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Dhaka Tribune

Leadership conundrum: BNP’s elusive search for new strategy to topple govt

  • Party divided into four factions
  • Senior party members are maintaining a low profile
Update : 21 Jan 2024, 02:50 PM

Most grassroots BNP leaders, who are not in hiding, are currently engaging in a variety of activities, from distributing flowers and leaflets to providing winter clothes. 

However, despite these visible actions, the party's top leadership seems to be struggling to formulate a clear political strategy and policy for the future, especially after the 12th national parliamentary election.

Discussions and analyses are ongoing internally within the party, but a lack of consensus among key decision-makers is hindering the development of a unified political approach. 

The party's general leaders and activists express conflicting reactions, attributing their failure to convince the government before the twelfth national parliamentary election to the shortcomings of BNP's policymakers.

This lack of coherence is exacerbated by the diverse locations of party leaders—some abroad, some in jail, some in hiding, and a few in the public eye.

Four factions

Insights from discussions with BNP's standing committee reveal the existence of four distinct factions within the party, complicating the decision-making process.

The first group, led by acting chairman Tarique Rahman, holds significant sway and made unilateral decisions, such as issuing statements and setting rally schedules.

The second faction, led by Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, faces challenges in asserting leadership due to interference and corrections from members of the permanent committee and loyalists of Tarique Rahman. This faction plays a crucial role in maintaining a balance between the chairman and the secretary general.

The third faction comprises members of parliament and party aspirants who, despite not being part of the movements on the roads, have gained influence within the party. Their impact on decision-making is relatively lower, but their importance lies in positions and nominations.

The fourth faction, comprising grassroots activists, has been actively participating in rallies since October 28. Senior Joint Secretary General Ruhul Kabir Rizvi leads this faction in the capital and surrounding areas.

In the words of a member of the permanent committee, Iqbal Hasan Mahmud Tuku, the BNP is portrayed as a liberal democratic political party where discussions involve logical reasoning, acknowledging the diversity of political opinions.

He said: “When there is a discussion in the party on any issue, there is logical reasoning, it's a democratic process. It's not about everyone agreeing, political rationale varies from person to person. The point of view that is supported with logic is what establishes itself. It's a very natural process."

Leaders in hiding till Fakhrul’s release

BNP central leaders have revealed that senior party members are maintaining a low profile due to legal considerations and the prevailing circumstances. 

In particular, BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, central committee member Mirza Abbas, and Amir Khosru Mahmud Chowdhury, along with at least 23,000 party activists, are choosing to avoid the risk of incarceration.

A senior BNP central leader said that despite the veteran leaders being in custody, they are hopeful for their eventual release. 

Following the sixth council of the party in March 2016, BNP established a central committee with 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. 

Despite being in hiding, some central committee members, such as Nazrul Islam Khan and Selima Rahman, participated in a public event on November 28, one month after October 28. 

Dr Abdul Moyeen Khan shared insights from his residence in Gulshan, while Barrister Jamiruddin Sircar joined a virtual meeting from his home. Iqbal Hasan Mahmud Tuku and Salahuddin Ahmed have been actively involved in the party's activities from outside the country.

Gayeshwar Chandra Roy, a BNP leader who was present at meetings and gatherings before October 28, has not made any public appearances in the past two and a half months. 

On January 9 of this year, Tarique Rahman initiated discussions with associates of the Juktofront movement, with Gayeshwar Chandra Roy participating virtually. 

Another central committee member, Dr Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain, is currently undergoing treatment at United Hospital in the capital.

On Thursday and Friday, several BNP leaders came together to commemorate the 88th birth anniversary of the party's founder Ziaur Rahman. 

Notably, Vice Chairman Abdullah Al Noman, Abdul Awal Mintoo, and Dr Asaduzzaman Ripon were among those present. Although such events are typically well-attended, this year's gatherings witnessed a notable absence of many leaders.

In this regard, BNP leader Selima Rahman said: "Many of our leaders are still in hiding because many of them have warrants in their names. For example, Gayeshwar Chandra Roy will come out from hiding once he gets bail. Like Abdul Awal Mintoo who has already got bail."

Regarding Mirza Fakhrul, she said: "The government is deliberately delaying his bail. The case of the attack on the chief justice's residence has been sent to the lower court again. The government is going against its own policy. They are doing the same with Mirza Fakhrul."

Search for new strategy

BNP's political analysts anticipate a time-consuming process for the party to develop new policies, strategies, and positions following the 12th national parliamentary election and the formation of a new government. 

Key factors in this context include the potential influence of Western-friendly countries and the evolving economic situation in the country. 

Party leaders are closely monitoring the actions of the government, national institutions, and law enforcement agencies, assessing the government's behaviour and discipline.

Shairul Kabir Khan, a member of the BNP’s Media Cell, noted that a virtual meeting of the joint committee, consisting of participating parties and alliances in the ongoing movement, has been ongoing since January 9. The meeting, chaired by BNP acting chairman Tarique Rahman, includes representatives from Ganatantra Mancha, 12-party alliance, Nationalist Unity, LDP, Gono Odhikar Parishad (Nur), Ganoforum and People's Party, Democratic Left Alliance, Gono Odhikar Parishad (Faruk), and NDM.

Some supporters of the party argue that the BNP needs to present something new to the people through the processes of the 11th and 12th elections. 

With consecutive elections not resulting in the overthrow of the government, the challenge to Tarique Rahman’s leadership has increased. 

The grassroot leaders' mindset is becoming clearer, but uncertainty remains regarding their ability to reorganize the movement with existing organizational leadership.

Dr Lutfur Rahman, a professor at Dhaka University, emphasized that the BNP is on the verge of challenging a major political party like the Awami League.

"I think there is dissatisfaction among the leaders. However, the election has not been held for a month yet, and I hope that BNP will plan with their new strategies and move forward. Because the people of the country are with them," he said.

Dr Lutfur Rahman noted the importance of the council in shaping a new strategy for BNP. He highlighted the significance of the council in creating new leadership, which, due to ongoing movements, may have been challenging for BNP to form in recent years.

According to BNP sources, various committees across the country depict different states, with some existing, some non-existent, and some expired. 

The council is seen as crucial, starting from the district and upazila level, to reorganize the party effectively.

Dr Sakhawat Hasan, central organizing secretary (Sylhet Division), said: “Discussions are underway to organize the party again and peacefully launch the movement. Our extremely disciplined movement was cracked down by the government on October 28. The situation has created a situation where at least 23,000 leaders and activists of our party have been sent to jail. Even though they staged a drama during the election, the people did not participate in this drama."

The BNP leader said his party will keep the democratic movement intact with people behind them. “I hope to bring democracy back to the country through peaceful and democratic struggle."

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