Friday, 27 January, 2023

Straight Talk

Flashback— Political Movements in Bangladesh

Abdul Mannan

Flashback— Political Movements in Bangladesh
Abdul Mannan

Currently, there is a BNP-led perceived political movement in Bangladesh, the objective being the illogical and unconstitutional abdicating of power by the current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government and holding of a new parliament election under a non-existent and scrapped caretaker or non-party unconstitutional government. BNP has under its umbrella about twenty riffraff self-styled parties. BNP a party born under a very abnormal and questionable circumstance is out of power since 2007 and for a party, whose experience of not being in power for such a long time is something new and now has become unbearable. One should not forget the genesis of the birth of the BNP. The party was born in September of 1978 while its founder Ziaur Rahman was the President of the country after the assassination of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. It was Zia who forced himself to become the first military ruler of the country after Bangabandhu’s assassination. To form his party, he used the entire military and civil administration of the country. Most of his initial party members were drawn from professionals and technocrats having little or no political experience. A few pro-Pakistani elements like Shah Azizur Rahman and Abdul Alim were also included in Zia’s party. Since the formation of the BNP, it has been in power until General Ershad threw out BNP’s elected President Justice Sattar. Ershad ruled Bangladesh from 1982 to December 1990. After the fall of Ershad in 1990, the widow of Zia, Begum Khaleda Zia was elected to form the government in the month of March 1991 and stayed in power till 1996. As the election was nearing Begum Zia tried to stay in power through different types of machination of the system but she failed to do so due to the Awami League-led mass movement.

Sheikh Hasina-led Awami League won the 1996 election and with the help of a few political allies formed her government. After completing her five-year term, Sheikh Hasina transferred the state power peacefully to the caretaker government led by Justice Latifur Rahman. Justice Latifur Rahman’s three-month tenure was fraught with all types of irregularities and conspiracies and he was assisted by then-Chief Election Commissioner Abu Sayed. Awami League losing the election of 2001 was not unexpected which Awami League took in with good earnestness. When Begum Zia’s tenure was coming to an eventful end in 2006, her government did everything possible to prolong her stay in power: from the appointment of an extremely controversial Election Commission to creating a list of staggering 10.20 million fake voters. The last hope of a possible fair election collapsed when BNP-nominated President Iajuddin Ahmed declared himself as the Chief of caretaker government disregarding the existing compulsion under the Constitution. The Apex Court of the country scrapped the Care Taker election time government in 2012, saying that not for a single minute should the rule of the government in a democratic system pass to any unelected person or groups. Now BNP and its allies are demanding that the current elected government of Sheikh Hasina step down and hand over the power to the unconstitutional Care Taker Government. They are also demanding the dissolution of the constitutionally formed Election Commission. Ironically both their Chairperson Begum Zia and acting Chairperson Tarique Rahman have been convicted by the Apex Court for committing crimes and illegal activities ranging from corruption and money laundering to sponsoring militancy.  Begum Zia is currently serving her prison terms while the Acting Chairperson Tarique Rahman is absconding and hiding in London. In the meantime, he surrendered his passport and opted for British citizenship. Amidst all these chaotic and uncertain situations BNP and its allies are staging the current unrest in the name of a movement to unseat the present government forgetting the fact that since the end of the British Raj and the birth of Pakistan in 1947 no political movement was ever successful without the active participation of Awami League and its affiliates.

