The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has celebrated their founding anniversary on 1st September. BNP was born secretly in the cantonment area by an Army General grabbing power through martial law. The founder of the BNP, Ziaur Rahman, was a politician not by choice, but by chance and he declared that he would make politics difficult for the politicians of Bangladesh. As a military man Ziaur Rahman had the dream to become an influential politician to rule Bangladesh. Coming into power in the wake of coups and counter coups, General Zia took several steps which considerably changed the secular nature of the Bangladesh state. The BNP favours closer relations with Muslim majority states and tends to view the Awami League (AL) as willing to compromise this Bangladeshi identity through ties with India and secularism.
The BNP’s conservatism means it has been mostly comfortable in alliances with religious parties such as the Jamaat-e-Islami. Religious minorities such as Hindus are suspicious of the BNP, which has targeted them in the past. The four-party alliance led by BNP, which is infested with fundamentalist and communalist forces, came to power following the 8th general elections held on 1st October 2001. The range of human rights violations that the coalition government under the stewardship of Khaleda Zia and Motiur Rahman Nizami has committed in Bangladesh since its assumption of power is inconceivable in any sovereign, independent state. The coalition government has been quite successful in setting examples of torturing and killing members of minority religious and ethnic communities, leaders, activists and sympathisers of opposition political parties, intellectuals and professionals subscribing to secular democracy, and on-duty journalists. Two senior leaders of the then opposition Awami League, one a former finance minister, were assassinated, and a 2004 grenade attack on an AL rally aimed at wiping out the party’s entire leadership left 23 dead.The BNP allowed extra-judicial killings by members of newly created law enforcing agencies, obstructing and attacking peaceful meetings and processions of opposition political parties, disrupting social and cultural programmes, maltreating women, truncating the judiciary’s authority and subjecting it to the whims of the executive branch of the government, providing the killers and perpetrators with all forms of immunity, arresting mass people on lame excuses, persecuting opponents in prison cells and police custodies, and last but not least, depriving the victims of the due process of law and justice. Such examples are only to be found in a 19th century colony.
BNP is engaged in dirty politics since its birth. BNP’s decision to boycott the 5-January 2014 election was wrong. Calling for an election boycott, BNP and Jamaat activists attacked and killed people who refused to honour blockades, as well as law enforcers and members of the Awami League. Tensions were further heightened after execution of Abdul Quader Molla, a senior leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami for crimes committed during Bangladesh’s independence war in 1971. Jamaat also was disqualified then from participating in the 2014 polls after the Supreme Court and the Election Commission ruled that its charter violated the Constitution of Bangladesh. During the vote itself on January 5, BNP and Jamaat activists targeted election officials and attacked schools and other buildings serving as polling places. The minority Hindu community, long target of attacks by Islamic extremists and others, was also singled out for attacks.
The Human Rights Watch (HRW) termed this situation as ‘tumbled backward on human rights’. In its report, HRW said a harsh crackdown on the media, various civil society organisations, and political opposition groups, all of which had been protesting the contemporary election, as well as an ongoing war crimes trial, had led to violent street protests in 2013, killing almost 200 people and injuring thousands more across the country. During the elections earlier in January 2014, armed gangs attacked minority communities, mostly in the south-western and northern districts. International aid agencies estimated as many as 5,000 families were affected. Another study shows, the war crimes trial and the elections to the tenth national parliament gave rise to extreme violence and over 500 people died in clashes from 2013 to January 2014. Many deaths took place in 2015, with petrol bomb attacks and other violence.
For these reasons a Canadian Federal Court has described BNP again as a terrorist organisation as it denied asylum prayer of a BNP activist for the party's role in triggering violence and vandalism to enforce a protracted nationwide hartal in Bangladesh. According to the court summary, BNP activist Md Mostofa Kamal in 2015 left Bangladesh and made a refugee claim in Canada. The refugee claim was suspended and he was ordered deportation. He sought judicial review which was dismissed in the first week of May. The final hearing took place on April 11 in Toronto, according to the court’s website. The minister of public safety and emergency preparedness on behalf of the Canadian government argued that there were reasonable grounds to believe that the applicant was a member of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party. The minister also alleged that the BNP was an organisation that engages in terrorism and engaged in, or instigated the subversion by force of the Bangladesh government as set out in rules of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. The court ordered investigation which upheld the position of the minister, “finding reasonable grounds to believe both that the Applicant was a member of the BNP, and that the BNP engaged in terrorism and engaged in, or instigated the subversion by force of the Bangladesh government. Earlier in February last year, the court rejected the application of another BNP man, Mohammad Jewel Hossain Gazi, for the status of permanent residence as a protected person. The Federal Court observed that there were reasonable grounds to believe that Gazi’s organisation engages, has engaged or will engage in acts of terrorism.
Recently, the BNP has removed section 7 of their party’s constitution. As per the section, ‘persons stated below will be considered as disqualified for the membership in the party’s national council, national executive committee, national standing committee or any other executive committee or for candidature of national parliament election: (a) convicted person under the president ordinance no. 8 of 1972; (b) insolvent; (c) person proven as insane; and, (d) person known to the society as corrupt or notorious’. It is now clear that a corrupt person will be considered qualified to become party member and can participate in the election. BNP amended its constitution without any council session or any meeting. What a bizarre constitution of BNP!
Political parties serve as the motive force in crystallising public opinion and as the unifying agency which makes democracy workable. They are the indispensable links between the people and the representative machinery of government. They are the vehicles through which individuals and group work to secure political power and if successful to exercise that power. They make people politically conscious that is aware of their role as citizens. This role cannot be performed simply by voting, but must be a continuous one if govt. is to be kept responsible to public interest. Thus, political parties arc responsible for maintaining a continuous connection between the people and those who represent them either in the government or in the opposition. Considering the above mentioned facts the crucial question then arises: Is BNP a trustworthy political party for democracy?(The writer acknowledges with gratitude the different sources of information.)
The writer is a Chinese Government PhD Fellow and Assistant Professor, Department of Public Administration, Jagannath