Is the BNP really an alternative?

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Published on April 12, 2023
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Shams Rahman:

It is true that in the past the BNP was in government for several terms. Sometimes by way of an election after seizing power through military coups, sometimes by direct or indirect support of Jamaat-e-Islam. Since 2013 the party has been frantically trying to return to state power. However, so far, the approach it employed has always been disruptive. Sometimes amid creating chaos and disrupting economic activities. Sometimes through an alliance with dozens of other political parties with opposing ideologies.

So far, it hasn't been successful.

Although desperate to regain government, political analysts believe that, since 2013, the BNP has not participated in elections in the right spirit. The next national election is approaching fast. It is still unclear whether BNP will participate or not. Will they boycott the way they did in 2014? If they return to the election, will they contest in the truest sense? Or will they participate with no serious initiative as they did in 2018? Only time will tell.

A section of Bangladesh's civil society is profoundly disappointed with BNP's leadership. This is evident from their public speeches in seminars, symposiums, and newspaper articles. Undoubtedly, the members of this section of the civil society are well-wishers of BNP. They want the BNP to return to government. However, have they ever asked themselves whether BNP really is an alternative?

Many may think “what kind of question is that?” A party that was in government for several terms in the past, why wouldn't it be an alternative now?

Why BNP is not an alternative is not a judgment reached based on the party's record of economic performance. The assessment is rather based on the adherence of national orientation by BNP. At first glance, it may seem a trivial matter. Unfortunately, it's not. As one would observe, even after 52 years of our independence, the country remained polarized on the core values, principles, and ideals of national orientation. Is there any other nation in the world in a similar situation? A nation that fails to reach a consensus on the core values and ideals of its national orientation, not only lags in image, but also socio-economic development. It's been proven.

The question is: What constitutes the national orientation of Bangladesh? History, language, culture, religion, political background -- all these together form the mindset of a nation based on which a national orientation is shaped. It doesn't happen overnight. Bangladesh has cultivated its national orientation based on a few fundamental values and principles. These are Bengali nationalism, social coexistence, the practice of democracy, and secular politics.

The whole nation was united by the slogan “Joy Bangla,” an utterance that revealed people's confidence, and in which hopes and aspirations of the nation were embedded. The entire population including farmers, labourers, students, the police force, sepoys, and the army bravely fought the Liberation War uttering this slogan. The Joy Bangla slogan does not belong to any political party. This is our national slogan. This is precisely the reason why US President, Joe Biden, used the term Joy Bangla at the end of his letter to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on the 53rd Independence Day of Bangladesh.

For now, let us think about the generation that was born on the midnight of December 16, 1971 and then after. They haven't witnessed the War for Independence, nor have they experienced the process of political polarization in the 70s and 80s. Nonetheless, it will be on their shoulders to lead the nation in the political, economic, and social arenas in the not-so-distant future. In the interest of our next-generation leaders and in their effort to build national prosperity, an immediate resolution on our national orientation is indispensable.

No one can deny that the distortion of Bangladesh's national orientation started in the hands of Ziaur Rahman, the founder of BNP. The party abandoned Joy Bangla and imposed “Zindabad,” a slogan of submission. BNP claims that they are a pro-independence party. As evidence, they bring Ziaur Rahman to the forefront. There is no doubt that Ziaur Rahman participated in the Liberation War and he was the chief of the Z-Force. He was undoubtedly a freedom fighter. But did he believe in the “spirit of independence” in the truest sense?

To “participate in the Liberation War” and to hold the spirit of independence may not be the same. If Ziaur Rahman believed in our independence in its right spirit, could he distort the hard-earned national orientation? Could he replace the slogan of victory with one of submission?

The suspicion deepens when we become aware of the conversation between Ziaur Rahman and Khan Sarwar Murshid which took place in Lusaka in August 1979. At that meeting, Zia harshly blamed the Bengali's “laziness and inactivity” on the Bengali's addiction to Rabindra Sangeet.

Do we need to remind ourselves that our national anthem is also a Rabindra Sangeet?

