The Return of
SHAMIM AHSAN and AHMEDE HUSSAIN
After a long silence
of nearly a year and half, Dr AQM Badruddoza Chowdhury,
once dubbed as the moderate voice of the Bangladesh
Nationalist Party (BNP), has made a big ripple in our
stagnant political pond. “The country is heading for
a crisis,” Chowdhury says. He has the solutions to the
problems the country has been facing, he claims. But
so far he has steadfastly denied having any intention
to form his own political party. When the SWM meets
him, Dr Chowdhury talks about his life and political
plans that have put him at the centre of public attention.
The story began on a Friday
morning during the early days of General Zia's rule;
Dr Badruddoza, with the help of the General, had been
implementing his own idea of Pollee- chikitsha
in rural villages.
On that fateful Friday, the doctor was
summoned by the dictator at his residence; “Everything
good or bad during Zia's rule used to happen on Fridays,”
Chowdhury says “It has always been the luckiest day
in my life; I was expecting something good.” Zia offered
him the post of the secretary general of the party the
General had just floated.
accepted and his relationship with the party continued
and outlived Zia's tragic assassination. During Ershad's
nine-year long autocratic rule, Chowdhury led the party
against all odds; and was rewarded by the post of the
deputy leader of the house when the BNP unexpectedly
won the election in 1991. Ten years later, when the
party came back to power riding an electoral landslide,
it recognised his contribution again, by electing him
the president of the country.
But nearly a decade after that, on another
Friday, the country was shocked to hear the news of
the president's resignation. “If people want me, and
if I decide that the country isn't running well, I will
certainly try to do something to change the situation,”
Badruddoza told the awaiting journalists immediately
after his resignation.
But only silence followed; and Dr Chowdhury
broke it on November 14; interestingly, on another Friday.
“I will not say the country is in a critical juncture,
but there is no doubt the situation is getting critical
and complicated and moving towards a crisis,” Dr Badruddoza
Chowdhury told the United News of Bangladesh (UNB) and
three national dailies. “Be it in maintaining law and
order or curbing corruption or upholding the rule of
law, this government has failed in every sector,” he
His criticism of the BNP's third term
has so far received a mixed reaction from the political
parties. Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan, his long time colleague
and the BNP's current secretary general, has dubbed
it as an outcome of heartburn for losing power. “ What
he is saying today he did not say while he was in the
office. Had he been in power he would not have uttered
so. But after losing power, he is making such comments,”
Bhuiyan says. But Badruddoza is quick to defend his
position. “I still consider Friday my luckiest day in
the week. And thank God I am not in the BNP now. If
I were the president, I would feel guilty and shy for
doing virtually nothing, while the country is going
straight to hell,” he says.
But why didn't he feel all this a year
ago? “I wanted to give the BNP at least a year or so
to fix its problems,” he comments. “I am not after power
or anything,” he continues; “People have been dying
for food in the monga-stricken areas. When
the BNP government came to power the first and second
priorities were curbing corruption and maintaining law
and order. But the situation has taken a grave turn
and is tittering on the verge of a total collapse.”
“Corruption has assumed new dimensions. For the third
successive year the country has earned the infamous
championship award as the world's most corrupt nation,”
sees a bleak future waiting for the BNP, “if it doesn't
sincerely try to implement Zia's policy of self sufficiency
and agricultural revolution.” Commenting on the 'invisible
hand' in Hawa Bhaban ruling the country,” as is often
alleged by many political quarters including senior
members of the BNP, Dr Chowdhury says, “It's a monster.
Centre of power should be located in the government.”
“Is it the idea of a person or is it the party's decision?”
This may have provoked the cancelling
of Mahi Chowdhury's programme Ananda Ghonta from Bangladesh
Television. Mahi, Badruddozza's son and a BNP MP, has
declared a movement against what he calls “the corrupt
party leaders and bureaucrats.” He has so far denied
any plan to join his father's political initiative.
The second reaction he received was
from his long time political foes. Bangladesh Awami
League, which has so far failed to organise any anti-government
movement, has given a cold shoulder to Dr Chowdhury's
rebellion. “Whatever he is doing, he is doing on behalf
of the mainstream BNP-- the BNP created by Ziaur Rahman,
which is totally different from the BNP led by Khaleda
Zia,” Saber Hossain Chowdhury, political secretary to
Bangladesh Awami League chief Sheikh Hasina says.
