BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia reminded the country yet once again through a press conference yesterday that the military leader General Ziaur Rahman, who founded the BNP while in power, had restored multi-party democracy in the country in his times. That is a brazen departure from the truth, for what Zia did was not a restoration of pluralistic democracy but an opening of the floodgates to reactionary politics. He simply made it possible for the collaborators of the 1971 Yahya Khan junta to rehabilitate themselves in the politics of Bangladesh, a country they had fought tooth and nail to prevent from emerging as a sovereign state. Zia's multi-party democracy was a mutation of politics. It moved backward, from the secular to the communal. It undermined the spirit of the War of Liberation.
Begum Zia's statements yesterday were, again,
an exercise in repetition. She spoke of the 5 January 2014 elections as
an electoral exercise where voters could not take part. The fact that
the elections were held under the terms of the Constitution, that they
could not be deferred only because a political party not only refused to
take part in them but also called for public resistance to the voting,
that the law did not permit voting under caretaker or interim
arrangements was a truth carefully kept under the rug. The BNP chief
would not tell us the truth --- that her party had deliberately stayed
away from the election, which is why so many lawmakers were returned
unopposed to Parliament. It is not that people were deprived of the
right to vote. It is that the absence of rival candidates made it
possible for the other nominees to be elected. One does not and cannot
blame the Election Commission or the government for upholding the
The former prime minister has expressed her fears
about possible rigging at the forthcoming city corporation elections.
The nation hopes, along with her, that the fairness of the elections
will be maintained strictly by all. This entire matter of rigging, let
the nation be reminded, would not be there if the Bangladesh Nationalist
Party and its leaders had not initiated the process of questionable
voting practices. The Yes-No referendum organized by General Zia in
April 1977 comes to mind. So do the stealing of votes at the Magura
bye-election of 1994 and the general elections minus voters of February
1996 during the BNP regime. But, of course, none of this history is ever
referred to by Begum Zia or her loyalists.
The BNP chief's press
conference yesterday brought into the public domain issues of a more
serious, indeed extremely grave import. The former prime minister openly
asked voters to accept bribes from those who offered it to them, but
then advised them to cast their votes in accordance with their
conscience. That advice raises some clear and worrying ethical
questions. In the first place, asking voters to accept bribe money is
tantamount to telling them that such corrupt practices are all right,
especially when the advice comes from an individual who has been head of
government more than once. In the second, even as she advised voters to
keep their faith --- imaan --- intact, Begum Zia was sending out the
message to them that being corrupt and being true to faith could be
measured on the same scale or that the two were interchangeable. It was
almost like asking a man to get drunk but not forget to offer prayers.
Is it not a violation of the electoral code of conduct to ask voters to
take money from candidates?
Politicians grow in office --- and out of
it as well. They are expected to serve as beacons to the societies they
aspire to provide leadership to. They are expected to abide by norms
and rules and conventions. When yesterday the BNP Chairperson made a
direct appeal to voters to cast their ballots in favour of the
candidates from her party, she chose not to remember that the city
corporation elections were non-party. More importantly, by soliciting
votes for her people, she made sure that her demand for a level playing
field was itself being undermined by her. She spoke for her candidates,
but the same was absent in the case of candidates coming from the Awami
League, the Jatiya Party and other organizations. Neither Sheikh Hasina
nor her ministers were able to seek votes for their candidates. General
Ershad and his party leaders stayed away from such electioneering. They
were all upholding the electoral code of conduct. Begum Zia wasn't. What
lessons should one to draw from such deliberate violations of the rules
of the game? The answer is simple, which is that the BNP chief is free
to flout the rules but everyone else must abide by them. She can even
ignore court orders to demonstrate her 'uncompromising' leadership. Is
she above the law?
One last word. It is quite understandable that as
a mother Begum Zia will grieve for her dead child, an emotion she
demonstrated naturally yesterday. But she showed absolutely no regret,
demonstrated not a bit of contrition, had not a single word of sympathy,
for the scores of citizens who have died as a consequence of her
blockade and hartal agitation.
That is not what one expects of a
former prime minister. When a leading politician goes into denial mode,
into manifest tribalism, there is a clear conclusion to be drawn: her
politics has shrunk and is no more geared to the welfare of the nation.
people must give their mandate through ballots to reply to Begum Zia
and her BNP-Jamaat politics of petrol bombs, violence and arson.