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    Volume 9 Issue 22| May 28, 2010|

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The Call of the Wild

The June 27 hartal only exposes the moral bankruptcy of the BNP

Ahmede Hussain

When it was in power, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) led a government that was arguably the most corrupt in the history of the country. From electrical pole to manipulating government tenders, the long hands of some BNP leaders were extended everywhere. Many in the party leadership patronised extremists, some had lent support to their grenade-hurling relatives who planned to annihilate the entire opposition by killing its leaders in downtown Dhaka with bombs and bullets. Tariq Rahman, the then Prime Minister Khaleda Zia's son created Hawa Bhaban, an alternate centre for power where deals were made in exchange for bribes.

The list of the BNP's corruption and misdeeds is endless. By the time Khaleda finished her second term in office in 2000, the BNP was immersed in nepotism, it was corruption personified. In the elections that followed, the party was routed from the country's political landscape; it lost 163 seats, making it one of the worst defeats that an incumbent party has suffered anywhere in the world.

It should have come as a big slap for any other organisation, but not for the BNP. It has managed to console itself with ingenious reasons for its failure: rigging, the immediate-past caretaker government and its anti-corruption drive, and--the most bizarre of all-- some (unnamed) foreign powers. No heads rolled in the national council that the BNP held after the elections; the old guards of the party remained unscathed by the election debacle. It seems as though the party leadership has decided to ignore the people's verdict, deciding to re-select the old leaders who have brought the party at the door of ruination. Instead of cleaning up its fold of the corrupt and the opportunist, the party has started to boycott the parliament on the allotment of seats in the House.

The BNP MPs later joined the parliament, but the war cries have never stopped. The latest has come from a meeting of party elders, where some BNP-men have urged the party supremo to replicate the Red Shirt movement that paralysed Bangkok for a month. What these BNP leaders have suggested amounts to treason. It is indeed shocking to hear the representatives of the people talk about crippling the economy of the country's capital in such a brazen and dastardly manner.

The BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia, however, has beaten even her overzealous colleagues. In a rally held last week in downtown Dhaka, Khaleda Zia has called a dawn-to-dusk strike in the country; she has dubbed it a warning, saying more is in the offing. Khaleda however has come up with a litany of excuses to justify hartal. She has blamed the government for depriving people of the gas and electricity, things that she says she ensured during her regime; she has denounced the extortions and criminal activities that the goons belonging to the student wing of the Awami League have indulged themselves in; Khaleda has even justified the hartal by saying harassment of girls and women in public places are on the rise.

What Khaleda has failed to explain however is how by stopping a day's work for everyone--male, female and all--she is going to provide the ordinary Bangladeshis with enough power or how her call for strike will help the women of the country from the prying eyes and tongues of some degenerate men. Khaleda has never said why she needs to put a halt to the country and its economy to raise these issues while her party MPs could have done it in a more civilised manner at the parliament. To make matters worse, Khaleda has repeatedly shown an abysmal lack of enthusiasm from attending the parliament. It is no wonder that the BNP MPs have not tabled any important bill on the floor, nor have they tried to stop the proceedings of the parliament to start a discussion on the marauding Chhatra Leaguers who have kept the educational lives of millions of students hostage. There are reasons to believe that the June 27 strike, called a month ahead, is an attempt, albeit poor, to revamp the party's fading organisational strength.

It is indeed sad to notice Khaleda resorting to hate speech and demagoguery whenever she is out of power. For the extreme rights of Bangladesh's politics India has been the Aunt Sally, a ready target for criticism for every problem that the country is plagued with. By playing the anti-India card over and over for no rhyme or reason, Khaleda is losing ground, especially when hordes of BNP leaders have been benefited from doing business (both legal and illegal) with India.

It is only natural to think that the BNP, which used to have the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) as junior partner in the government, has called the strike to foil the war crime trials in which many JI leaders will face charges of crimes against humanity. Be that as it may, it only proves the political and moral bankruptcy of the BNP leadership. It marks the return to the politics of vengeance and violence the path of which both the big parties have never treaded after the events of January 11, 2001. Khaleda Zia and her colleagues have still the time to realise that the BNP needs to launch an internal drive to make room for young, honest and sincere leaders in the party leadership. The party also has to shun the company of war criminals and war crime sympathisers; it has to stop flip-flopping on the war crimes trial.

Khaleda Zia, her sons and colleagues must not forget that in a parliamentary democracy like ours the parliament and only the parliament should be the centre of all political activities. The confrontational politics that both the BNP and AL had practised before the events of 1/11 have given birth to many unfortunate events. Politics of bickering and violence encourage extra-constitutional forces to take advantage of the situation.

To avoid such a catastrophe from befalling the country, Khaleda Zia should rethink her decision. She has a lot more democratic and more civilised option at her disposal--the BNP MPs should use the floor of the parliament to raise their voice on important issues such as thuggery by BCL members and the deterioration of law and order situation. Khaleda can set an example before the future opposition parties by forming the first shadow cabinet in our country. She can delegate shadow ministries to her young MPs to groom them for future ministerial responsibilities should her party come to power again. The BNP can also form an investigative agency to probe into alleged corruption by AL leaders.

Bangladesh needs a strong opposition party. So far the BNP has shown little progress in becoming one. Only time can tell whether the BNP leadership has what it takes.

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