Meanwhile, Dr Chowdhury remains unfazed.
“I have been talking to the members of the civil society.
The conscious citizens are not reacting the way they
should,” Chowdhury says. Outlining his ideas to run
the country effectively, he says, “we have to build
an effective and pro-people bureaucracy. It isn't about
power; on the contrary it is about serving people.”
Interestingly, all his ideas need the backing of a strong
political will. But it inevitably raises a question
as well: why didn't he try to implement such ideals
from within the BNP.
says something he has never told the media before: “As
a president I wanted to act neutrally; I wanted to be
the president of the country, not of any party's stooge.
Don't ask me how I put them off; I will reveal it in
due course, but I was really surprised when the BNP
parliamentary party (BNPPP) had started discussing ways
to get rid of me.”
After that meeting the prime minister
went to Australia to join the Commonwealth Heads of
the States Meeting. When Khaleda returned from Coolum,
she didn't report the event to the president, which
had long been a democratic procedure. Chowdhury suspected
“something sinister brewing” against him when the incident
repeated itself after the SAARC summit.
“I knew that they were making a blunder.
But when I came to know that the majority of BNPPP's
members are against me, I said thank you very much.”
Alluding to the BNP chief's political isolation he says,
“I couldn't convince her to take certain measures…The
radio and the transmitter both were broken.”
Chowdhury however denies having any
plan to launch a political party. Citing the example
of Georgia, effectively comparing the government with
Edward Shevardnadze-led oligarchs, he says, “Georgia
didn't need any political party.”
But his real intentions about floating
a political party remain ambiguous. So far he has been
circulating a questionnaire to elicit opinion from people
of different social strata. “I will compile what people
have been telling me, and will press the government
to materialise these suggestions,” Chowdhury says. He
leaks one of the several suggestions he has been compiling:
“From the one lakh families of the Chittagong Hill Tracts,
we can gradually send 50,000 abroad as migrant workers.
If they go abroad and regularly send foreign remittance
home, do you think any sort of political unrest will
continue in the hills?”
Badruddoza Chowdhury, however, has been able to generate
people's curiosity. “People are sick and tired of both
the ruling and opposition parties. But you have to come
up with a really good political plan to make any change.
Like Badruddoza, Dr Kamal tried it long ago; and he
hasn't been able to get more than 2000 votes in any
of the general elections he has contested so far,"
says Mahmudul Islam, a student of political science.
“plans to get the country out of the current crisis”
have fallen in line of criticism too. “Most of his ideas
are utopian in nature. The problems we have been facing
are not created in a single day; and if one Badruddoza
suddenly pops up and tells me he has the Midas touch,
I will certainly not buy it,” Mahmud says. “Chowdhury
is a soft-spoken gentleman, I don't have any doubt about
it; but before his resignation, he had remained an integral
part of our ruling oligarchy. It is quite unclear to
me, how he has lost that part of his character,” Mahmud
But everyone does not feel that way.
“ I didn't vote last time; Awami League didn't deserve
my vote after all that they had done while they were
in the office. The BNP was a plausible option, I usually
vote for the party. But after they joined hands with
Jamaat only to win the election, I started to hate them,”
says Mustafizur Rahman, an Accounting teacher. Mustafiz
believes if liberal democrats like Badruddoza form a
political party, it will certainly have a good impact
on our politics.
Badruddoza, another soft-spoken gentleman has tried
to create an alternative, and his experience has so
far remained unmistakably sour. Ironically Dr Kamal
Hossain and Dr Chowdhury have taken similar initiatives
to form a broad-based platform of like-minded people.
The two have so far been maintaining a safe distance,
but whether Dr Kamal will join Dr Badruddoza's bandwagon
is something people have been asking themselves. “I
don't know whether the country has a future or not,
but, in the long run, Dr Chowdhury will have to face
a tough sell,” Mahmud says.
everything and everybody moves around one person, things
cannot run smoothly"
After a conspicuously dormant year,
Dr Badruddoza Chowdhury has resurfaced again to declare
himself as the self-styled saviour of the country. SWM
takes a close look at the former president's political
activities: What is he up to?
