Syed Badrul Ahsan
A strange transformation, or mutation, appears to be coming into the politics of Begum Khaleda Zia, if not of the BNP itself. Her absence at the Central Shaheed Minar this year has certainly surprised people, even those disinclined to agree with her opinions. For the first time in the history of the BNP, its chairperson has opted to skip the annual national commemoration of the sacrifices of Ekushey 1952, a position clearly adopted along politically partisan lines. And yet national occasions are points in history when people, especially among the political classes, are expected to rise above party affiliations and reach out to the nation in a demonstration of solidarity with those who have contributed to the making of history in this country. Those who sacrificed themselves in February 1952 in defence of the Bangla language moulded, through that selfless act, a particularly poignant aspect of Bangladesh's national history. Begum Zia knows that. Indeed, her respect for the martyrs of the Language Movement has been as pronounced as that of others.
And that precisely is why many of us, indeed whole swathes of people, are dis appointed at her failure to turn up at the Shaheed Minar on Ekushey this year. We can understand why those who opposed Bangladesh's liberation in 1971 and who have never identified with the secular struggle that Ekushey was will be loth to visit the Shaheed Minar. But what surely leaves people surprised is the extent to which narrow partisan politics may have been responsible for the BNP chairperson's decision to stay away from the Ekushey observance this time around. If, as is being said in whispers, she chose not to visit the Shaheed Minar because of the blockade, that reason is spurious given that she herself has been behind the enforcement of the blockade and the consequences thereof. To suggest that the blockade prevented her from leaving her office is therefore a sign of how politics can be reduced to the farcical. It reminds people of the time when the BNP leader declined to call on visiting Indian President Pranab Mukherjee in Dhaka on the ground that a hartal on the day, called by her party, raised security questions for her. It was a moment which left us all red in the face.
It is time for Begum Zia to rethink her politics. In the nearly two months since she announced a countrywide blockade, with hartals thrown in for good measure, more than a hundred citizens have died of burns caused by petrol bombs thrown into moving vehicles. Hundreds of others have been injured, with many of them maimed for life. The BNP chief has refused to take responsibility for these tragic happenings. She has seen absolutely no reason to visit the injured at the hospitals or call on the families of those who have perished in the violence. She and her party colleagues, in what is clearly judgement that is as twisted as it is morally unacceptable, have denied their role in the violence. That assertion would have been acceptable if, in a moment of happy realization of the damage being done to the country, Begum Zia had called off her agitation. She has not done that. Neither has she shown any sympathy for the tens of thousands of young people appearing at the SSC examinations this year. The economy is paying a price, but she does not comprehend the gravity of the situation.
It is sad when a political leader who has been prime minister of this country suddenly displays all signs of mutating into a lesser and decidedly insensitive being. Nothing moves Khaleda Zia these days. For a politician whose constant refrain on religion, since religion is part of the politics of her party, has been a given, the truth that not even the Bishwa Ijtema was spared the terror of the blockade has left citizens worried. And the worry takes on bigger dimensions when one realizes that there does not seem to be any sane voice in the BNP able to reassure the country that politics is still what the party believes in. Those of her supporters and sycophants holed up with her in her office have lost touch with the country, so much so that even as ordinary citizens as CNG-driven scooter operators and rickshaw pullers wonder why the BNP has chosen to shrink within the confines of the Gulshan office. She refuses to go home. And those who have been with her in that office seem to have abandoned their homes and families in the interest of a movement that has anarchy for its objective. Her spokesperson speaks of the starvation conditions which characterize her office because the police have been turning food vans away from the gates. That complaint raises a couple of questions. First, why must they stay in that office and not go back home? Second, why must they make a mockery of politics by pretending that they are conducting a movement from within the precincts of that office?
The blockade is fizzling out. The hartals have been ignored. At home and abroad, demands for an end to violence are rising with increasing frequency. And the BNP is marginalising itself. In her petulance, Begum Khaleda Zia is shrinking as a political leader. It is a sad thing to happen --- to her, to her party.