Now we are witnessing a different political scenario in Bangladesh. The 8th February’s court verdict has turned the uncertain political scene of the country to a different direction. Before the court verdict and the imprisonment of Begum Khaleda Zia the question was whether Begum Zia will come out free from the corruption case and there will be a negotiated arrangement between Awami League and BNP to hold the election peacefully. Though BNP was threatening that they will not join the election under Hasina government, there was hope that they would ultimately join and the country will overcome the crisis eventually. But now the situation is quite different. Begum Zia is now in jail under court order In the Zia orphanage corruption case.
BNP has said that they will not participate in the election without Khaleda Zia and instead the election campaign which they started under cover, will be transformed into a peaceful movement to release Khaleda Zia. In reality they started it since 9th February and they are still continuing it peacefully. But there is lack of enthusiasm among the public to support it. Government is very alert and random arrests of opposition leaders and workers are still continuing. Now the big question is whether BNP will be a rudderless boat without the leadership of Khaleda Zia or if they will be more united and go for election to win it and to release their leader.
Some observers say after an appeal to High Court against the lower court judgment, the higher court may approve a bail for Khaleda Zia and she may come out and eventually her party will join the election and fight it vigorously. Some observers, however, predict that it may not happen. If Begum Khaleda Zia cannot come out of the jail in time and even after coming out of the jail sticks to her old decision to boycott the election, then there will be a division in the BNP. A strong number of middle rank BNP leaders are in favour of joining the election. They fear that without joining the election their future will be bleak and the party will lose its credibility. They do not like the hard line of Tariq Rahman. He also has conviction in corruption cases and is currently living in exile to avoid imprisonment. He is an absentee politician for almost eight years now, and perhaps do not understand the present political reality of his country.
Tariq Rahman’s ascendance to party leadership as acting Chairperson, in the absence of his mother Begum Khaleda Zia was not welcomed by all sections of BNP leaders but they are not uttering anything publicly. What will be his next course of action is perhaps indicated by the sudden attack on Bangladesh High Commission in London and destroying the picture of the Father of the nation by his supporters. Two of his prominent associates were arrested and Tariq was accused for plotting this attack. If under his leadership BNP takes a hard line again in Bangladesh also and their present agitation gradually becomes violent then it will be an infantile adventure for BNP. No movement can succeed without public support. In present Bangladesh somehow BNP has votes but not sufficient public support for a successful agitation.
Though BNP’s most senior and moderate leaders are now out of the party or inactive for Tariq’s manipulation, still there is a large number of middle rank leaders who want to participate in the election and expect victory. If today they are allowed to vote for a new acting leader they will not go for Tariq Rahman. One of them told me privately in condition of anonymity that if BNP is led by Tariq Rahman and go for violence again with the association of Jamaat then the party’s future is bleak. The party will be devastated.
On the other hand, even if Begum Zia remains in jail but a leader nominated by her (not Tariq) takes the decision for participating in the election the party will remain untied and strong and they can hope to snatch a victory. BNP may not have sufficient votes to win the election but there are a huge number of protest votes among ordinary voters who are really fed up with a section of MPs, ministers, upazilla chairman and local leaders for their corruption and abuse of power. After the probable release of Begum Zia on bail it will be clear in which direction the country’s politics will head.
Now only time will tell whether Khaleda Zia’s conviction will help Awami League to hold an acceptable election or further complicate matters. If BNP does not participate in the election the party will harm themselves, and the validity of the election may not be acceptable to many outside countries. In this case we do not know the exact stand of Modi’s India, but there will be certainly a murmur in some European countries including USA and the UK. So far, they have tolerated Awami League in power in Bangladesh but for their own interest- military and political, Awami League has been less favourable to them since the country’s independence.
If BNP (as expected by some Awami League leaders), stick to its ‘boycott election policy’ even after Begum Zia’s probable release on bail and the party is divided and a large section of middle rank leaders under the party’s flag and symbol join the election that still may not give the election much credibility. If BNP boycotts the election and lose their registration from the election commission then the crisis will not go away. Whatever the size of BNP under leadership of Khaleda Zia, it would be accepted as the real BNP. During Ayub’s regime when a large number of senior Awami League leaders abandoned Sheikh Mujib (who was in jail at that time) and formed a rival Awami League they could not succeed. Sheikh Mujib, alone in the jail with some of his young lieutenants remained as the supreme leader of Awami League and only that Awami League survived at the end.
Our politics is still under the old feudal system and our political parties always rally round a hereditary leader. It is true about BNP and Awami League also. Khaleda Zia was imprisoned for corruption by the verdict of court. Still that may rouse some sympathy in some section of voters. So Awami League should not be complacent about the next election or the outcome of that election. Sheikh Hasina is a wise leader. She has already warned her party leaders not to make mockery of the imprisonment of the opposition leader. She knows that mockery will not help Awami League but may create sympathy for the imprisoned leader. Awami League should not depend on the breaking of BNP but try to bring the united BNP in the election with or without the participation of Khaleda Zia, but under her leadership. The country can only free itself from the political trauma by holding a genuine and healthy election. If BNP under the leadership of Tariq Rahman take the path of self-destruction that is their funeral. London, Thursday 15 February, 2018