<%-- Page Title--%> Cover Story <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 134 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

December 19 , 2003

<%-- Navigation Bar--%>
<%-- Navigation Bar--%>
<%-- 5% Text Table--%>

The Return of
Dr B


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.

Badruddoza 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 says.

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,” he adds.

He 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?” he asks.

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.

Chowdhury 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?”

Dr 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.

Chowdhury's “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 continues.

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.

Like 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.

"If 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 it?

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.

How 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 time.

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.



(C) Copyright The Daily Star. The Daily Star Internet Edition, is published by The Daily Star