Sunday, 29 January, 2023

Straight Talk

BNP Needs a Better Strategy

Abdul Mannan

BNP Needs a Better Strategy
Abdul Mannan

Popular News

Bangladesh has gained international attention since 1970 when Awami League won  the majority seats in the Pakistan’s National Parliament and the party  President Sheikh Mujibur Rahman challenged the authority of the Pakistan Junta when it refused to hand over the power to the elected representatives, so that the people can return to much desired civil rule. The challenges before the Awami League and the country continued to multiply and continue even today. In the recent past, for about one year, one of the country’s leading political party BNP, a party founded by Bangladesh’s first military dictator  Ziaur Rahman,  is trying to unseat the current government under Sheikh Hasina, one of the surviving daughters of Mujib, assassinated on the fateful night of 15 August 1975. Amidst all these so-called political movements comes the news that Forbes magazine, one of the leading magazines published from the US has named Sheikh Hasina as one of the most powerful women in the world. She has won this laurel in the past. Amongst the hundred women only ten Heads of State or Heads of Government managed to have a berth in the list. Surely Sheikh Hasina has made the country proud. We will talk about the issue some other time.

Let us come to the recent and ongoing street agitation of BNP to unseat the present government that was elected in the general election of 2008. There is no doubt the election was not exactly fair in many places which is not uncommon in countries like Bangladesh. Even during the last Presidential election in the US Donald Trump and his supporters cried foul and in an unprecedented manner Trump supporters stormed the Capitol Building - the seat of the US parliament. But at the end of the day an elected government must be replaced by another elected government.

Constitutionally in Bangladesh and few other countries national elections are conducted by an independent Election Commission. But in most countries of Europe, US or in countries like Japan all elections are conducted by the local administration. Even in Bangladesh there was a time when elections like that of the Provincial Assembly of 1954 in the then East Pakistan was conducted by local administration. That was the first and last election in this part of Pakistan till the national election of 1970 where Awami League won a majority of seats. The election of 1970 was conducted under an Election Commission in Pakistan and Justice Abdus Sattar, later accomplice of General Zia and his Vice-President was the Chief Election Commissioner. After the Liberation of Bangladesh and killing of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, BNP’s founder General Zia did everything possible to corrupt the electoral system. He even introduced in this country a Presidential election where he was the only candidate. A unique election indeed!

Zia ruled Bangladesh after the killing of the Father of the Nation till he himself was assassinated in an abortive military coup in Chittagong on 30 May 1981. Surprisingly, BNP the party he founded and was in power for years under Justice Sattar and Begum Zia, never tried to investigate into the killing of Zia though his assassination was followed by the execution after a sham trial of thirteen army officers all of them Freedom Fighters accused of creating a mutiny and not for the killing Zia. After a brief interregnum and rule of Zia’s Vice-President Justice Sattar, stepped in another military dictator General Ershad, Zia’s one time Deputy. He had to abdicate power following a nationwide mass upsurge to an ad hoc President Justice Shahabuddin as per the desire of the parties demanding the resignation of Ershad. The 1991 election saw Begum Zia, the widow of General Zia, win the election and form the government. It was thought that she and her party would play necessary roles to strengthen the democratic institutions of the country. Instead, her government failed miserably and on the contrary in many cases even made vulnerable democratic institutions even weaker and prolonged their stay in power which resulted in all other parties demanding the national election must be held under a non-party caretaker government. Begum Zia defied demands of all the political parties and civil society members and went on to hold an election on 15 February 1996 boycotted by all the political parties except Freedom Party - the party that was created under the patronization of Ershad by the killers of Bangabandhu. Audaciously one of the self-confessed killers of Bangabandhu and his entire family Col (Dismissed) Abdur Rashid was made ‘elected’ from a seat in Cumilla and made the Leader of the Opposition in the Parliament. But as the pressure became unbearable for Begum Zia, the Parliament hurriedly incorporated the non-party caretaker type government during the election which was again made non-functional by Begum Zia and her government in 2006.

Surprisingly the system was challenged by one Abdul Mannan Khan in the Apex court of the country during Begum Zia’s rule and the Apex court in its verdict in 2010 declared the system as against the basic spirit of democracy and the Constitution. In its observation ‘if the parliament so decides it may have the system for two more elections but the judiciary, which was the basis of non-party  Caretaker government must be left out of the system. The parliament decided to discontinue the system anymore and moreover as the judiciary ruled out the only credible institution to head such a government would not be able to lead any such government and if done so, it will not only be against the Constitution but also defying one of the most important institution of the country, the Apex Court, which is the only body that can interpret the Constitution.

