KHALEDA NEEDS A PAUSE
Over three weeks into her oust-Hasina campaign Begum Khaleda Zia is still nowhere close to her goal. The campaign has seen deaths of more than 30 people, many of them in petrol bomb attacks on packed passenger buses or goods-carrying trucks, loss of over 3,000 crore takas and above all a widening distance between politicians and the people. Despite the deaths and destruction cased by blockades-and-hartal campaign, enforced by Khaleda-led 20-party alliance, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government remains steady and strong. Khaleda’s failure to bring demonstrators on the streets has worked as a bonus for Hasina. The BNP leader received a fair amount of public sympathy for her cause after her arch political rival ordered the law enforcement agencies to block her Gulshan office sand-loaded trucks and water canons. Thanks to some tactical errors Khaleda has so far failed to translate that sympathy into anti-Hasina wrath, an essential element to stage any mass upsurge. Khaleda’s biggest failure has so far been her inability to cause a mass upsurge against Hasina’s government.
The mass people are least interested in responding to Khaleda’s call as they don’t find the three-time premier and her BNP party as an alternative to Hasina’s government. Bangladeshis have had a bitter experience with Khaleda’s 2001-2006 government, which was riddled with corruption and hamstrung by the abuse of power by her eldesr son, Tarique Rahman, the party’s senior vice-chairman next wielding as much power as his mother. Besides corruption the then BNP-Jamaat government proved to be incompetent with Khaleda failing to properly exercise her power as the premier. Instead, she let her eldest son Tarique Rahman run most important affairs of the state.
Khaleda may still have a fair amount of popular appeal, but her political charm is on the decline.
The on-going anti-Hasina campaign has also exposed another aspect of BNP’s weakness. The party severely lacks organizational command on what to do at critical times. It is said (rightly to a great extent) that the vital political and organizational instructions come from London. That means Tarique – not Khaleda – is leading the movement. He implements his decision through his Dhaka-based cronies who have kept Khaleda surrounded. Khaleda’s decisions thus are greatly influenced by these cronies who receive the instruction from Tarique living his exile-like life in London.
Jamaat-e-Islami is the strongest ally of Khaleda’s BNP. But it is seen both as a boon and bane for her. There are many people in Bangladesh who belong to the forces of the 1971 Liberation War but not necessarily with Awami League. This group is bitterly opposed to Jamaat for the despicable role it had played during the liberation war through its collaboration with the Pakistani troops in the killing, rape and arson that saw the deaths of 3 million people and rape of over 200,000 women and flight of 1 millions to neighbouring India, our most trusted friend during those painful days.
Khaleda values Jamaat for its loyalty to her cause. She admires the militancy of Jamaat because that serves her purpose in destabilizing the government. Jamaat activists _ not BNP _ are mostly blamed for the petrol attacks that have been the trade mark of the current protests. This pattern of the campaign has led many to speculate that BNP has outsourced the protests to Jamaat militants who are, according to police, are responsible for arson and bomb attacks.
Since the entire nation is being rocked by Khaleda’s going-nowhere movement, the entire population is feeling disgusted. Many have started hitting back by staging human chains and anti-blockade rallies in capital Dhaka and elsewhere in the country. While Khaleda, thanks to her political missteps, have pitted her against the people, the victims are losing patience.
It will be wise for Khaleda to take a pause, ponder over what has happened throughout January and make the next move with a clear head. She needs time to re-think her tactics and allow her supporters to re-group.
JANUARY 29, 2015