What lies for BNP in the future? Bangladesh needs a healthy two-party political system

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Abdul Gaffar choudhury

I just read a BBC report on the situation of Bangladesh, especially about the future of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). There is also numerous speculations in the Bangladesh media on the same subject. After Khaleda Zia went to jail rumour surrounding her and her party is spreading like wild fire. Some of the speculations are that BNP will not survive this crisis; they will follow the same fate as that of Muslim League-once a very powerful party.

There are also other speculations like Begum Khaleda’s imprisonment will unify and strengthen BNP. That the BNP leader will draw public sympathy which she would not get if she was free and out of jail. Now Begum Zia in prison is more powerful. Even if she could not participate in the election herself, she could lead the party from the jail and her party will attract more sympathy vote. In the meantime if she gets bail and comes out from jail then also her party will be benefitted by getting sympathy votes.

I have some reservations regarding these two speculations. I have predicted in my many columns before, that if BNP does not participate in the ensuing general election and the party kept its association with communal and ultra-fundamentalist parties, it will face the same fate as the Muslim League. It might not become totally extinct but remain a truncated party like Pakistan Muslim League and will not play an important role in Bangladesh politics. But if the party joins election and fully participates in the democratic practice with or without Khaeda Zia’s leadership, BNP will remain a powerful political player in Bangladesh either as a party in power or as opposition. In India also, a most powerful political organization, Hindu Mahasabha went to extinction for its communal policy and its proven involvement in the killing of Mahatma Gandhi. The Nehru government banned the Hindu Mahasabha and eventually a new party formed from the ashes of Hindu Mahasabha with a secular name-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

In Bangladesh, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), though an offshoot of Muslim League, hid its identity and worked successfully under its secular name. Like Hindu Mahasabha of India, BNP’s founder Ziaur Rahman also was alleged to be involved in the killings of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib and his family. If General Zia was not assassinated he could lead the party till his downfall as a military ruler like Ayub Khan of Pakistan. Zia’s handmade political party would have followed the fate of Ayub Khan’s convention Muslim League. With Ayub’s fall from power, Convention Muslim League went to oblivion. General Zia’s murder and subsequently his wife Khaleda Zia’s ascendancy to the party leadership saved the party. At first she took the advice of senior party leaders who wanted to turn the party to a democratic one and came out to the street as an opposition party against the dictatorial rule of Ershad. It gave them a new lease of life and the country’s politics polarized into two political camps. One was Awami League and the other was BNP.

This could usher a healthy two-party democratic system in Bangladesh. Unfortunately Begum Zia became dependent on the advice of Jamaat and her elder son Tarique Rahman. Gradually, the party’s senior leaders were forced to leave the party or remain inactive. After the party was ousted from the power Begum Zia became more and more dependent on Jamaat and a family coterie. To recapture power she joined hands with Jamaat and other fundamental groups and instead of political movement against the government BNP resorted to the path of violence and terror. Tarique Rahman’s misdeeds and corruption added fuel to the fire. He escaped conviction from numerous court cases and took refuge in a foreign country.

The political credibility of BNP got a serious jolt for its continuous association with the 71 war criminals and Jamaat. Whenever BNP was going for street violence their main strength was Jamaat’s cadres. After the execution of top Jamaat leaders for war crimes of 71, its strength and power has been diminishing. It affected BNP’s strength also. BNP’s another blunder was to boycott the General election of 2014. They could not persuade people to boycott the election and lead a powerful movement against the present Hasina government. In 1996 Awami League, the-then opposition party, boycotted the election with other parties and with a powerful movement toppled the BNP government. In 2014 BNP thought that they could play the same game.  But they could not repeat the history.

Now BNP is out of power for 11 years. Tarique hot-headed policy and his absolute influence on his mother, led many senior leaders to desert the party. Though BNP is now the leader of twenty party front but without Jamaat they are like a toothless tiger. Khaleda Zia is now alone. She has neither strong support in the country nor abroad. It was proved after her imprisonment. BNP failed to muster any visible or affective support in and out of the country. BNP’s last blunder was to select Tarique Rahman as its acting leader. Already there is controversy in her party and in the outside world. How a man convicted of corruption and abuse of power could be selected as a leader of a party or run a successful election sitting in a foreign country far away from Bangladesh? Where is his personal charm and efficiency and experience to lead a party in crisis? Nor does he have any political credibility.

So, those people who think that Khaleda Zia’s imprisonment will unify the party are most probably wrong. BNP is not a well-knit party, but an assembly of people of different colour and opinions, interspersed with opportunity seekers. If those people think that Begum Zia will stay in the prison for a long time and the party is a rudderless boat, they will immediately jump off like the proverbial mouse who jumped from the ship of Noah. BNP might disintegrate like Convention Muslim League or truncate like Pakistan Muslim League.

In my humble opinion, the party’s salvation lies in joining the next election with or without Khaleda Zia but with a combination of old and new leadership in place of Tarique Rahman. For that, they can try to bring back their senior old leaders like Dr. Badruddoza Chowdhury, Colonel Oliur Rahman and others like them. They may go for peaceful movement to free Begum Zia, but at the same time they should declare their intention to participate in the election. Whether Khaleda Zia is in prison or out of the prison with bail, it will be possible for her to lead the election campaign with the cooperation of old and new leaders. The party should denounce the path of violence and show their allegiance to the secular and democratic ideals which are the corner stones of the independent Bangladesh. I pray earnestly that BNP should revive from this great crisis for the sake of a strong and two-party democratic system in Bangladesh.

London, Thursday 25 February, 2018

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