BNP, the party that was formed  while its founder was in power as the first military dictator of the country, was in power for at least sixteen years including Zia’s military dictatorship and with forming  alliance with militant outfits like Jamaat-e-Islami and the killers of the Father of the Nation has been out of power for last fourteen years. Sixteen years of BNP or Zia are full of controversies. One must remember that it was Zia who executed about thirteen hundred serving persons of the air force and army in 1977 charging them with staging a military coup against him. During his tenure as the military ruler and the President at least 21 coups were attempted and finally he died in the one staged in Chattogram. All those executed were denied any kind of fair trial and even did not have the right to defend themselves. It was simply a state sponsored murder. Even the dead bodies of those executed were not handed over to the family members. It was Zia who validated the Killing of Mujib and his family by incorporating the infamous Indemnity Ordinance in the Constitution. It was he who amended the Constitution to allow religion to be used in national politics shunning the constitutional obligation of ‘secularism’.

The current Chairman of BNP has been found guilty of embezzlement of public fund and its acting Chairman who also happens to be the son of the Chairman Begum Zia has been sentenced also by the Apex Court of the country as he was found guilty of money laundering, arms smuggling, harbouring militant outfits and all sorts of corrupt practices. Currently he is absconding and has found a safe sanctuary in London by surrendering his Bangladeshi passport.

The next national election just a year from now, BNP is now out of its hibernation and is doing everything possible to create unrest in the country as they did in 2013, 2014 and 2015. At any cost BNP with their one man party allies wants this government to go, hand over the power to some unconstitutional government and for this they have engaged lobbyists to lobby with friendly countries to compel the present government to accept their illogical demands. Ironically the lobbyists are headed by the British lobbyist Toby Cadman who was the lead legal consultant for the counsels of those who were being tried for committing crimes against humanity in 1971.  The trial was held in an open court and those accused and found guilty had all the rights allowed under any of the countries. Besides the lobbyists,  recently BNP has also begun to use diplomats of some friendly countries stationed in Bangladesh to create pressure on the government to accept their demand and in doing this some of these diplomats  sometimes even have trashed the standard practices allowed to diplomats of foreign countries under the Vienna Convention.

It is the duty of the government to provide all sorts of security to the diplomats in any country but in the past it was seen at least one diplomat had to face some untoward incident from the local crowd when the said diplomat went on a private invitation to the residence of a NGO Chief who is known for his controversial remarks about Bangladesh returning to the non-existent non-party caretaker election time government. The aforesaid diplomat did not inform the local security of the dinner invitation earlier. Just a few days back another diplomat of the same country committed the same error by going to a residence of a person who is alleged to have disappeared some nine years back and this time too the local law enforcement agencies were unaware of this visit. The foreign ministry was not aware of the house visit too.  Such unnecessary and unwarranted incidents created by some diplomats just simply sour the existing friendly relationship between Bangladesh and these countries.

Just because of such incidents the public perception is now getting stronger that some foreign powers are desperate to see a government friendly towards terrorism and militancy return to power so that they can fish in murky water. These countries are not satisfied by dismantling countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya or even Syria and Yemen. They want a new playground and perhaps they would like to see Bangladesh turn into one. Unfortunately this is not the Bangladesh of seventies but a country of a new century and new realities. When some of these countries could not kill Bangladesh at its birth they will not be able to do it now, not even with the help of political parties like BNP the party that has been trying for a long time to tarnish the image of the country in different parts of the world and on board they have a section of local civil society members and some media.

People have seen the joint rule of Begum Zia and her son Tarique Rahman and they have also seen the rule of Sheikh Hasina. They are capable enough to judge for themselves which is better for them and the country and which is not. Let BNP as a recognized political party express their opinion in a peaceful manner and let us not see anyone else outside Bangladesh play their ball game inside Bangladesh to bring back BNP to power through any unconstitutional manner. BNP just needs to have a better strategy. Diplomats should not have any hidden agenda to unduly assist any political party in another country. It is just unethical. Years back the famed Hollywood actor Marlon Brando played the lead role in a movie based on such diplomats.

This is a month of Victory. Victory day wishes to all my readers. Nothing could stop our victory in 1971; why should it now?


The writer is an analyst and commentator