Photo courtesy of the Daily Star.

This is Faruq Hossain. He was in a car that was set on fire the night before the hartal on June 27. This photo was taken at the Surgery Unit of Dhaka Medical College Hospital, where he was rushed with sixty percent burn on his body. He died there, on June 30th. Two other victims of such incidents are still fighting for their lives.

There is a long tradition of pro-hartal supporters going around having processions and causing controlled anarchy the night before hartals take place, just to let the general populace know that they mean business. Thus, in popular imagination, this crime has already been fixed on the BNP. BNP has so far said nothing about this incident; nor have any party leaders gone to see the victim.

So here’s the question: did BNP supporters/activists kill Faruq Hossain?

If the answer is yes, then BNP deserves all the blame that is being heaped on it, and more. A brand of politics that takes the life of those very people it is supposed to help is useless and toxic, and Bangladesh would be better off without it. And the consequences shouldn’t simply stop at blame; this death is a criminal matter, and criminal charges should be levied against those who caused it.

But, if the answer is no, then why hasn’t BNP expressed a statement expressing condolences for Faruq and his bereaved family? Why hasn’t Khaleda Zia gone to see Faruq and consoled his mother? Why hasn’t Khandokar Delwar Hossain addressed this matter in his press conference? Why hasn’t Mirza Faqrul Alamgir briefed the press about this?

The above-named individuals should realize that there are some issues, when their silence will not save them. We saw this back in 2004-2005, when for over a year, BNP insisted on doing its best impression of an ostrich with its head stuck in the sand and pretended that violent religious fundamentalism would go away only if BNP pretended it did not exist. The consequences of that period continue to haunt BNP to this day.

What is more surprising about BNP’s silence is that this alleged piece of arson runs counter to everything that Khaleda Zia has been trying to achieve for the past one year. By picking Amir Khasru Mahmud Chowdhury over Abdullah Al Noman to run the CCC election, Khaleda Zia chose a non-confrontational and low-key electoral approach that paid off heavy dividends.

And how did BNP approach the hartal? Here is Sohrab Hasan, not a pro-BNP journalist, in Prothom Alo, not a pro-BNP paper:

দলীয় নেতারা পাড়ায় পাড়ায় গণসংযোগ করেছেন। বিনম্র কণ্ঠে শ্রমজীবী মানুষকে ‘ভাই’ বলে সম্বোধন করেছেন। প্রচারপত্র বিলি করে হরতালের কারণ ব্যাখ্যা করেছেন।

IF BNP was initiating mass contact and going from neighbourhood to neighbourhood to explain why it was calling a strike, why would it destroy its hard-earned goodwill through such a horrendous action? In both the reports that Daily Star ran about this death, the paper could not blame BNP. In the first report, the paper said “a group of people” set fire to the car. In the second report, the paper blamed “criminals.” Now Daily Star will blame anything and everything on BNP on the flimsiest of excuses, so this reticence on the paper’s part is quite telling.

And if you think about it for half a second, BNP’s peaceful approach makes much more sense. Going for violent protests this early in Awami League’s tenure would be extremely counter-productive for BNP. Its only alternative is to make a moral case for itself, and it can only do so through democratic, peaceful, and non-confrontation means.

Given all these facts, why isn’t BNP speaking out? I mean, there is a party in Bangladesh that is known for committing arson during hartals and cold-bloodedly murdering people, but that party is not BNP. Sure, Awami League, once it gets over its collective glee at having arrested the Jamaat trio, may take the time and implicate some BNP leaders and workers in a case regarding the death of Faruq, but that will be transparent and shameless partisan politics, and the people of Bangladesh will be able to identify it as partisan politics.

So, does BNP trust the people of Bangladesh enough to make its case to us?