Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), one of two major political parties of Bangladesh just held it’s 5th council. Although mandated to be held every two years, the last council took place 16 years ago. It may be premature to analyze the positive and negative sides of the council, but it is definitely the good time to start the deliberation.

The Good:

Fairy speaking, this is the only real council attempt by a major party in this tour. Awami League’s council was a Dhaka based eyewash. Contrary to AL’s public event, BNP tried to come from bottom up and do a real council. Starting with Thana level then district/ metropolitan level and then central level. Although BNP could successfully elect a committee in 49 out of 75 district level committees and some council including that of Chittagong, Rajbari etc got foiled due to infighting on committee positions, the whole process paints a positive tone on BNP’s politics. First of all it shows the energy and potential of BNP grassroots, especially in a time after a major political and electoral debacle. Additionally BNP can showcase all these as the ‘unpaved roads of democracy’. Committees were not centrally assigned to Dhaka based lackeys, rather people in villages- unions-upazillas- Zillas took the ownership and raised enough hue and cry to see a committee of their liking.

Other positive features of the council definitely would include unprecedented organizational excellence in arranging such a political event, especially by an opposition political party. Khaleda Zia’s speech was good, inclusive and with adequate respect for the timely issues like spirit of 1971. Also very heartening was a conciliatory tone both from the ruling party and the opposition. BNP published 8 fairly good quality books. This was definitely a much needed front for BNP to start working on. And in general, the media covered the event with a positive attitude. This is definitely unprecedented for any event related to BNP.

The Bad:

Not a single major political party council since inception of Bangladesh in 1971 could elect its committee during the council. BNP failed to come out as an exception. Also failing to break with tradition, the council was nothing but formalities, colorful stage events of courtesy speeches. Totally missing was any substance. Council means councilors will speak their mind ad libitum, criticize failings, wrong decisions. Also missing was any policy discussion. How BNP should look like in 10, 20 or 50 years; how BNP will face issues like Tipaimukh- PIlkhana-transit-Jamaat, how to reach out to newer generations etc —- were the kinds of discussions a council is for. Another very odd feature of BNP’s 2009 council was total absence of centrist, leftists, progressive, political outlets and civic society groups. They completely failed to attract any outlet politically to the left of BNP. Only attended and spoke were leaders of rightist outfits such as Jamaat, Nezam e islami, Khelafat, JAGPA, BJP. Khaleda Zia herself wrote in an op-ed several months ago that BNP is a party, which stays right of the left and left of the rightists’ parties. Nation failed to see anything on the left of BNP during the council opening session.

The Ugly:

BNP’s treatment of Tarique Rahman was not a great show case moment for BNP. If BNP’s politics is only intended for its grassroots activists, then Tarique’s ascension could have been a great triumph. But BNP cannot forget there is a jury out there. The younger generation of voters, the swing voters, the educated urban-rural middle class. These groups brought BNP to power in 1991 and 2001 and kicked BNP out of power in 2008. After the showcase event of inauguration ceremony, nothing else took place in the daylong event except election of Tarique Rahman to a newly created post, Senior Vice Chairman. The whole council looked like the coronation event of the crown prince.

Traditionally Khaleda Zia ran BNP politics with decisions made after detailed discussion with bunch of seasoned gentlemen politicians in the standing committee. During 2001-2006 rule, as the street level thugs, sycophants, corrupt-ambitious newbie, disconnected Dhaka based businessmen had no way to reach and influence that standing committee, they used Tarique Rahman to bypass the standing committee and influence-execute crucial political decisions. By turning it’s 2009 council into Tarique Rahman coronation celebrations, BNP may have executed some political calculations like ensuring a council elected high party rank for him. No one from now on can say Tarique was forced into party leadership, he never came elected in a council. They may have been also afraid that media may play with the fact negatively if Tarique Rahman is not adequately garlanded in the council. They probably were afraid of the imaginary Daily Star news report, ” While all the Joint Secretary Generals got promoted to higher party ranks, BNP leader’s controversial son Tarique Rahman was kept in his old post of Sr Joint Secretary general. Reliable sources say that councilor after councilor in the closed door session came up with scathing criticism of misdeeds of Tarique Rahman and BNP chairperson had no option but to shun her son from more important party responsibility…” . Additionally BNP leadership may have thought that a higher party rank may make it more difficult for current ruling party to further harass Tarique Rahman. BNP may also have thought it was a good response to all the rubbish that is being published in one newspaper implicating Tarique with 21st August murders.

But by doing so, BNP totally failed to see a bigger picture. The promotion of Tarique was very short sighted and reactionary. There is absolutely no answer to the questions like, 1. Why senior VC? IS KZ planning on retiring from politics soon? Is Mrs. Zia incapacitated in any form that may bar her from executing her leadership responsibilities and an alternate leader was needed? 2. How current elevated position change Tarique Rahman’s clout in BNP politics? 3. God forbid, if something happens to Mrs. Zia today, is there any chance Tarique may not get party leadership because he was in a lowly post of Joint Secretary?

And most importantly what happened in this council to identify the persons responsible for political miscalculations during Iajuddin rule and make them answer for the mistakes?

Dynastic politics is a reality in Bangladesh, and there is no questioning that Tarique Rahman will have to keep BNP together in the absence of her mother. And the skepticism about Tarique assuming Senior Vice Chairmanship of BNP is not to discount the physical-mental torture Tarique endured during two years military rule of Bangladesh. This skepticism also does not endorse the media propaganda that was (and is being) conducted against Tarique by powerful media of Bangladesh. Tarique’s role after military takeover of January 11 2007 is exemplary. He endured worst of physical torture, his vertebral column got fractured severely as a result of those military conducted torture. Despite years of all-out effort to dig out something negative about Tarique, no concrete financial corruption case could be made against Tarique yet. And gloriously he was the first one in post 1/11 Bangladesh to publicly speak out against physical torture under military custody.

But our political entities must understand that (and I believe, the other main entity, Awami League leadership has understood this quite well), in Bangladesh, people love to pick their own leader. They will pick the same person, a Khaleda, a Hasina, a Joy, a Tarique— when time comes. But the same people will not like it when the same Tarique will be promoted before his time really comes. A leader’s children are under constant surveillance. They are inherent suspects of all sorts of conspiracies/ corruptions. This is a global phenomenon. In this background, the best approach for a ‘to be leader’ is to keep as low profile as possible. For Tarique, the best thing is to get treatment as well as some law/ political science education / Public relations education in UK while he fights cases against him in courts.
Anyone who loves Bangladesh and wants to see it as a viable democratic nation must be prepared to see two major functional political parties in Bangladesh. In this context, no one should dream to see BNP vanished from the map of Bangladesh. A prosperous Bangladesh needs a strong BNP under effective, strong and popular leadership. Without that, not only BNP — the whole country will suffer.