TO BE OR NOT TO BE ..
BNP stands for Bangladesh Nationalist Party.
It was founded by one of the leading freedom fighters of 1971, Ziaur Rahman.
A major in the Pakistan army, Ziaur Rahman also played the lead role in relaying the declaration of Bangladesh’s independence to the world from Chittagong.
I know this is a controversial topic as many in the country would believe that he was the one who declared the country’s independence, but let us go by what the Wikipedia says on it.
“The independence of Bangladesh was proclaimed by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, at the onset of the Bangladesh Liberation War, in the early hours of March 26, 1971. The declaration was subsequently relayed to the world via radio from Chittagong by Major Ziaur Rahman, a defecting Bengali officer of the Pakistan Army, on March 27, from the Kalurghat radio station popularly known as Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra.”
We know Wikipedia is not considered the ultimate in historical truth and data in it are often challenged by researchers, but this detail about Bangladesh’s War of Independence has been there on the Wikipedia for a while and has not been challenged.
But in any case, this makes Zia a key figure in the country’s war of independence.
And if Zia was indeed the one who declared Bangladesh’s independence, as many of those who hero-worship him believe, it is all the more strange that his party would have many in its senior leadership who went about supporting the Pakistani war effort to crush the freedom movement.
Someone like Salauddin Quader Chowdhury.
The man who unleashed a reign of terror to oppose the Liberation War in the very port city from where Zia relayed the historic declaration.
The man who for all these years remained unrepentant about what he did to his own people in 1971 but ended up as a top leader in the BNP led by Zia’s widow.
Mass murder, torture, rape, loot, arson — the man whose initials resembles a deadly Bollywood film villain has been found by the war crimes tribunal to be responsible for them all.
And for years, BNP’s closest ally in Bangladesh politics has been the party that opposed the Liberation War — Jamaat-e-Islami.
The party that believed in the essence of Pakistan, its form and substance et al.
Their leaders have also been found responsible, like SQ Chowdhury, for horrendous atrocities that characterised the 9-month long Liberation War.
These were the men who fought a vicious war against their own people, trying to crush their aspiration for independence with the most abominable means of suppression, that would often shame the Nazis.
But as the course of history turned and twisted, somewhat violently in the aftermath of the 1975 coup that killed the nation’s founding father Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the party founded by a celebrated freedom war hero came to shelter quite a few like SQ Chowdhury who had violently played it out for Pakistan and its brutal military machine.
Over the years, this party also ended up in alliance with Jamaat-e-Islami, the leading pro-Pakistan political group whose rehabilitation in Bangladesh politics is often blamed by his detractors on General Ziaur Rahman.
Politics, they say, is the art of the possible, of managing contradictions.
But one would say if the contradictions are within limits.
A Marxist would hasten to add that antagonistic contradictions cannot be handled, but non-antagonistic contradictions can be.
Without getting into Marxian polemics, one can train his or her sight on contemporary Bangladesh and say it is not as easy to manage contradictions as politicians often think is possible.
Or else why would BNP Chairperson Begum Khaleda Zia not rush to the defence of SQ Chowdhury immediately the ICT verdict is out.
Why would seven top BNP leaders, all members of the party’s Standing Committee, refuse a comment or a formal reaction when called up by bdnews24.com’s Chief Political Correspondent?
Why would Ruhul Kabir Rizvi leave it to the ‘lawyers’ for raising the issue and insist on a decision only when the top leaders have met at night?
Why would Moudud Ahmed be left to use a pro-BNP lawyers forum to hit out at the ICT, but focus more on procedural than on political grounds!
Why would the BNP not convert a Chittagong strike to protest the verdict into a nationwide strike!
It took the BNP one full day to finally decide to oppose the verdict and announce a nationwide agitation for Thursday but the reluctance with which it was done appeared unmistakable.
In an election year, it is one thing to distance itself from the Jamaat, now that it has been deregistered and cannot go to the polls as a party.
It is another thing having to answer to an electorate and deal with a situation that SQ Chowdhury’s death penalty now presents to the party.
Of running the risk of being identified with people who opposes Bangladesh’s freedom and did all to stop it.
Because the verdict comes with a detailed coverage of issues that merited it.
It can and will be challenged in a higher court but what about the atrocities that the convict has been found guilty off and which are now in public domain.
Men and women in the street don’t have patience for legal niceties and SQ Chowdhury’s 1971 exploits have been known to Chittagong and elsewhere in Bangladesh much before the ICT’s existence.
Here is a man who fought, killed and tortured for Pakistan his own very people, men and women of Chittagong, with whom he identifies so strongly that once he went on record saying he is no Bengali but a Chittagongian.
And then you have him as a top leader in a party that is nationalist and represents the nationalism of Bangladesh.
This is a contradiction not easy for BNP Chairperson Begum Khaleda Zia to reconcile, though this is a predicament not of her making.
But she is the one who is having to deal with it.
This is an inevitable problem, one of managing huge contradictions for parties which plays both ways, seeking ‘maximum support aggregation’ by tapping major strands of the country’s politics — the liberation war tradition and the opposition to it.
Syed Bashir is a bdnews24.com columnist.
October 2, 2013