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Dhaka Tribune

Will BNP witness a shift in leadership dynamics?

  • Key figures aligned with BNP engaged in restructuring efforts
  • Numerous BNP leaders incarcerated
  • Reorganization underway
  • Challenges in BNP
Update : 31 Jan 2024, 09:49 AM

Changes are underway within the BNP, with a shift in leadership reverberating from the highest echelons down to foreign units. This reorganization initiative aims to galvanize a movement compelling the government to call for fresh elections.

Concurrently, key figures from parties aligned with the BNP are actively engaged in restructuring efforts, scrutinizing why the existing leadership faltered in both the 2018 and 2024 elections.

Insights into discussions with reliable BNP sources and standing committee leaders reveal that despite sustained agitation leading up to the 12th parliamentary election, the party failed to achieve its objectives.

Following the party's public rally on October 28 of last year, numerous leaders and activists, including Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, Mirza Abbas, and Amir Khasru Mahmud Chowdhury, were incarcerated. 

During this period, blockades and strikes were enforced without consulting other involved parties, prompting the highest levels of the party to assess those responsible for decision-making.

From October 28 of the preceding year to the day after the 12th parliamentary election on January 7, the BNP implemented five rounds of hartals (strikes), thirteen rounds of blockades, and thirteen rounds of mass communication programs.

Leaders from parties closely associated with the BNP have said that internal discussions within their ranks suggest organizational restructuring is imminent. 

Within the BNP, there are different points of views on political strategies, making reorganization a likely prospect.

Notably, senior party leaders are scrutinizing the roles played by individuals in shaping movement programs and identifying those who have been inactive in leadership roles.

A representative from Ganatantra Mancha, a political ally of the BNP, said: "The primary accountability for the movement's failure lies with the party's top leadership. If they had stepped down, like India's Rahul Gandhi, it could have bolstered their respect and standing, although such a practice is uncommon in our country." 

This leader further claimed that pressure is increasing on the BNP top leadership to restructure their anti-government movement and strategy.

Reorganization underway

Several members of the BNP Standing Committee have indicated that discussions on the reorganization of the party are underway within the committee. However, a decision regarding the council remains elusive for the BNP.

Prominent party officials have said that BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia's health situation has become a focal point during council deliberations. 

Acting chairman Tarique Rahman, currently residing in London, has been a subject of discussion in relation to the council as well. In the event of a decision on the council, vacant party positions may be filled, and a reshuffling of various posts could be in the offing.

Following the party's sixth council on March 19, 2016, the BNP established a central committee comprising over 600 members in two phases. 

The current membership stands at 502, with more than half of the remaining 98 members having passed away, been expelled, or resigned.

Shayrul Kabir Khan, a member of the BNP's media cell, said several members of the 19-member standing committee have passed away. 

Additionally, one standing committee member, Dr Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain, is currently undergoing treatment abroad. Barrister Rafiqul Islam Miah and Barrister Jamiruddin Sircar, the oldest leader in the ageing party, are also reported to be in a state of rest.

At present, Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, along with Standing Committee members Mirza Abbas and Amir Khasru Mahmud Chowdhury, is currently in jail. 

Gayeshwar Chandra Roy, Dr Abdul Moin Khan, Nazrul Islam Khan, and Selima Rahman, are among the active members who are outside. 

Iqbal Hasan Mahmud Tuku and Salahuddin Ahmed are currently residing outside the country.

Leadership

"There is no crisis in our leadership," said Selima Rahman, a member of the BNP Standing Committee. 

She emphasized: "Under the guidance of our acting chairman, Tarique Rahman, we have been engaged in continuous movement. He actively engages with us, seeks our opinions, and in light of Begum Zia's illness, a joint leadership has been established within our party."

Expressing empathy for the ailing Dr Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain, Selima Rahman said: "We genuinely feel for him, but we must forge ahead." 

She emphasized the urgency of filling vacancies in the standing committee, acknowledging challenges within the team. 

She said: "While we have made progress in restructuring the team, external factors, such as government repression, have impeded the completion of our efforts. We are awaiting a more conducive time to finalize the process."

Two members of the standing committee, wishing to remain anonymous, revealed that discussions have taken place internally regarding potential candidates to fill vacancies. 

Notable names include Abdul Awal Mintoo, Barkat Ullah Bulu, Md Shahjahan, Ruhul Kabir Rizvi, Shahid Uddin Chowdhury Anee, and Zahir Uddin Swapan. Furthermore, the name of Vice Chairman Major Hafiz Uddin Ahmed has been circulating in certain circles as a potential candidate for discussion.

Face of the movement

According to credible sources within the BNP, it is deemed imperative for the leadership to directly engage in shaping the future politics and political movement of the party. 

Despite Tarique Rahman's absence in the country, the responsible sources suggest that either his wife, Dr Zubaida Rahman, or another family member should step forward to play a pivotal role.

In the absence of a member of the Zia family taking the lead, BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, currently incarcerated, naturally emerges as the potential face of the opposition party's movement.

Senior leaders of opposition parties, including those associated with the BNP, anticipate that Mirza Fakhrul's release, upon bail, will inject new momentum into the movement agenda.

Sources close to Ganatantra Mancha reveal that leaders from various political alliances are eagerly awaiting Mirza Fakhrul's release. The leaders are looking to him to determine the decisions that will be made on crucial policy matters.

Addressing the leadership of the movement, Mahmudur Rahman Manna, a key figure in Ganatantra Mancha, said: "The situation can be viewed from two perspectives. Firstly, the movement may face severe repression from the government and stop there. Secondly, maybe there is a shift in public sentiment. Perhaps some damage would be incurred. But it prevails as in Tahrir Square or Myanmar. It is the leadership that will determine the path forward."

Manna,  president of Nagorik Oikya, continued: "There is a saying that a qualified commander can win the war with minimal bloodshed. While this strategic approach may risk falling into opportunism, it is essential to decide how agitators will navigate such a critical time. Indecisiveness, surely, cannot lead to the end of the movement. The techniques of the movement may evolve, but they should not deviate from the core principles. The sacrifices required must be acknowledged and endured."

He said: "We hold a positive stance within the democracy platform. We are committed to continuing the movement. We advocate for a simultaneous stream of programs. It is time to stand and fight."

Challenges in BNP

Saiful Haque, a key leader of Ganatantra Mancha, has highlighted the challenges faced by the main opposition party, BNP, due to the incarceration of its primary leaders and the absence of many leaders who are currently outside the country. 

This situation has impeded the party's ability to effectively play its role on the streets. Saiful Haque expressed his hope and optimism about addressing these challenges in the future, with ongoing discussions on devising strategies to overcome the current obstacles.

The general secretary of the Revolutionary Workers Party emphasized that since January 7, a new dynamic has emerged in the country. 

He pointed out that the primary challenge for the opposition is to channel the widespread distrust expressed by the people toward the elections into a robust street movement. Analyzing the successes and failures of past movements, as well as identifying underlying problems, is crucial in navigating this challenge.

Saiful Haque further explained that movements have the inherent ability to generate new leadership. 

In situations where the government exerts strong control, leaders often emerge organically. This phenomenon is not unique to any specific region but is a global experience. 

He expressed the hope that addressing the current leadership deficit is possible by focusing on democratizing decision-making processes and enhancing the effectiveness of liaison committees. The goal is to foster more active unity and understanding within opposition parties, ultimately overcoming leadership weaknesses and adapting to the changing circumstances.

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