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Can BNP stand tall off bogging down?
BdChronicle Special Feature:
If human resource management is a tough job, managing a political party is even a tougher task. The current dismal state of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) of Khaleda Zia is a glaring example. It is struggling to keep the ship afloat in a storm that keeps growing stronger.
Despite being a major political party of Bangladesh, it appears to have lost its direction. The party, founded by late President Ziaur Rahman, is now in political hot waters due to its apparent policy paralysis. Losing power over seven years ago, the party could not yet reinvent itself to put it back on track. The blame for this sorry state of the party largely goes to its leadership crisis. Its imprudent decision to enforce a non-stop countrywide transport blockade has put it into even a deeper trouble.
Though the blockade has disrupted the normal life across the country in one way or the other, it has helped little the BNP-led 20-party alliance to make any political gain. Instead, the mindless violence that followed the blockade programme has triggered widespread criticisms of the party. It has taken its heavy toll on the popularity the party had been enjoying in recent years due to the incumbency factors of the Awami League. Though it remained in force for the last two months, the BNP alliance’s blockade programme could not jolt the ruling party in any way to accept Khaleda Zia’s demand for a fresh election under a neutral administration.
The current movement of the BNP-led alliance has done a severe damage to it in two ways – it is now being labeled as a militant outfit by the ruling coalition on one hand and it lost the last-resort weapon of tough political programmes like shutdown. Though the international community other than India, China and Russia keeps on calling upon both sides for engaging in dialogue for a sustainable political solution, a mounting pressure is there on the BNP chief — both from home and abroad — to part her company with the Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami. This Islamist party is largely blamed for the current countrywide violence and the one carried out in similar fashion before the January-5 election in 2014.
Khaldea Zia was perhaps under an illusion that it would be possible for her party to get back to power through waging a violent political protest as Awami League did in 1996. Though the history repeats itself sometimes, nothing exactly happens in the similar fashion. The history repeats but it does with a new twist and turn. Under that illusion, Khaleda Zia has made a series of mistakes over the years. Boycotting the last general election was Khaleda’s worst political blunder.
This is true that the Awami League government before the last national election had said it was mere a constitutional formality to hold the polls. After the election, Khaleda Zia’s alliance withdrew itself from the street and tried to reorganize her party, but it largely failed. Political movement in countries like Bangladesh means street fights, an orthodox culture. Political talent is needed to think out of the box. There are many ways to mobilize public opinion and outsmart the ruling class, and to do that you need patience and practice inner party democracy.
The last general election was held on the heels of a political turmoil for nearly a year in 2013 hitting the country’s economy hard. After the election, a relative peace returned to the country with the economy making a turnaround within a short period of time. But the peace was short-lived as the 20-party alliance returned to the streets with its blockade and hartal programmes, inflicting sufferings on the common man, particularly the SSC examinees.
Though the BNP leaders claim that the victory in their ongoing movement is imminent, the situation on the ground demonstrates that the party faces an uncertain future with many of its leaders in jail and activists going into hiding in the wake of the government’s crackdown on anarchists across the country.
According to political observers, the BNP’s ‘decisive’ movement came at a premature stage and without adequate campaign for it. They say the party could have gone for holding more and more peaceful rallies across the country to prove that an anti-government campaign could be carried out without hitting the streets.
Though the BNP enjoys a substantial support of those annoyed with the way the Awami League alliance running the country, Khaleda Zia’s party could not yet offer anything unique for which people will join it on the streets to pursue its case. A notion is there among the politically aware section of people that there is no difference in nature between the Awami League and the BNP as both parties are representing and promoting the same class of society. Even though the two parties rotated their terms in office over the last two decades through elections held under caretaker administrations, they have done little for institutionalising democracy during all those years.
Institutionalising a democracy requires having an all-powerful election commission, a vibrant legislature, an independent judiciary, an effective anti-corruption commission, a neutral human rights commission, a non-partisan public service commission and apolitical law-enforcement agencies which can do the needful for people. Our democracy could not gain the desired momentum over the last few ‘democratic decades’ as those in power concentrated more on party politics reneging on their election pledges.
When a party comes to power — even through an inclusive election — it serves more its followers than the people who sent it to power. Having no connection with economic productivity, these party followers move on the corridors of power, manipulating tenders and grabbing public projects. This is how the country sees the emergence of a class of neo rich.
Carrying out a ‘movement’ in the name of people without having its leaders and activists on the streets, the BNP alliance has exposed its political imprudence, if not bankruptcy. You cannot leave a train on the track without a loco master in its driving seat. It was over two months since the country had been under a non-stop transport blockade, making the poor, particularly the farmers and examinees the worst suffers.
Amid its ineffectual anti-government campaign, the BNP now finds itself in a much more political trouble. It’s now the question of survival for the party. When its current movement will die down naturally, the party will find it nowhere. Foes of the party insist that this is just what Bangladesh needs. BNP supporters, of course, have good reason to bemoan their party’s possible eclipse. Their argument goes on that Bangladesh will slip into one-party rule if the opposition is quashed.
Years back, it appeared all but certain that Khaleda’s eldest son Tarique Rahman would eventually take the helm of BNP. But things have not unfolded according to the script. And Khaleda Zia’s much-hyped grand project to revitalise her party from the ground up has little to show after a year’s of effort. Under the circumstances, some BNP leaders believe that Khaleda’s elder daughter-in-law, Zubida Rahman, Tarique’s wife, has the ‘glamour’ to turn around the party’s fortunes.
The Bangladesh Nationalist Party of Khaleda Zia is now clearly in trouble. Boycotting the elections seems to have been a major political blunder for it.
What they are doing now has so many repercussions, and they just should not think that they should hold people hostage to their protest programmes. People are now so angry with the fact that the leaders of this party cannot come up with anything to compromise on or agree with that they are there out in the field in the interest of people. The BNP leaders need to know when to stand firm or compromise? Is it principled for politicians to continue a ‘movement’ which has no direction?