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‘India should focus on people-to-people relations’

  • Published at 11:27 am May 13th, 2018
  • Last updated at 04:13 pm May 13th, 2018
Rumeen Farhana
BNP Assistant Secretary for International Affairs Rumeen Farhana Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

BNP has been in a tight spot after a Dhaka court convicted its chairperson, Khaleda Zia, in a graft case. In an exclusive interview with the Dhaka Tribune’s Kamrul Hasan, BNP Assistant Secretary for International Affairs Rumeen Farhana discussed the party’s challenges and strategies for the forthcoming general election, and initiatives to warm up ties with external allies

Your father, who was the founder of Democratic League, was also involved in Awami League and later he joined Mawlana Bhasani’s party. What encouraged you engage in BNP’s politics?

I joined BNP because when I studied the nation’s history, I learned the movement for multi-party democracy, economic and agricultural growth, and the development of garment industry all started during the regime of president Ziaur Rahman [the founder of BNP]. The 19-point manifesto he unveiled to the nation for the people’s economic and political emancipation also encouraged me a lot at that time. Also, BNP is a party that believes in a moderate, liberal political ideology.

What is your opinion about the BNP-led alliances’ ties with Jamaat-e-Islam, who have been widely criticized for their anti-liberation role in 1971?

It is very clear that the alliance we forged is political, not ideological. There are 20 parties in the alliance, and they each have their own ideologies and political thoughts. We made up the coalition only to ensure the people’s right to vote.

Though Jamaat’s registration was cancelled, the matter has yet not been finally settled as the case is now pending with the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court. Why is the government not banning Jamaat if they cannot allow it in politics?

Many political analysts and experts have said BNP failed to gain support from the international community after the January 2014 election. You along with other BNP leaders recently sat with several foreign diplomats before and after the Zia Orphanage Trust graft case verdict that sent your chairperson to prison for five years. What was their response?

No country, except India, recognized the election that we boycotted. Everybody criticized the polls as over half of the MPs were elected uncontested, and voter turnout was very low as well. All countries, except India, termed the polls questionable, and many of them did not even bother sending their observers. A German research institute has already said Bangladesh is a new autocracy.

We are eager to build relations with all countries around the world on the basis of national interests and mutual respect.

We have already informed foreign envoys about irregularities in the trial proceedings of the case against our chairperson, Khaleda Zia, because they are interested to know what we are doing and will be doing as we a one of the largest political parties in the country.

BNP has alleged that the ruling Awami League is plotting to hold another election excluding BNP. You too have been insisting that BNP will not join the next election without your party chief, Khaleda Zia. Do you think that the Awami League will manage to gain support from New Delhi, like in 2014, if the next election is held without BNP?

I don’t want to make any prior comments in this regard. But, the attitude and behaviour of India’s foreign affairs ministry, foreign secretary and senior leaders raises doubts. We are doubtful because of the suspicious remarks of Awami League General Secretary Obaidul Quader, who recently said India would not interfere in our electoral affairs.

We all saw India’s role in the January 2014 election.

Instead of building people-to-people relations, India has been maintaining relations with a particular political party in Bangladesh, which will ultimately go against them and their interests.

Such relations can never be sustainable, which has already been evident in the case of its ties with Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Nepal and other South Asian countries.

So, it is time for New Delhi to decide whether they should build ties with a particular party or with the entire population of a country.

The issue of BNP acting chairperson Tareque Rahman giving up his Bangladeshi citizenship has become the talk of the town. Has he really given up his citizenship?

That’s totally absurd and baseless. The issue was brought to the fore at a time when the media started publishing reports on corruption and anomalies in the banking sector, crimes committed by leaders and activists of Awami League and its associate bodies.

It’s nothing but a trick to divert the people’s attention from these issues and also the student movements demanding reforms to the existing quota scheme in government jobs.

Remittance is the most important source of our foreign earnings. BNP has had a very warm relationship with countries in the Middle East. But the sending of workers abroad has been stalled ever since Awami League came to power in 2008. In such circumstances, what will you do to address the issue?

Our good ties with the Middle East were built in the era of president Ziaur Rahman. If voted to power, our party will focus on expanding the labour market with secure jobs for Bangladeshis abroad.

Skills and efficiency are among the key factors to secure good jobs. So, we will take measures to train up workers and increase their efficiency.