Political Culture of BNP in Bangladesh - Rampant Corruption and Radical Islamism
From Zia to Khaleda Zia, who was in power for 28 years, Bangladesh became a dysfunctional state, and could not change the fate of the people of Bangladesh. Couldn't give people electricity, couldn't give fertilizer, shot dead farmers, turned Bangladesh into a murderous state, made it a dysfunctional state.
Bangladesh was named world champion in corruption five times. They turned the country into a dysfunctional, bigoted and terrorist state.' This is how Awami League organising secretary Shafiul Alam Chowdhury Nadel describes the BNP.
The Bangladesh Nationalist Party’s (BNP) culture of corruption and appeasing radical Islam in Bangladesh’s political culture was institutionalised by the late General Ziaur Rahman (Zia) who came to power in 1975 through the nation’s first military coup.
Under him local units of the BNP became pockets of corruption. During his time corruption and misuse of power resulted in the wastage of almost 40 percent of the total resources earmarked for development Zia’s failed initiative of Sawnirvar Gram Sarker as the model of "grassroots democracy" was built on loyalty to his party and patronage distribution.
Under Zia, presidential, parliamentary and local level elections were thoroughly manipulated in favour of his party. Through the appointment of weak and pliable persons as Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners, he treated the Commission as an administrative unit to be used and misused to serve his personal, coterie and party interests. Politics of patronage and corruption became the order of the day in the delivery of local services.
Moreover, BNP’s brand of Bangladeshi nationalism is religion-driven. General Ziaur Rahman legitimised the pro-Pakistani collaborators by removing the ban on them.
It must be noted that the BNP was first elected to government in 1979, on a platform of "inscribing Islam into the constitution and pursuing social justice rather than socialism".
The BNP's website states that "the party believes that Islam is an integral part of the socio-cultural life of Bangladesh, and favours Islamic principles as well as cultural views." The BNP has also formed alliances with Islamic parties within Bangladesh like the Jamaat Islami and the Islami Oikya Jote.
The period 2001-06 is considered as one of the darkest chapters in the history of Bangladesh during which period large-scale corruption flourished with direct patronage from the highest level of the kleptocratic 4-Party Alliance Government led by BNP.
During the reign of the then Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, the corrupt and criminal acts of her notorious sons, Tarique Rahman and Arafat Rahman Koko was largely responsible for Bangladesh suffering from the ignominy of being the most corrupt nation in the world for five years in a row as reported by the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) of Transparency International (TI).
While some of their misdeeds were vaguely reported during the tenure of this deeply corrupt regime, it was during the 2007-08 caretaker government that the full extent of the institutional corruption, sponsored and sanctioned from the very top of the regime, started to become clear.
In a landmark judgement of 2018, the anti-corruption court in Dhaka on February 8 convicted Khaleda Zia, the former prime minister, current president of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and opposition leader, to five years imprisonment for corruption.
The court found Zia guilty of misappropriating 21 million takas ($252,000) in foreign donations meant for the Zia Orphanage Trust during her premiership between 2001 and 2006.
The court also convicted Zia’s son, Tarique Rahman, and four others to ten years in prison in the same case. Rahman is currently living in exile in London. There are also other criminal conspiracy charges pending against him in Bangladesh.
Zia and her sons (late younger son Arafat Rahman and elder self-exiled son Tarique) have reportedly gathered massive illegal wealth and assets spreading over 12 countries. There are charges of money laundering and links to Pakistan army/ISI against Zia family members.
In a confidential cable from the US Embassy in Dhaka (Nov. 3, 2008) from the then Ambassador James F Moriarty to the US State Department, the following assessment of Tarique Rahman was given in recommending a ban on his entry into the United States: "Tarique (Rahman) is guilty of egregious political corruption that has had a serious adverse effect on US national interests… Tarique Rahman is the notorious and widely feared son of former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia and a symbol of kleptocratic government and violent politics in Bangladesh...Tarique Rahman’s flagrant corruption has also seriously threatened specific US mission goals: democratization, development, and denial of space to terrorists………. his flagrant disregard for the rule of law has provided potent ground for terrorists to gain a foothold in Bangladesh"
Apart from the cases where the fact and trail of corruption of the Zia family have already been established, a number of similar corruption cases are pending in various courts against Khaleda Zia, Tarique Rahman and others. All of these cases, Zia Orphanage Trust Corruption Case, Barapukuria Corruption Case, GATCO Corruption Case and Niko Corruption Case have been filed by Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) during 2007-2008 during the Caretaker Government regime.
In 2001, the BNP had made its political preference clearer when it formed the government with pro-Pakistan Jamaat-e-Islami as its coalition partner.
For the next five years of the BNP-Jamaat reign, a surfeit of Islamist radical terror groups like HUJI, JMB and Ansarullah Bangla Team surfaced or consolidated their position in Bangladesh, unleashing horrible pogroms against minority Hindus, Buddhists and Christians. Jamaat-e-Islami had opposed the break-up of Pakistan and the emergence of an independent Bangladesh, with its top politicians functioning as local collaborators of the Pakistan army in its genocidal campaign.
BNP always enjoys strong Pakistani backing. Begum Khaleda Zia had even graced the Pakistan Army Day programme at the Pakistan embassy in London in 2019 before the parliamentary polls.
The BNP itself along with its radical allies had periodically unleashed a violent campaign of burning down public transports and bombing crowded locations to enforce their strikes after they lost three successive elections to the Awami League.
The BNP’s culture of corruption and promotion of radical Islam has had an enormously negative impact in terms of a country’s socio-political and economic advancement, backsliding the nation’s economic growth, administrative efficiency and political development.
(The writer is an independent journalist based in Bangladesh)