You have apparently raised quite
a storm by criticising the present government's failure
to curb terrorism and eradicate corruption. Important
cabinet Ministers, and legislators from the ruling coalition
have sharply reacted to your criticism. How do you see
I don't know why the government appears
so disturbed. I haven't called for any revolution, neither
have I asked the government to step down. I've just
pointed out some of the pressing issues like the ever
deteriorating law and order situation, prevalence of
corruption to the farthest points in every sector, price
spiral of essentials etc. and drawn the attention of
the government so that it takes immediate steps to solve
them. The government must act decisively if it wants
to save the country from falling into a deep crisis.
Why didn't you say all these
things you are saying now when you were in the party?
You had the position to help and influence the government
policy making, didn't you?
In our country, the inter--party political
culture is such that all activities, planning and decisions
are done by one person and nothing is done or implemented
unless orders come from there. If everything and everybody
moves around one person, things cannot run smoothly.
Besides I won't concede that I have said nothing when
I was in the party. I did talk about the law and order
situation and advised the concerned people to employ
the army right after the Four-party alliance came to
power. It was the time when terrorists, who always associate
themselves with the party in power, were changing sides.
Had we started the joint forces drive right after the
Four-party alliance came to power the government could
have spared itself from the accusation that most of
the terrorists arrested by the joint forces were ruling
alliance's supporters. I also advised to make it a continuous
process unlike the way it was finally conducted--now
here and now there.
When did you realise that things
were not going on well in the country and you should
speak out in public?
Well, I don't remember the precise day
and time when the realisation came. But, you see, a
new government needs some time to pull things together
and you must give it that much of time. Now, the government
has already passed two years and I believe two years
is a pretty good time to at least show some progress
in different crucial issues, if not solve them altogether.
do you evaluate the ruling government's performance?
A government can be either Good or Bad
or Indifferent and I would put the present government
in the third category. But I won't say nothing good
has been done by this government. I think the government's
100-day programme yielded some results. There was sincerity
and enthusiasm as well as a general feeling among the
party high-ups to go by our election pledges. But things
suddenly seem to get all botched up at a certain point.
Many of programmes we chalked out as the must-do's in
our election manifesto as well as right after we came
to power, were suddenly left to the backburner. Especially
things like terrorism and corruption that have been
high on our agenda weren't being given due attention
and the present situation is the result of continuous
neglect in these two aspects.
But where does the civil society
fit in the task of resolving the present crisis? What
do you actually mean by civil society?
By civil society I mean any conscious
patriotic individual in general, where people from any
quarter, professional groups, political parties can
get in. I don't agree when the politicians say that
running a country is not the civil society's but the
politicians' job. Intellectuals of the society with
their knowledge and better understanding can certainly
help the government run the country better. Politicians
are often too occupied to get to power and remain there
forever to either have the energy or interest to think
and work hard for the country and the nation. This is
where the civil society can help the government by their
well thought out guidelines. My plan is to organise
the conscious people of the society in one platform
so that they can have their voice heard loud and clear.
How do you want to do this?
I am happy to say that people in general
have responded positively to my views. People, known
or little known or unknown, have thronged in my home
and clinic to express their support. What I am doing
is asking them to come up with concrete suggestions
regarding the most critical issues of the moment. In
fact I have prepared a form, and distributing it among
them to get their views on, say, how corruption could
be eradicated. I have already received some really good
suggestions and I am going to make them public in due
Could you explain your formula?
I would rather like to call them suggestions,
not formula. My suggestions are the results of my long
experience in some of the very key positions of the
government. I wonder what you have found so radical
about them. My idea of creating the posts of 2 Vice
Presidents and 3 Deputy Prime Ministers are nothing
new, such posts were there in Zia and Ershad's governments.
One vice president would be given the charge of administration
and the other in charge of law and parliamentary affairs.
The first DMP would also be the deputy leader of the
House to look after parliamentary and legal affairs,
the second in charge of administration and the third
of development. How can we expect speedy smooth governance
if the PM has to give decision on every single issue.
Dividing PM's work among three DPMs would certainly
bring in motion in governance.
I have another idea regarding the parliamentary
seats. Out of 300 Parliamentary seats, 200 MPs would
be elected by direct vote, while the remaining 100 would
be allocated pro rata on the percentage of votes polled
by political parties. It will allow induction of eminent
personalities, professionals and dedicated political
leaders into parliament. This would make parliament
vibrant, effective and enlightened.