How could BNP come to this stage?
Nobody represents the rot that ate away into the very vitals of BNP more dramatically than Tarique Rahman. President Ziaur Rahman for all his constructive (Saarc) and shameful (Indemnity Act) actions was universally respected for his financial honesty. Tarique, as his elder son, on the contrary, appeared hell bent on destroying that core image. Leave alone being concerned, he seemed to bask in his reputation of corruption and never for a moment gave the slightest impression that he was either bothered by it or would ever do anything against it. He considered himself as the product of destiny and took the leadership of BNP to be his proprietorial right.
It was his nonchalance about the rule of law that perhaps represented his most fearful side. Rules just did not matter, only his personal interest did. In a vulgar display of his arrogance he used to publicly denigrate older leadership of his own party. Not that any of them deserved any better (recall the photographs of senior party leaders, including Saifur Rahman, Khandakar Mosharraf and others, desperately trying to squeeze themselves into photo frames with Tarique at Zia's mazar or some similar occasion) yet his attitude towards them was geared to remind all every minute of the day as to who was the boss.
Often he would tease the elders for not really understanding the sentiments of the young. According to him, all that the younger generation wanted was wealth and power. Totally devoid of any principles or ideals, he would mock those of us who would talk about our Liberation War as mere looking into the past. On one occasion, at Prothom Alo's annual reception, he told me, "Having failed to develop the country your generation only talks about the Liberation War. Can history give us jobs for the young?" He would tease and say most young people today do not care about the past, about "your struggles, about Bhasha Andolon or Mukti Juddho". Today "we want to look at the future and not the past." When I protested saying where was the contradiction between being proud of our past, especially our struggles for freedom, and building the country for the future, he said, "Give power to the younger generation and we will show you how to build Bangladesh. Your generation has failed." It was quite curious how distant he was to the greatest achievement of our nation, our Liberation War, in which his father was a major actor.
Though Tarique Rahman lies at the centre of BNP's disgrace, yet it would be wrong to hold him solely responsible for it. Obviously his mother and party chief Khaleda Zia must share a large part of the blame. She did nothing to prevent Tarique's evil influence from becoming all pervasive. On the contrary, she isolated the leaders who tried to warn her as to what was going on. In fact, the message become more and more clear that Tarique was the heir apparent and those who wanted a future in the BNP should fall in line with Tarique. The only person Khaleda Zia protected against her son's predominance was Mosaddak Ali Falu. In fact, ousting Falu from his privileged position of political secretary to the former PM was the only battle Tarique lost. As for the rest they were all left to Tarique's pleasures and we saw proof of that almost daily as one senior leader after another would desperately line up at Hawa Bhaban to seek the crown prince's grace.
Today as layer after layer of corruption is being peeled off destroying the party's residual credibility (residual because by the time her regime ended Khaleda Zia greatly compromised the party's image by her tolerance of unbridled corruption), the former Prime Minister must take her due responsibility for having literally destroyed the party that propelled her to the highest elected office twice. What an irony, instead of being humbled by the honour, respect and dignity that the poor and underprivileged people of this country so generously gave to her, Khaleda Zia became arrogant, high-strung, imperious, proud and pompous. Her attitude was that of an uncrowned queen who had deigned to rule us for which we must be only grateful and not demand the implementation of what she promised in elections.
In our view there are two specific points in her second term from when the rot can be said to have become uncontrollable. First was the expansion of number of ministers (including state and deputy) from 35-40 to nearly 60 during the first days of government formation in the second term. This single decision created the ground for crippling the government from functioning with any semblance of discipline, becoming an open field for illegal or extra legal decisions that would lead to ever expanding corruption. As it became clear that while all cabinet ministers were nominees of the party leadership, nearly all the state and deputy ministers were nominees of Tarique Rahman. Thus began his disruptive influence on the functioning of government, which soon led to the dismantling of all checks and balances within the administration. The multilayered cabinet with dual loyalty was a recipe for disaster and that is precisely what happened--utter disaster. Governance failed and politicisation of every aspect of the administration became the order of the day.
The second incident that speeded the rot was the dismissal of Prof Badruddoza from the position of the President. The country still does not know why it happened. Why was the founder secretary general of BNP suddenly found unacceptable even in as decorative a post as that of the President. What Dr B Chowdhury's removal showed was that nobody could expect to survive in the government or in the party without the pleasure of Khaleda Zia and her son. If a lifelong BNP man, the founding secretary general, the man who built the party from scratch along with Ziaur Rahman could be removed without the slightest of provocation then how could any lower level leader survive? Even a suspicion of disloyalty would cost anybody's political career. This one act destroyed whatever little party democracy there was, depriving Khaleda Zia of any chance of getting any independent information or advice.
The two above acts--one destroying the government and the other destroying the party-- committed at the beginning of Khaleda Zia's second term sowed the seeds of corruption, abuse of power, politicisation of every branch of the administration, especially law enforcement agencies and the bureaucracy.
Leaders like Saifur Rahman, Khandaker Mosharraf, Mannan Bhuiyan, Moudud Ahmed, and others of the same seniority bear a lot of responsibility for the present condition of BNP. They allowed the rot to continue without any protest. They too were eager to either please the crown prince or to stay out of his wrath without taking any position that would save the party. They miserably failed to take any stand when the cabinet was infiltrated by Tarique or when Badruddoza was dismissed in such humiliating circumstances. Thus they were partners in the demise of BNP when the party transformed itself from a political party to a family property.
Let us all learn from what has happened to BNP. We cannot expect democratic governance from political parties that do not practise inner party democracy. In the future let us not accept any political party that does not permit democracy to flourish within its fold. This is a lesson that Awami League can only ignore at its own peril.