The march to nowhere

The march to nowhere

BNP speaks of democracy in Bangladesh but opts out of the election process.

BNP speaks of democracy in Bangladesh but opts out of the election process.

Having failed so far to unseat the elected government headed by Sheikh Hasina — by calling for general strikes and blockades — Bangladesh’s former prime minister,Khaleda Zia,has called on the people of Bangladesh to march to Dhaka from every corner of the country in order to compel the government to cancel the general election scheduled for January 5. If the nation heeds her call,it will mean 160 million people converging on the country’s capital and will likely result in anarchy and lawlessness.

Not even the country’s founder,Sheikh Mujibur Rahman,in the course of his non-cooperation movement in March 1971,asked 75 million Bengalis (the country’s population at the time) to march on Dhaka and force Pakistan’s military junta to hand over power to the majority party — the Awami League. In 1976,Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani,with the support of a band of pro-Beijing leftists,who later turned rightwing and aligned themselves with successive military regimes,decreed a march on Farakka to protest against India’s construction of a dam there. The march fizzled out at some point.

As far as modern history goes,the only march that yielded results was Mao Zedong’s Long March against Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang government in the 1930s in China. Thousands of Mao’s foot soldiers perished on the way,either because of the bitter cold or at the hands of Chiang’s army. But the depleted numbers that remained made their point. In October 1949,China’s Communist Party made a triumphant entry into Beijing and declared the country a communist state.


Khaleda Zia,who has been leading an agitation that has caused the deaths of scores of people through arson and bomb explosions,has asked opposition leaders and activists to form resistance committees at all polling stations in order to prevent the “farcical” January 5 election from taking place. She has also ordered the formation of other committees that will “preserve democracy and sovereignty” at the district and upazila levels. In terms of constitutionalism,there is much to be said about the former prime minister terming the voting “farcical”. As for preserving democracy,during the last five years,the BNP has refused to be part of the parliamentary process — an act that was certainly not conducive to the strengthening of democratic institutions in the country.

On the matter of sovereignty,it is a gimmick that the BNP has consistently resorted to over the years,without citing any credible arguments to prove its assertion that the country’s independent status was,or had ever been,in danger. Bangladesh’s sovereign status has not been endangered by the crisis around the January 5 election.

On Tuesday,at what was billed as a press conference,the former prime minister spoke of the blood-letting that has been going on of late and,typically,blamed the ruling party for it. Not once did she ask the opposition BNP-Jamaat activists to refrain from doing the kind of damage that has imperilled life across Bangladesh. She did not speak of all the innocent citizens murdered in vehicles and on the roads because of the violence perpetrated by the opposition activists.

The suffering of the families of people who have been killed or wounded did not figure in her remarks in the way they should have. She did not refer to the thousands of trees that have been uprooted countrywide in order to block the movement of law enforcers. Neither did she speak of roads being dug up or railway lines being destroyed in the name of the opposition movement.

Khaleda Zia thought the dialogue between the ruling party and the opposition,which eventually proved to be abortive,was a gimmick by the former to kill time. She did not explain why — despite her telephonic promise to the prime minister that she would talk after her initial 60-hour blockade programme was over — she took no initiative to contact the ruling party.

On the resolution adopted by the Pakistan national assembly and the comments made by Pakistan’s interior minister regarding the execution of war criminal Abdul Quader Mollah,the BNP chief came up with a tepid response. Pakistan,she noted,had “hurt us as citizens of Bangladesh”. She said nothing about Pakistan’s clear interference in Bangladesh’s internal affairs. She did not condemn the Pakistani move in unequivocal terms.

At the end of the press conference,she declined to take questions. That was a departure from the norm — a public figure making statements at a press conference usually responds to queries on the statement from the mediapersons present.

The writer is executive editor,‘The Daily Star’,Dhaka