Most of the senior leaders with whom Ziaur Rahman formed BNP were anti-liberation. Not only were they against Bangladesh's independence and were collaborators of the Pakistani army, but many of them were also war criminals. In addition, Zia reintroduced Jamaat-Rajakars in Bangladesh politics. Later, Khaleda Zia appointed two top leaders of Al Badr-Al Shams as ministers in her cabinet. Has BNP supported the trial of Jamaat-e-Islam leaders and the leaders of Al Badr-Al Shams for their crimes against humanity? There is no evidence. On the contrary, there is sufficient evidence to believe that BNP tried to impede the trial using lame excuses.

What does the above suggest regarding the BNP's belief in the spirit of independence? What message does it convey to the next generation? The question, therefore, becomes: Does BNP believe in the values and ideals of independence in the truest sense?

Now let us take a look at the issue of the distortion of history.

Take the case of our declaration of independence, for example. It's been historically proven and justified from the moral standpoint that Bangabandhu is the proclaimer of independence. Despite that established fact, the senior leaders of the BNP have been claiming that Zia is the proclaimer of independence. Did Zia have any political or moral right to make this claim? Has this question been raised by the members of civil society who sympathize with the BNP?

Let us listen to what economist Rehman Sobhan said: “A declaration of independence can only derive from a legitimate authority, otherwise any citizen could proclaim any part of the globe independent … In the Bangladesh of 1971, it was unreal to imagine that an unknown army officer could proclaim independence for 75 million Bangladeshis without any authority to do so …” (Rehman Sobhan, 2015, p 288, From Two Economies to Two Nations -- My Journey to Bangladesh, Daily Star Books, Dhaka).

Still, BNP continues to distort history. A few years ago, both Khaleda Zia and Tariq Rahman claimed that Ziaur Rahman is not only the proclaimer of independence but also the first president of Bangladesh. Regarding these claims two issues need to be highlighted.

One, Khaleda Zia was the prime minister of Bangladesh three times and the possibility of being so again in the future cannot be ruled out. Therefore, an attempt to distort history by her is not only indecent but also an irresponsible act.

Two, do they realize what could be the consequences of Khaleda Zia and Tariq Rahman calling Ziaur Rahman the first president of Bangladesh? In the 1970 election, the Awami League got a majority in the parliament. Therefore, only an elected member of parliament from the Awami League could legally claim or be elected by the party as the first president or prime minister of Bangladesh. Claiming and promoting someone else is tantamount to a coup d'etat as declared by AK Khan, a leading industrialist: “Zia's claim to be the head of the state would be regarded as an army coup and the liberation movement would lose support nationally and internationally” (Karim, 2005, p 204, Sheikh Mujib -- Triumph and Tragedy, UPL, Dhaka).

Does that mean that Zia's first attempted coup d'etat was held at Kalurghat on March 27, 1971? Would it be unreasonable if a responsible authority of the country sued him for his posthumous trial? Surely it's something to think about.

For these reasons, shouldn't BNP leaders be careful in making such claims?

After more than 50 years of independence, the distortion of history by the BNP leaders has started once again. This time a claim that Khaleda Zia is the first woman freedom fighter and Tarek is a child freedom fighter.

BNP not only mistrusts the number of martyrs of the War of Independence but also disputes this number. It must be remembered that the number of martyrs is not just a number. The pride of our Liberation War is attached to this; the love for our nation is coupled with this. Naturally, the question arises: Why and for whose interest does the BNP question and debate the sacrifice of our martyrs?

Shouldn't the BNP endorse core values, principles, and ideals of national orientation? Shouldn't the party uphold the spirit of independence in its truest sense? Shouldn't the leaders of the party stop distorting the history of independence? What do the members of the civil society who want the BNP to return to government think?

For the sake of our next generation leaders and their efforts to accomplish national triumph, BNP must uphold the core values of national orientation. Only then can the party become an alternative to govern Bangladesh. To repeat, a nation that fails to reach a consensus on core values and ideals of its national orientation, not only lags in image, but also socioeconomic development.

Writer: Professor of Supply Chain Management, Department of Supply Chain and Logistics, School of Accounting, Information Systems and Supply Chain at RMIT University

Courtesy: Dhaka Tribune