With party Chairperson Khaleda Zia convicted and jailed in corruption cases, acting chairperson Tarique Rahman a fugitive abroad, and the lack of any notable organizational activity has now left BNP as a mere shadow of its former self
After it bid farewell to power in 2006, a landslide defeat in the 2008 national polls, a campaign of fear and violence before and after the 2014 elections — which it boycotted — had largely stigmatized BNP in the eyes of the public, providing cause to the ruling party to crackdown on them.
With party Chairperson Khaleda Zia convicted and jailed in corruption cases, acting chairperson Tarique Rahman a fugitive abroad, and the lack of any notable organizational activity has now left BNP as a mere shadow of its former self.
Under the circumstances, BNP spokesperson Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, who continues to lead party operations in Bangladesh as the secretary general, has said that they are working on making a strong comeback.
During an interview with Dhaka Tribune, he stressed that the party is preparing to pitch to the government a number of ideas, including a one-on-one meeting between incumbent Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda, who is three-time prime minister.
Hasina and Khaleda have somewhat shared parallel lives. From suffering personal losses that led to their unexpected entry into politics to leading Bangladesh, they also spent time behind bars as neighbours during the 2006-2008 political crisis.
Both leaders have not spoken to or met each other directly in well over a decade. The last time they spoke was over the phone for 37 minutes on October 26, 2013.
The chance of a meeting between them had appeared on January 24, 2015 too, when Hasina, setting aside their seething rivalry, went to meet Khaleda at her Gulshan office after the death of her son Arafat Rahman Coco.
But Hasina was turned away without an audience that evening as the BNP chief was feeling unwell and was already “put to sleep by her doctors.” Since then, the door to a meeting between them was closed.
Under the circumstances, it remains to be seen how BNP plans to place the offer — a convicted prisoner meeting the prime minister — to the government.
“Khaleda is like our Mandela. Mandela campaigned for political reforms from his prison cell and achieved his goals after many years. It took us nine years to depose Ershad and restore democracy.
“Our campaign will take time too,” said Mirza Fakhrul.
No hope at all?
Prof Emajuddin Ahmad, political commentator and former Dhaka University vice-chancellor, said a meeting between the two leaders now will bear no fruit.
“Unless the BNP strengthens itself and displays its force, it will have nothing going into the meeting. They need to bolster their student ranks and increase numbers in the districts nationwide.
“But, the only way out of this crisis is to go out on the streets,” he said.
Emajuddin added: “The BNP has been driven off the streets. In July, the BNP staged large demonstrations in Khulna, Barisal and Rajshahi.
“The number of such demonstration needs to be increased gradually in order to further increase their exposure and presence. But any meeting now would be irrelevant.”
Meanwhile, BNP has started revamping itself and its affiliated organizations.
National Standing Committee member Selima Rahman said the party’s highest policymaking body has added new members recently and are holding two weekly meetings regularly.
Before the 2018 general election, the committee had seldom met — a statement Secretary General Fakhrul confirmed to be true.
Selima, who was made committee member in June, said currently the party has made it a priority to restructure their student wing.
Jatiyatabadi Chhatra Dal had run into trouble recently, after younger leaders clashed with significantly senior leaders over leadership positions.