Awami League at 72: People’s Expectation


Published on July 1, 2021
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Dr. Pranab Kumar Panday:

Bangladesh Awami League (AL), a moniker associated with millions of Bangladeshis' emotions, is one of the subcontinent's oldest political parties. The party celebrated its 72nd founding anniversary on June 23. The party, founded in 1949 by some progressive Muslim League leaders, including Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, played an essential part in all of the country's political struggles. When the party dropped the word "Muslim" from its nomenclature in 1953, the leaders, particularly Sheikh Mujibur Rahaman, were met with a barrage of condemnation from a section of the Pakistani public who had a religious affinity to the term. However, Sheikh Mujib and the party's progressive wing remained steadfast in adopting a secular philosophy by dropping the word "Muslim" from the party's name.

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and the AL successfully acted as coxswain for our independence struggle. As a result, east Pakistani voters overwhelmingly backed Sheikh Mujib and AL in the 1970 election. However, due to the nefarious political game, played by the Pakistani junta concerning the transfer of power to the winning party, the countrymen fought hard with the leaders of AL to defeat the Pakistani army when Bangabandhu delivered the 7th March speech and declared the country's independence in the early hours of March 26, 1971. Therefore, the Pakistani army was forced to surrender on December 16, 1971, resulting in the emergence of a new sovereign country on the world map, owing to the sacrifice of fellow citizens, strategic leadership of Bangabandhu and AL, and the assistance of allied forces. Under the charismatic leadership of Bangabandhu, the AL was highly strategic in its decisions during the time. Following Bangladesh's independence, Bangabandhu dedicated his time and efforts to rebuild the country's war-ravaged economy after returning from Pakistani prison on January 10, 1972.

Bangabandhu worked tirelessly to reconstruct the country during his three and a half years in office. At the same time, he had to work hard to build the party and institutionalise democracy. His journey, however, was not simple, as he faced several challenges throughout his brief tenure in power. Even some leaders of the AL, who were previously close allies of Bangabandhu, played the role of the betrayer. Along with the treachery of his party members, he also faced challenges from a group of pro-Pakistani army soldiers. As a result, he was brutally killed with most of his family members on the fateful night of August 15, 1975. Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana could manage to stay alive as they were abroad. The betrayers also killed four national leaders trusted to Bangabandhu inside the jail, which is considered the safest place.
Following the assassination of Bangabandhu, various attempts were made to destabilise and destroy AL as a political party. After 1975, every government tried its hardest to obliterate the party's contribution from Bangladesh's history. As a result, they engaged in various nefarious politics to divide the party into many factions. On the other hand, Sheikh Hasina returned on May 17, 1981, to take over the party's leadership to save it from extinction. From the moment she took over the party's leadership, she was highly strategic. Sheikh Hasina spent most of her time and effort organising the party. Then she decided to put pressure on Ershad's government. Accordingly, Ershad was forced to step down from power in late 1990 due to the longstanding combined political campaign. However, her valiant efforts were in vain, as the AL could not win the 1991 election.

She was not frustrated, though, because her father's unfulfilled ambition of building a "Sonar Bangla" kept her going. She refocused her efforts on bolstering his party and mobilising people to put pressure on the government. Finally, in 1996, AL won the election. She and AL started reconstructing the country after winning the election. Despite numerous indicators of improvement, her party lost the 2001 election due to some of the caretaker government's controversial policies. She began rebuilding the party and its followers once more. The military-backed 1/11 government, on the other hand, tried not only to remove Sheikh Hasina from the AL's leadership but also to split the party into various factions. In her absence, she was lucky to have leaders like Late Zillur Rahman and Late Syed Ashraful Islam, who kept the party united. Sheikh Hasina rose out against the 1/11 government and vowed to fight the fake court fights filed against her.

Later, the party regained power after a resounding win in the 2008 election. After winning the election, Sheikh Hasina made a wise decision by pardoning all of her party's reformist leaders who participated in the plot to remove her from the party leadership during the 1/11 government. She has been working tirelessly since then to propel Bangladesh to the next stage of development. Three consecutive terms in power have provided her with greater authority to make and implement some of the country's most important decisions. As a result, in the last 12 years, the country has seen great economic development and has met all of the Millennium Development Goals well ahead of schedule. Different megaprojects that are nearing completion include the Padma Bridge, elevated expressway, Dhaka Mass Transit Rail Projects, and the Karnaphuli river underwater Tunnel. We expect the pace of development to continue under Sheikh Hasina and the Awami League's capable leadership in the future.

However, Sheikh Hasina requires paying attention to the organisation of her party. A long stay in the party has created opportunities for the BNP and Jammat men to infiltrate the party. In some cases, these infiltrators have been playing a dominating role at different levels. As a result, these infiltrators have taken a commanding position at various levels. This has undermined the party's local organisation as well as demoralised the devoted leaders and workers. Moreover, some MPs and senior party officials have continued to infiltrate opposition leaders and supporters. Therefore, the AL has become the only political party at the local level, which is not a good sign for the party.

Both the AL President and Secretary have emphasised the need of remaining vigilant against infiltrators. Therefore, the party leadership must stay cautious against infiltrators and recognise the contributions of devoted leaders who have been true supporters of the party during its difficult times. Unfortunately, in today's environment, there is a lack of committed leaders in the party. History tells us that Bangabandhu resigned from the ministry in 1957 to dedicate more time to reorganise the party. In the context of Bangladesh, such sacrifice in modern politics is unimaginable. Therefore, more efforts are required to be paid for the reorganisation of the party.

The corruption of infiltrators, some party leaders, and a section of the bureaucracy is another issue that the AL leadership and the government should consider more seriously. This has posed a serious challenge to the credibility of the AL government. This has allowed opponents to point fingers at the government, despite the nation's remarkable progress under Sheikh Hasina's leadership. As a result, we anticipate that the AL President and her close advisors will take swift and decisive action against infiltrators and corruption. The great majority of people would extend their support to her and the party to take decisive action against these people. This will assist her in accomplishing Bangabandhu's dream of establishing a “Sonar Bangla”. Thus, the people of Bangladesh have high expectations from one of the subcontinent's oldest political parties, which has just celebrated its 72nd founding anniversary.

Writer: Professor of Public Administration at the University of Rajshahi

Courtesy: The Daily Sun