The first anti-government movement in the post-1947 era began when Pakistan’s founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah visited then East Pakistan’s capital Dhaka in March of 1948 and declared in a public rally held in Ramna Race Course (currently Suhrawardy Udyan) that ‘Urdu and Urdu shall be the State language of Pakistan.’ Less than 4 per cent of the people of the entire Pakistan spoke the language while 56 per cent spoke Bangla. Jinnah’s unrealistic declaration met with a strong protest from the general people present at the rally and later from the students of Dhaka University. Thus, a language movement was born. It was in the early days of East Pakistan and Sheikh Mujib just returned from Kolkata. He realised that to launch any movement against the probable anti-people decisions from the central government of Pakistan there should be an organisation and thus the East Pakistan Student League was born on 4 January 1948. The student organisation besides strengthening its organisational capabilities kept the language movement alive later. Mujib realised that to stand against the unjust decisions of the government just the might of the students may not be enough. So in 1949, the first political party of East Pakistan, East Pakistan Awami Muslim League (Later East Pakistan Awami League) was formed on 23 June 1949 and the credit for forming the Awami League must be given to young Sheikh Mujib. Awami League was established as the alternative to Pakistan Muslim League to voice the just demands of the people of then East Pakistan.

From 1949 to 1952, Awami League spearheaded the language movement with other progressive political parties like Gonotontri Dal, Tamuddin Majlis and the leading civil society members. The movement took an ugly turn in 1952 when the police fired on the demonstrating students of Dhaka University along with the general people of Dhaka killing quite a few and injuring scores. Bangla along with Urdu was recognised as the two state languages of Pakistan in 1955.

The turning point in the history of Pakistan was Mujib’s announcement of the Six-Point programme in 1966 considered the Magna Carta of the people of Bangladesh. The salient feature of the Six-point was the emancipation of the people of Bangladesh and other oppressed people of Pakistan from the rulers of Pakistan. Immediately, Mujib was arrested and in 1968 legal proceedings were drawn against Sheikh Mujib along with others charging them with committing treason and conspiring to dismember Pakistan. This happened in the midst of the anti-Ayub movement where again the Awami League played the pivotal role. During this movement, most of the senior leaders were arrested but the movement continued under the leadership of Dhaka University Central Students’ Union of which the current Awami League Parliamentarian Tofail Ahmed was the Vice President. The students along with the people of the country demanded that Ayub Khan step down and arrange for an election based on a universal adult franchise. When Ayub Khan refused to budge, the movement gathered momentum and in 1969 it changed into a mass upsurge and Ayub Khan had to step down and hand over the power to General Yahiya Khan. Though the victory was a victory of the people and all the progressive political parties and student and labour organisations the onus of leading the movement fell on to Awami League and its affiliates. In the election of 1970, Awami League won 167 seats out of Pakistan’s 300 seats and it was expected that Awami League under the leadership of Mujib, now crowned as Bangabandhu, would form the government. But the civil-military clique of Pakistan could not accept the fact that any Bangali would form a government in Pakistan. So, the 1971 war of Liberation became inevitable again to be led by Awami League.

With the assassination of Bangabandhu on 15 August 1975, Bangladesh entered into an era of darkness. The country was taken over by Ziaur Rahman, the founder of BNP, and with a brief rule of his Vice President Justice Sattar General Ershad took over the power from him sending him into oblivion. In 1989, the students of the country began a movement to unseat the military dictator Ershad and the movement was joined later by Begum Zia-led seven-party alliance and the left-oriented parties. But the movement was unable to dislodge Ershad till Awami League with its allies joined the movement and subsequently Ershad was forced to step down in December 1990. When Begum Zia tried to hold on to power at any cost after her tenure ended in 1996, it was again a movement launched by Awami League that forced her to abandon the ill-conceived idea. A similar episode was enacted in 2006 which again was foiled by Awami League and its allies. So, it is evident from the record of more than 75 years that no movement in this country was ever successful without the active participation of the Awami League and its affiliates. So why should it would be different this time is anybody’s guess as of now. BNP and its allies may resort to violence, create mayhem as it did in 2013, 2014 and 2015, and create a reign of terror but succeeding in overthrowing the current government by unconstitutional means seems unlikely unless there are conspiracies from inside. Historically, conspiracies against Awami League always were formulated inside the party and the outsiders just took advantage of the situation.

BNP should realise that there is no alternative to go to power other than through participating in a constitutionally held election and the duty of holding such an election lies with the Election Commission.


The writer is an analyst and commentator