Mothers and Sons
After a few dormant months, Khaleda Zia has resurfaced again. In her first tête-à-tête with newspersons, she has claimed that her Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has never dynastic politics.
Khaleda's last five-years in power has been the worst case of corruption and misrule in our modern history. Under her leadership the BNP made itself into a bastion of unbridled corruption and shameless nepotism. Armed with the blessings and indifference of the party high command, some BNP-men (and women) ran amuck; the list of such offenders is long, and none but Tarique Rahman, Khaleda's first-born, tops the list. Tarique and his cronies did not spare anyone or anything. To them nothing mattered, as long as they could earn a few quick million. From electric poles to CNG-run three-wheelers, Tarique's long hands were at work everywhere. Khaleda's two sons, along with the sons of other BNP leaders, gave birth to a culture where extortion was more profitable than running a business. Politics became a way of making money-- along Khaleda's son came her brothers and their sons, her cousins and their sons--it is a sad old tale of arrogance and mismanagement hatched and marketed, however unsuccessfully, by Zia's widow.
The source of this abusive power centred on nothing but the Zia household, the alternative powerhouse that was created in Hawa Bhaban was led by no one but Khaleda's sons.
Khaleda Zia has been trying to serve the interests of a vested quarter when she says that dynastic politics has never existed in the BNP. This is nothing but a travesty of the truth. In short, our two-time former prime minister has been caught uttering the most damnest of lies when she lays such claim. It is no less than tragic that these have been the very first words that have come out of her lips since a state of emergency was declared on January 11 of this year. Since the promulgation of emergency, the politicians have waken up to a new reality-- now that a government has come to power which maintains azero tolerance on corruption and an independent Anti-corruption Commission (ACC) has been formed, the crooked, the corrupt and opportunist elements of the BNP and Awami League (AL) have begun to hear the music.
The interim government and the ACC have opened a can of worms: We have come to know about a bunch of thugs and goons who used to adorn the parliament only a few days ago. There is a particular minister who alone owns about 50 luxurious apartments in the capital; there is this other MP, who controls two television channels, one newspaper and a bank. These are only instances of what a country becomes when democracy gives in to dynastic politics.
In the BNP, the party chairperson's words are command; the party constitution is so fundamentally undemocratic that it gives absolute power in the hands of one single individual, who can induct any newcomer (Tarique Rahman; Saeed Iskandar) into any post of the party.
For the last five years the Zias have remained the biggest symbol of corruption in Bangladesh. Khaleda's denial of the presence of dynastic rule in her party is the height of arrogance of a person who is not in touch with reality. The last five months have been very important and precious for our political life: major graft suspects, including Tarique Rahman, have been arrested in the last few months; ordinary people are now demanding more reform of the country's politics, especially the internal reform of the major political parties; a new path has opened before honest tested political leaders to come together to form a liberal non-communal political party to move the country forward from the squabble and feudal politics in which we were mired in before January 11.
Its not only Khaleda's indulgence in the politics of arrogance and conspiracy that has made the state of emergency a necessity, Sheikh Hasina, leader of the AL, has her own contribution into this grim and sordid saga. Hasina's reliance on the streets instead of the floor of the parliament; and at the fag end of Khaleda's regime, Hasina urged her followers to take to the streets with logi boita, which along with Khaleda government's unfinished legacy of thuggery and fascist behaviour led the country to an unprecedented level of violence and gangsterism. Here we must recall that the Hasina-led government that ruled the country for five years (1996-2001) was also enmeshed in jobbery. Like the way we have seen it in Khaleda's dynastic reign, Hasina's first term had also witnessed the advent of different minister-sons who had readily sold their souls to the devil: a Chief Whip's son (who is also a relation of the then PM) grabbed an ordinary person's house and obstinately refused to leave the place even after the incident hit the headlines of the national dailies. The AL leadership turned a blind eye to the nefarious elements in its own house: Shamim Osman, Abu Taher, Joinal Hazari -- it is a shame for the AL, which has such a glorious history of leading our country towards independence that these are only a few characters in a big fat horror story.
For over the last two decades these two ladies have been dominating the country's politics; their reigns have witnessed the fall of Ershad's autocratic and vile regime. But in their own parties they themselves have remained two incorrigible autocrats--in the BNP and AL, the chairperson and president wield absolute power, most of the senior leaders who talk of intra-party democracy have been rebuffed or made fun of.
It is not at all understandable how the BNP and AL claim to defend democratic values where they themselves do not practice any shred of internal democracy in its fold.
What is even more disturbing is a trend that is threatening to become a regular practice. Following Tarique Zia's footsteps many leader-sons have joined the foray. Politics now has become family business: first you get an MBA from any university in the US or UK, then within six months you will be inducted onto the Board of Directors, it does not actually matter if you have got third class throughout your academic life, no-one will raise an eyebrow if you do not even know how to compose a paragraph in Bangla or English. You are the owner's son/daughter, and that is the sole qualification one must have to carry the baton forward.
Khaleda and Hasina's sons do not have any qualifications to make their way into their parties' leadership, except for the fact that they are the sons of Khaleda and Hasina. Bangladesh is still bearing the brunt of these two women's bigheadedness. Khaleda and Hasina will do their parties (and of course the ordinary masses of Bangladesh) a huge favour if they call it a day and hand over power to a group of young vibrant leaders (that do not include their prodigal sons, by the way) who will take the country forward. Both the leaders must now understand that two decades are more than enough to prove a point, and Khaleda and Hasina have failed to make us understand what their point is, let alone make it clear. Khaleda has made a huge mess around her, it is sad that the uncompromising Jononetri of our politics will go down the history as the one who fiddled when her sons plundered the whole nation.
Hasina, for her turn, made an unholy alliance with Ershad and religious extremists only four months ago. What is particularly disappointing was the AL's move to give nomination to Mufti Shaheedul, an Afghan-war returnee, who openly declared to establish a Taliban-styled rule in the country. Her decision to sign a memorandum with Khelafat Majlish, declaring to make fatwa legal, was humiliating for her own supporters.
Both the parties should go through a major overhaul and it must start from the top. There is Chinese proverb that a fish starts rotting from its head; the BNP and AL must embrace this popular demand for reform wholeheartedly. The country, especially its democratic polity is at a crossroads. We have to dump the old decadent politics that has plagued us for so long, and start anew. It is high time that Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina understand this and gracefully leave the post of supreme leader, which they have been clinging onto for so long.
(R) thedailystar.net 2007