BNP in the doldrums
Encompassing commitment was to anti-India, anti-Awami League policies. The cantonment-born party BNP remains vulnerable to sabotage and blackmail by the rightist lobbies, its Alliance partner Jamaat and other pro-Pak leaders within the party. It was a party that was foisted from above instead of growing from below. On the other hand, unlike Khaleda Zia’s BNP, Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League is a genuine political party with roots predating Bangladesh’s independence.
BNP has always been an anti-India party known for India bashing on all issues ever since its inception. BNP’s anti-India stance which has been one of its core philosophies raised its head soon after the murder of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman which witnessed a roll-back to the Pakistani framework in which India was projected as Bangladesh’s enemy. The country’s first military ruler Gen Ziaur Rahman, BNP’s founder, after taking over power secured support of the Islamic section, particularly the section that had a distinct anti-liberation and pro-Pakistan role during the Liberation War. After his death BNP came to power in 1991 and again in 2001 on the same anti-India plank.
Since its inception BNP is a party where people gather more for personal gains rather than any ideology. In its nearly three and half decades of existence it could never become a proper political party and if it is not in power only personal gains of few will be affected, some will find berth in other political parties.
BNP has now formed an alliance with Kamal Hossen-led Oikya Front as BNP leaders have realized that the absence of Khaleda Zia during the election would affect them seriously and it would be difficult for them to organize movements to create pressure on the government. They have failed to find any other alternative than to take part in the upcoming election.
During the last parliamentary election held on January 5, 2014 BNP along with its ally Jamaat had tried their best to thwart the poll by unleashing large-scale violence and killings all over the country. The activists of BNP and Jamaat enforced Khaleda Zia’s plan for strike and blockade by killing and burning people in petrol bomb and arson attacks and vandalizing public properties. The death count went up to exceed two hundred. Injuries went up to two thousand. Thousands of trucks, buses and other vehicles were vandalized by the party workers. But their efforts to thwart the poll failed miserably.
Division came to the fore among the leaders and workers regarding the boycott of the election in 2014 and whether it was justified or not. Many including the senior leaders lost faith in the wisdom of the party high command. There was silent discontent within the party against Tarique Rahman’s high-handedness with many believing that he was misleading the party from the comfort of his self-inflicted exile in London. Even now many believe that the decision to boycott election in 2014 was an injudicious one dictated by Tarique Rahman and it has brought the party to its current state of disarray.
A lower court in Dhaka on February 8 sentenced BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia to five years in jail in an orphanage fund embezzlement case. Later the High Court raised her sentence to ten years following an appeal filed by her. She is also sentenced to seven years in jail for corruption in another embezzlement case. She is facing 36 other cases.
Her son Tarique Rahman, sentenced to seven and ten years in jail in two corruption cases and for life in the August 21, 2004 grenade attack case has been on the run since 2008.
Earlier this year the party hastily deleted a provision in its constitution that would have barred a corruption convict from holding a party post. The High Court has now directed the Election Commission not to accept the said amendment deleting the provision to the BNP Constitution.
This provision in BNP Constitution is a threat to Khaleda Zia and Tarique Rahman’s entire political career as it barred anyone convicted for corruption from getting membership of the party or nomination to contest in parliamentary elections. Neither Khaleda Zia nor her son Tarique Rahman can hold any position in the party or seek election to the parliament following the High Court ruling.
Though BNP apparently looks united in the absence of Khaleda Zia the political observers think the growing infighting and lack of coordination among them and widening communication gap between the centre and grass roots are weakening the party’s organizational strength.
They are of the view that the party’s Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir cannot play his due role in making the party stronger and working out effective programmes to invigorate party grass roots due to intra-party conflicts, lack of cooperation by a section of leaders and his weakness to exert his power. There is serious conflict between Fakhrul and party’s Joint Secretary General Ruhul Kabir Rizvi that is hampering organizational activities. Rizvi reportedly considers himself more powerful than Fakhrul as he has better understanding with the party’s Acting Chairman Tarique Rahman than the Secretary General.
It has come to notice that the party has two groups among the Central Committee members which is hampering party’s work plan. Senior members of the Central Committee including Khandakar Mosharraf Hossen and Moudud Ahmed want to follow a go-slow policy with soft action programmes while relatively junior ones including Mirza Abbas and Gayeshwar Chandra Roy push for tougher action plan. As the national elections are drawing nearer, intra-party conflict in BNP is growing with potential nomination seekers’ efforts to establish their supremacy in their respective areas and outsmart their opponents to show their popularity.
One issue that is being discussed by the people of the country is what would be the ultimate destiny of BNP and whether the party will be able to survive after coming out from Khaleda Zia or Tarique Rahman’s leadership. Neither Khaleda Zia nor Tarique Rahman could hold the rein of the party after the High Court ruling.
With both mother and son being convicted, BNP will have no leader to bank upon who can steer the party through the election. Many BNP leaders and workers are also facing criminal charges for participation in violent protests in early 2015 which resulted in the death of more than 100 persons who were mostly burnt alive in arson attacks.
There are reasons to believe that the leadership crisis in BNP would limit the party’s electoral prospects. Its ally Jamaat is in serious trouble with many of its senior leaders either killed or convicted. Also the Election Commission cancelled its registration.