy of the government. After boycotting the election they have nowhere to go but sink in a black hole.
There are reasons BNP is aggressive, arrogant and refuses to dialogue with the government parties. Thus arrogance of the BNP has led the party to the end of the road.
Nonetheless, BNP for long is leaderless or rudderless and floating without any compass. The present party leaders are powerless and do not have the guts to manage the party autonomously. It’s no longer news that BNP is managed by a remote controller – sitting in London by a self-exiled leader.
The party chairperson Khaleda Zia is serving jail terms and is restricted in her house. She is barred from politics and unable to contest any elections. The ailing leader with medical complications often shuttles between her home and the hospital.
The party’s de facto leader Tarique Rahman (56) is Senior Vice-Chairman of BNP. A spoiled brat of the military dictator General Ziaur Rahman (1977-1981) and former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia.
The 93-year-old former President Prof Badruddoza Chowdhury once blamed Tarique arbitrarily established a political “powerhouse outside the Prime Minister’s Office” when her mother Khaleda was the Prime Minister (2001-2006).
Tarique never attended any BNP’s central committee or high command’s meetings, but he dictated his decisions. Several ministers and secretaries of various ministries sought his decision and approval of government projects from the popularly known place in upscale Banani, the ‘Hawa Bhaban’, the office of the delinquent.
His schoolmates said he was a flop in the class exam. A below-average student in BAF Shaheen School and College in Dhaka was a timid person and not vocal. He was kicked out of the school for failing an annual exam. Later he was a dropout from studies. The high school certificate and college degree were obtained fraudulently.
Khaleda Zia never expressed embarrassment that her son established a parallel government. She never stopped him from messing with government administration.
Instead, she indulged his son to run an unauthorised powerhouse and also rein the party. Corruption during Khaleda Zia’s regime was not spatial but horizontal – the ‘prince’ did it all.
Discontentment among the senior party leaders and ministers began to surface, which the Prime Minister tried to pacify. He hated the senior BNP leaders including those Ministers who were inducted into the newly born party by his assassinated father Ziaur Rahman.
He advocates that the country should be governed by new generation (XGen) politicians and not left with the ‘old haggards’.
In the October 2001 election, understanding that the BNP may not be elected to power, he cleverly forged an alliance with the Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami, which surprised many BNP leaders.
In fact, several senior BNP leaders and ministers were 1971 liberation war veterans and also those from the leftists and communists who joined the nationalist party during the tenure of Zia were uncomfortable with the presence of JeI.
The Islamist party opposed the independence of Bangladesh and collaborated with marauding Pakistan troops. The youths of JeI were recruited to form the death squad, Al Badr.
The death squad, a secret outfit abducted hundreds of intellectuals, tortured them in secret locations and later killed them, which was the saddest episode of the liberation war history.
The Pakistan military committed genocide of 3 million, targeting the Hindus, but Muslims who belonged to the Awami League and people sympathetic to independent Bangladesh were also slaughtered and buried in hundreds of mass graves all over the country.
The occupation forces deliberately used rape as a weapon of war to create a new generation of “saccha (genuine) Pakistanis”.
The crackdown created 10 million war refugees of Hindus and Muslims alike. The war refugees were forced to take shelter in neighbouring states of India. The war has also caused internal displacement of 25 million in search of safe refuge.
The refugees were sheltered in India until Bangladesh was liberated in December 1971. Millions of refugees trekked home to their homesteads only to find their villages were parched, houses looted and torched by local militia.
The JeI leader of the eastern province of Pakistan, Ghulam Azam, fled to Pakistan in 1971 living behind his compatriots and Islamic militia to fight alongside the Islamic army.
Later JeI party was banned. Imbued in the 1974 constitution and declared that any party with a religious objective will not be registered as a political party.
Civil society challenged the self-styled professor Ghulam Azam as the Ameer of Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh in 1991, arguing that he was a citizen of Pakistan and should be deported. He, however, held the position until 2000.
Azam hated the independence of Bangladesh and believed the territory (Bangladesh) would be under the hegemony of India. Azam was convicted of crimes against humanity in July 2013.
In a development on November 19, the apex court upheld the scrapping of Jamaat-e-Islami’s registration as a political party, barring the party from contesting any polls. The Appellate Division of Supreme Court upholds a verdict from the High Court that prevents the party from running for elected office, writes the private news portal bdnews24.com.
This means that JeI is left with no scope to contest the upcoming elections scheduled in early January. It could not be ascertained whether JeI has any alternative plan to participate in the national election.
A senior journalist who is familiar with the JeI policy said that the party leaders of Majlis-e-Shura, the highest policy-making body of the JeI will meet soon, to discuss the future of the party and relay the decision to the members.
With Jei put out of circulation, the wings of the BNP have been clipped from forming an electoral alliance or having a strong ally in the anti-government movement. (The author is an award-winning independent journalist based in Bangladesh. He could be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @saleemsamad)