IN HOT POLITICAL SOUP
Out of power for over eight years, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) of Khaleda Zia has been passing through a challenging time its leaders could hardly think of. This is the toughest time for the party that ruled the country for over 14 years since late President Ziaur Rahman founded it 36 years back. The party’s bad patch began when it lost power amid huge political turmoil in 2017. Since then, it has been boiling in the political hot kitchen as nothing clicks for the party. Whatever strategy it works out, that simply backfires. Now the party’s demoralised rank-and-file members see no light at the end of the tunnel– the dark is all around. In less than a month since the elections to three city corporations in Dhaka and Chittagong, the BNP is being called to reinvent itself. The big question is: can it do it?
Desperate to return to power, the party had launched a toughest anti-government movement in 2013, the penultimate year of the last general election, to force the Sheikh Hasina regime to accept its caretaker government demand. But, the movement ended up bringing a bad name for the BNP as the movement commodified violence with a new phenomenon of firebomb attacks across the country. Though the blame for the widespread deadly violence largely went to BNP’s key ally Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami, it heavily dented the image of Khaleda Zia’s party. As happens in politics, the ruling quarter did not miss the opportunity to label the BNP and its alliance partners as militant outfits.
Failed to take lessons from the past mistakes, the BNP-led 20-Party Alliance resorted to the same violent path early this year as both the ruling class and opposition camp got ready to observe the first anniversary of the much-talked-about January-5 (2014) national election with one side calling it a ‘Democracy Day and another ‘Democracy Killing Day’. Though Khaleda Zia was looking for an effective anti-government campaign, the shadow of the political ghost did not part her company. Having failed to come out of her Gulshan political office due to obstruction by law-enforcement agencies, Khaleda Zia announced, perhaps on the spur of the moment, a non-stop countrywide transport blockade that continued for 92 consecutive days claiming the lives of about 150 people.
Though the country’s longest ever transport blockade lost its effectiveness within a month of its enforcement, it is yet to be officially withdrawn. Sought comments about the blockade at a recent press briefing at her Gulshan residence weeks after her return from her political office with a court bail in two graft cases, the BNP chief said, ‘The blockade has lost its effectiveness,’ a word repeatedly uttered by the Prime Minister while taking a dig at her arch rival for pursuing a wrong political programme. The Prime Minister even ridiculed Khaleda Zia saying,‘What type of leader she is who does not know when to enforce a programme and when to withdraw it!’
Outmatched by the ruling coalition in its every step, the BNP now finds it difficult to stage a political comeback. As Khaleda Zia’s advisers are obsessed with their pro-election movement formula, they cannot advise her that there could also be a social movement recipe that will take her party to people with alternative issues. To do that, according to political advisers, Khaleda Zia and her advisers need to go beyond politics. They need to come up with programmes that will engage the party with people.
In recent years we did not see the opposition parties to pursue the case of people’s interest like human rights violation and law and order situation. We did not see them to enforce any shutdown programme against the price hike of essential commodities or corruption at high places. Nor any political party raises its voice when multinational companies try to garb the country’s natural resources in one way or the other. Even the people the country’s southeastern region did not see in eight years any political programme in protest against the unusual delay in completing the much-sought Dhaka-Chittagong four-lane project, though our political leaders love calling Chittagong the ‘commercial capital’ of Bangladesh.
The densely populated bifurcated Dhaka City Corporations — North and South— hardly hear any political leader to say that the problems these two mega cities have been facing cannot be resolved without decentralisation. Climate change is driving an increasing number of Bangladeshis to migrate from rural areas to the cities. Most of the migrants who come to Dhaka end up in the slums, home to an estimated 3.5 million people – 40 percent of the city’s population. According to the International Organization for Migration, some 70 percent of slum dwellers in Dhaka moved there after experiencing some kind of environmental hardship. We never saw our political parties, including the BNP, to come up with any programme to force the government to rehabilitate them. Our top political leaders are seen distributing warm clothes among the destitute at night during winter knowing it very well that this small handout is nothing but rubbing salt in the wounds of the poor people.
In Bangladesh, we hardly see political parties to directly engage in social issues and work for social good. They are always busy fighting for power and they do it either through calling for fresh elections and staging non-stop street agitations. They only talk about polls both at the national and local levels as if democracy means holding elections at regular intervals. They give us an impression that they have no social responsibility other than capturing the throne and dictating people, leaving other social issues to NGOs to deal with.
The people of Bangladesh had shed blood in 1952 to establish Bangla as their mother tongue thinking that it will enable them to think freely and speak freely and write freely. They also liberated this country in 1972 with a great dream of having a prosperous society where there will be no suspicion, annihilation and exploitation. We have got Bangla as our mother tongue, but there is no great Bangla writer now who can inspire the nation to bring about the much-sought cultural change we desperately need to improve tolerance and promote coexistence. We have liberated the country, but the long-cherished good governance still remains a far cry. Without the much-needed cultural change, we cannot think of a politics which can institutionalise democracy. Without having the democracy institutionalised, we cannot think of a government for which people have long been longing for.
It is time for our political parties to return to people and engage themselves in real politics — the politics that will ensure people’s basic rights, the politics that will promote democratic principles. And at the same breath, we also want our political parties to carry out a new political movement that will involve people without disturbing the law and order. To bring about a change in our political culture, our political parties need to shift the focus from the muscle power to political philosophy, a philosophy that will promote political research and political reading.
At the end of the day, it is the political parties that make democracy a success. Carrying out a campaign to annihilate the opposition to perpetuate power is not an answer. Equally, this is not a prudent practice to enforce hartal at the drop of a hat. It is the equal responsibility of all political parties to shape things in this country where its democracy is still at its nascent stage.
MAY 21, 2015