Khandaker Delwar Hossain, Secretary General of BNP, former lawyer and lecturer of Economics, veteran of of the Language Movement, the 1969 uprising, and the War of Liberation, former Member of Parliament from Manikganj, former Chief Whip of the Bangladeshi Parliament, and the recipient of the Ekushey Padak, passed away yesterday. He will be missed.
Khandakar Delwar Hossain began his political life as a founding member and leader of Manikganj district brunch of National Awami Party when it was formed by Maolana Bhashani in 1957. Even before that, his career as a grassroots leader showed promise as the 7 time elected President of Manikgankj district Lawyers Association.
Most of Delwar’s political trajectory tracks those of many other Bangladeshi politicians. Like many other disgruntled members of our Left, he joined the newly-formed BNP at its formative period. Elected five times as a Member of Parliament, he was, during 1991-1996 and then 2001-2006, the Chief Whip of the Bangladeshi Parliament. Like many other career politicians, he was facing challenge in his area from a business magnet-turned-politician, namely Harunur Rashid Khan Munnu of Munnu Ceramics. Perhaps most damningly, he didn’t sugerc-coat his words when it was his turn to speak: not to Khaleda Zia, and not to Tareque Rahman.
When forming her government in 2001, Khaleda Zia had decided not give Delwar any position at all, while Munnu would be given a cabinet position. However, at the last minute, many of his colleagues interfered on his behalf, and he was again given the consolation post of Chief Whip, while Munnu was taken in the cabinet, thought without a portflio. Delwar mostly remained out of the limelight in 2001 – 2006.
Fast-forward to September 2, 2007. Khaleda Zia had just been arrested; BNP’s number-2 person – Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan, had been co-opted by the “military-backed caretaker government.” Our present Prime Minister was already in prison, while her deputy, Abdul Jalil, had been broken under torture. Minus-two was this close to succedding.
But in an act of partial redemption, after making poorer and poorer choices regarding key personnel during her entire government, Khaleda Zia chose Khandaker Delwar Hossain as BNP’s new Secretary General. Before then, he had never held any cabinet positions, or indeed any senior leadership positions in his party. BNP was in ruins, most leaders were either in arrest, in hiding, or ready to side with General Moeen. The workers were resolute but scattered. The party of Ziaur Rahman was one good push from becoming history.
That push was attempted about a month later, in October. DGFI arranged a meeting of the turncoat BNP leaders in the residence of the frail ex-Finance Minister Saifur Rahman. The plan was to get a majority of the BNP Standing Committee members to show up at Saifur’s residence, and have Saifur, then in failing health, act as a figurehead, while Major Hafiz, and ultimately Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan, consolidated the rest of the party around them.
It did not work. After a brutal visit by DGFI where he was physically threatened, Delwar refused to cooperate and instead went into hiding, and then chekced into BIRDEM to avoid arrest. DGFI failed to get a majority of the Standing Committee to show up, and the moment slipped away. At this crucial point, a half-century’s worth of experience, first commenced at the feet of Moulana Bhashani, proved its worth. BNP, and Sheikh Hasina, survived to fight another day. Delwar passed the test that his far more illustrious predecessors: K M Obaidur Rahman, and Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan, did not.
To his credit, Delwar did not change his plain-spoken style even after Khaleda Zia emerged from prison, clashing with her and Tareque Rahman several times, most importantly about the future direction of the party and the fate of those who deserted BNP after 1/11. It may be something of a distant memory, but BNP was seen as an obsolete relic after Awami League had come back to power with a nine-tenth majority and Vision 2021 was in vogue. In this testing time, Delwar was a steady presence, and a voice of sobriety in inner-party deliberations. At a time when many were urging the BNP Chairperson to blindly oppose any move taken by the AL government, Delwar was particularly insistent that BNP could not, in principle, oppose a trial of the war criminals of 1971. There are instances when Delwar stormed out of party high commands meetings when he was having difficulty to convince the party chairperson/ other policy makers adopt his principled stand on many issues.
If the people of Bangladesh ever decide to forgive BNP for its many derelictions and mistakes and return the party to power, many individuals will again strut to the limelight of power and pretend that they are here by birthright. However, if not for this unassuming, non-telegenic politician, the political landscape of Bangladesh would be very different today. Khandaker Delwar Hossain fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith. May his soul rest in peace.