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A time for retrospection for BNP at 38

  • Published at 01:49 am September 2nd, 2016
Perhaps never before was the BNP, one of the two main political parties in Bangladesh, in need of such retrospection instead of celebrating its founding anniversary. While the ruling Awami League, the oldest and biggest political party in Bangladesh, tightens its stranglehold on power by the day, the 38-year-old BNP has been bumbling from one blunder to another. Furthermore, with no presence in parliament, thanks to a national election boycott two years ago, party morale and organisation are far from what it would take to launch a persevering political campaign to return to power. It has been almost 10 years since the BNP was in government. The main political opposition basically has no organisational activities. National-level activities have for more than a year been limited to routine press conferences at the party headquarters in Dhaka. The recent press conference where the party extended support to the anti-Rampal power plant protesters should be a welcome change from those mainly harping on how the party’s democratic rights are being violated by the government. BNP’s predicament could be attributed to the boycott in 2014, that too soon after sweeping the elections in four newly formed city corporations. It should have been enough of a reassurance for the party to go into elections given the obvious anti-incumbency factor weighing heavily against the Awami League. Having boycotted the election, the BNP, along with its fundamentalist ally Jamaat-e-Islami, which has seen most of its top leadership convicted for war crimes, then waged a violent campaign to topple the government through a spate of extremely violent street protests during January-March 2014 when hundreds were burnt alive and thousands of vehicles firebombed. Eventually that movement only added to the BNP’s woes, seriously damaging its image at home and abroad. But the party did not learn from this mistake, repeating a similar violent street protest starting on the one-year anniversary of the election it had boycotted. Another three months of deadly street protests yielded another big zero for the party. The party has since been on a political hiatus, still obviously reeling from the aftermath of two failed campaigns which further demoralised grassroots party workers. The government, predictably, retaliated with mass arrest and lawsuits against BNP leaders from all tiers, and in the process sent them running for cover instead of being vocal against a regime which became increasingly intolerant about political dissent. But the party created more trouble for itself by taking wrong steps one after another: Refusing to meet the Indian prime minister, hold talks with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina over polls time government, launching violent movement that claimed hundreds of lives, extending support to Hefazat-e-Islam’s programme and so on. These put the party into the back foot. Apart from these, it created division within the party in the name of reorganising itself which weakened the party’s strength. BNP’s ties with Jamaat-e-Islami, once significant but which has clearly deteriorated over the last two years, does not help its image either. That is not altogether lost on the stalwarts of the BNP, a large portion of whom wish to part ways with Jamaat. The fact that the party has not been able to rejuvenate its grassroots has been another problem to deliberate upon. Being out of power for a decade does not help of course, but its top leadership tried to form grassroots committees from the comfort of their air-conditioned offices in Dhaka rather than acknowledging and ascertaining the preferences of their rank and file. In other words, it would have been apt for the BNP to begin practising democracy, but that never happened.