BY: SYED BADRUL AHSAN
In Bangladesh, the BNP and its rightwing allies are at sea. But it is still not smooth sailing for the Sheikh Hasina government
The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) appears to be descending into increasingly deeper chaos and uncertainty. With chairperson Khaleda Zia and her son, Tareque Rahman, now indicted by a court for their alleged involvement in a financial scam related to an orphanage trust named after the late military ruler Ziaur Rahman, the party finds itself straitjacketed. Add to the troubles of the Begum and her elder child the reality of some of the party’s senior leaders already being imprisoned on various charges. What you are then confronted with is the question of whether the BNP will be able to wriggle out of its predicament anytime soon.
The reasons behind the BNP’s difficulties have a lot to do with the flawed strategy the party has followed, especially over the past couple of years, in terms of its pursuit of politics. It was unable or unwilling to adopt a clear position on the trials of Bangladesh’s war criminals, one reason being that the party’s founder and later his widow were both instrumental in the rehabilitation of the notorious 1971 collaborators of the Pakistani occupation army. If General Zia made it possible for the country’s anti-liberation elements to engage in open politics in a country they tried aborting at birth, Khaleda Zia gave them fresh respectability by inducting some of the most infamous among their number into her cabinet.
The BNP’s failure to disown the war criminals or to state emphatically its support for the war crimes trials has alienated many, including some die-hard supporters. Public support for Zia and her party has eroded somewhat around the issue. But what caused consternation among broad sections of the population has been the party’s unqualified support for such a medievalism-driven group of religious fanatics as the Hefazat-e-Islam. Despite the fact that the Hefazat — which sprang to life as a fundamentalist organisation determined to undermine the secular Shahbagh movement of youths calling for justice to be done to war criminals — openly espoused an anti-women and anti-development political programme in May last year, Zia saw hardly anything wrong in supporting the outfit. Of course, the truth was not lost on her followers or detractors — in her overall goal of pushing the Awami League-led government out of power and replacing it with a caretaker administration in the run-up to …continued »