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BNP manoeuvring for polls under caretaker government

Published : Wednesday, 22 September, 2021 at 12:00 AM  Count : 681

BNP manoeuvring for polls under caretaker government

BNP manoeuvring for polls under caretaker government

Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), currently the country's biggest anti-government political entity, which has been struggling to organise a popular movement in vain over the last eight years, has started to face strong pressure from a section of the grassroots activists to severe all links with Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI), for its substantiated collaboration with the Pakistan occupation forces and indulgence in war crimes in 1971.

The grassroots activists also urged the party policymakers to hold talks with the government to demand the next general election under a caretaker administration and at the same time also build a movement to compel the government to accept the demand. They asserted that the party's image would be tarnished if it goes to the polls in alliance with JeI, in the changed circumstances under a prolonged rule of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the chief of the ruling Awami League (AL).

The grassroots activists drawn from BNP's front organisations of Jubo Dal, Sewchchasebak Dal, Chhatra Dal, Mohila Dal and other associate bodies, discussed recently the current political issues with the central leaders including the Acting Chairperson Tarique Rahman, who attended the meeting virtually from London, where he has been on self exile since 2008, after being released on parole by the then army-backed interim government.

The meeting held on September 16, as the last session of a three-day inter-party meeting convened at the party chairperson's Gulshan office, to work out the party's next course of action, ahead of the country's next general election due to be held either in late 2023 or early 2024.

Nearly 100 leaders of the front organisations attended the meeting. BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir along with the Standing Committee members also attended the three-hour long meeting, which however, raised among political analysts several questions about the capabilities of the party. The questions include; whether the party can afford to cut relations with the JeI. They also sceptical about BNP's capability to bring the ruling party across the table to discuss the election issues including the demand to hold  the election under a caretaker government.

Political observers believe it won't be possible for BNP to severe all political relations with the JeI, because through cooperation the two political parties thrived between 2001 to 2006. Despite different political ideologies, the relations between the two parties strengthened as the AL was a common rival of the two. The alliance of the two parties consolidated further on the theory of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend," an ancient proverb which suggests that two parties can or should work together against a common enemy.

With the second question the political observers wonder will the ruling party agree to discuss the BNP proposal to hold under a caretaker government. Meanwhile the Information Minister Hasan Mahmud and Agriculture Minister Abdur Razzaque said on September 18 that the dream of election under a caretaker government would never be implemented and the next general election will be held under the Election Commission as per the provision of the constitution.

The last question wants clarification whether the BNP has organisational capacity and the public support to wage a movement to compel the government for holding the next general election under a caretaker government. Mirza Fakrul Islam Alamgir on September 19 told reporters that the party would soon announce political campaign to compel the government to hold election under a caretaker government after further discussion with the party cadres across the country.
The party sources said the timeline of the proposed movement would be announced soon and the party men have been advised to get ready to perform during the series of meetings of the party held from September 14 to 16. Tarique Rahman also pledged that the leaders would be given important posts in the party as rewards for running the movement.

However the leaders also apprised Tarique Rahman that they were confused about the proposed movement as it is not clear who would lead the movement and command the party cadres to perform. Meeting sources said Tarique Rahman was annoyed at the argument, but did not give any concrete decision regarding the leadership in the movement. BNP cadres and activists expressed their desire to see Tarique Rahman in the field during the movement. But they lamented that Tarique Rahman would not be able to come to country as he has been convicted by different courts on different crimes including the deadly grenade attack on Sheikh Hasina's rally in Dhaka on August 21, 2004.

According to political analysts the relations between the ancestors of BNP and JeI leaders who collaborated with Pakistani occupation forces were forged when absconding JeI leaders returned to the country after the assassination of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in August 1975. The subsequent governments after the assassination of Bangabandhu, rehabilitated all the returnee collaborators politically in the country.  The relations between BNP and JeI deepened when AL led by Sheikh Hasina was in power between 1996 to 2001. The electoral alliance between the two parties routed AL with  a large margin in the general election held in 2001. The leadership of the parties publicly asserted that no party could defeat the BNP-JeI alliance in any general election.

But a subsequent army-backed interim government that assumed power in a quasi coup propelled by General Moeen U Ahmed, against the manipulation of a election time constitutional caretaker administration by then outgoing BNP government, changed the game plan, weakening the BNP-Jamaat electoral cartel. The Election Commission constituted by the army-backed interim government headed by Chief Adviser Fakhruddin Ahmed, cancelled some 19 million fake voters and introduced national identity in order to stop election rigging which has been perennial in the country for decades.

In the subsequent general election held in December 2008 and rated as the most credible one in the country's history and AL won with more than two-third majority votes bringing Sheikh Hasina for a second term to face of a series of challenges, that began with a deadly mutiny in the paramilitary Bangladesh Rifles (now Border Guard Bangladesh) headquarters at Pilkhana. Seventy four people including 57army officials were killed and many injured in the gruesome mutiny, which was subdued within days and perpetrators were detained. They were later brought to justice.

In the meantime the government of Sheikh Hasina executed five former army officers for killing Bangabandhu with most family members on August 15, 1975. The execution of five out of the 12 convicted in 1998, remained pending as the first term of Sheikh Hasina expired in 2001.  Of the rest 7, one was pushed back from India, where he had been hiding in disguise for years, was executed a couple of years ago while the rest were still absconding abroad. Some of them reportedly died in South Africa while on the run.

Subsequently the government of Sheikh Hasina initiated a war crimes trial and convicted all the top collaborators, mostly from the JeI. The convicted collaborators also belonged to BNP and also the ruling AL. So far six have been hanged out of the total 97 convicted so far. Some of them are awaiting execution, or Supreme Court decision on the appeals and some are serving jail terms unto death.

In the meantime the government has routed Islamic militancy and made country free of such threats strongly subduing islamist groups including notorious madras-based Hefazat-e-Islam group. At this stage the ruling AL, despite many shortcomings and allegations of autocracy and election manipulation is still popular due to its stance against collaborators and Islamists. In such a situation it will be really tough for BNP to severe all relations with the JeI when it talks about movement against the incumbent government.
The writer is business editor,
The Daily Observer

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