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Dhaka Tribune

44th founding anniversary: Can movement end BNP's political crisis?

Out of power since 2006, the party is facing a leadership crisis along with weak organizational strength, experts say

Update : 14 Oct 2022, 06:45 PM

On its 44th anniversary today, Bangladesh's largest opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has focused on a countrywide campaign ahead of the next general election.

The BNP and its associate bodies have taken up elaborate programs, like holding discussions, taking out colourful rallies, hoisting party flags and placing wreaths at the grave of the party founder, to mark the day.

The party flag will be hoisted atop BNP’s Naya Paltan central office and all other offices across the country at 6am.

However, the party has not yet got permission from the police for the assembly.

Out of power since 2006, the BNP has long been complaining that there is no democracy in the country at various meetings and processions, but the leadership has been in crisis, with neither Chairperson Khaleda Zia nor acting chairman Tarique Rahman able to roll it back. 

Along with this, weak organizational strength and a widespread belief that the party lacks a clear strategy have exacerbated its crisis, experts say. 

Khaleda Zia has been away from all political activities since being convicted in court. Tarique has been staying in London since 2007. Since its formation in 1978, the party has never been out of power for so long.

Now the party is in parliament with only six seats. In this situation, party leaders have repeatedly called for waging a strong street movement but in reality they depend on closed-door meetings and rallies. 

To revamp their activities, they have now opted for movements across the country to ensure their full presence in election-centric politics, several Standing Committee members of the party have said.

According to them, the times are the most challenging for the party. If the next election is not fair and neutral, the BNP's hope of governing the country again and ensuring better medical treatment for Khaleda Zia abroad will become uncertain. 

The BNP will bring about many organizational changes before the polls based on these two issues, the leaders said.

Movement to bring BNP to power?

Born on this day in 1978, the BNP has gone through many setbacks in the last few decades.

The last major blow to the party leadership came after the 1/11 changeover. After that, in 2014, the image of the BNP was tarnished due to massive violence during the general strike. 

After that, the BNP could not wage any strong movement for a long time. In the past few months, the party has staged demonstrations all over the country on issues related to public sufferings and has at the same time alleged harassment of party activists by the ruling circles. 

The BNP top brass have noted that in the 1990s, student movements were the driving force behind the protests against the autocratic Ershad dispensation. Now there is no alternative to staging a mass movement to restore democracy.

Standing Committee Member Amir Khasru Mahmud Chowdhury told Dhaka Tribune that a strong movement is the only goal ahead of the elections. “And for that purpose, we have accelerated our efforts across the country, ignoring all kinds of obstacles. We think this is the best way to bring back democracy.

“Our objective is to ensure before the election that the vote situation will remain unbiased. We have called for this movement to lift us out of the ongoing crisis.”

Political commentator Dr Zafarullah Chowdhury thinks that it will be tough for the BNP to return to power through hard street movement. They must strengthen their position at the grassroots level before the parliamentary polls. They have to strengthen unity and join the polls. 

Strategy

The current leadership of the BNP is now trying to organize a simultaneous movement with leaders and activists from the grassroots. Additionally, they aim to bring defecting leaders back together to build greater unity. 

Some mid-level leaders said that several powerful leaders have already returned to the country after staying abroad for a long time, and have directly joined the movement.

To make this anti-government movement successful, they are trying hard to expand the scope of the BNP alliance.

Amir Khasru complained that BNP leaders and activists filed lawsuits seeking justice for the victims of torture. On the other hand, many have been made accused in cases. Due to these reasons, many leaders and activists are absent from party programs. 

The party leadership has also participated in dialogues with various smaller parties and groups over the past few months. The leaders have said the dialogues were part of their strategy; they want to make the movement more dynamic by forming a greater unity.

A mid-level leader said that the leadership is also working to bridge the distance between the grassroots and senior figures of the party. He said that there is dissatisfaction and differences in the party, which has been growing while anger is  rising among the leaders and workers.

Standing Committee Member Selima Rahman said: “We have three steps ahead of the election -- to organize and unite the party, to ensure the right to vote and the release of Khaleda Zia.”

BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said that talks are underway with more like-minded individuals and parties. At the same time, preparations for the elections are going on. The BNP has started this movement with the people to ensure a fair election.

He also said that after 1/11, and especially since the Awami League government came to power, there is a conspiracy to wipe out the BNP leadership. “So, it is a movement to protect democracy, a movement to demand the release of Khaleda Zia and ensure her advanced treatment.”

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