No matter who says what – having fought a valiant Liberation War and with India next door – Bangladesh needed a strong nationalist force.
However, that nationalist force was supposed to be aligned with the spirit of the Liberation War, deeply rooted in the culture and values of the society and people in this part of the world.
For obvious reasons Bangladesh Awami League had the natural advantage to become that nationalist force. They had a lot of friends among the supporting force and countries in 1971, natural alleys among the citizenry, cultural activists, economists, teachers, youths and students too.
But they goofed up big time. They goofed up administratively, politically and more importantly economic management was extremely weak with no destination model. Thank God our Liberation War only continued for nine months.
Had it not, there would have been devastating impact and leave as is hardest for the government and institutions to repair, the war-ravaged economy and infrastructures.
The philosophical base of the new government was weak and confusing. The government itself was directionless, politically disconnected, and ill-prepared with very low capacity.
Public administration was not united and didn’t have any shared vision.
Political leadership was very obstinate and to a great extent selfish too. Indian leadership and their Bangladesh collaborators had a big role played here.
And surprisingly only after three and half years, the opportunity was created for an alternative political platform.
Sadly though, in the name of broader nationalist platform, the anti-liberation forces and victims of the political excesses of the Awami League leadership also joined the bandwagon and made it an anti Awami League platform, with “narrow nationalism” and “religious feelings” contributing significantly to form the philosophical base of the new deemed to be broader platform.
Unfortunately enough, the atrocities, corruption, stubbornness and wrong decisions of the then Awami League created the space for this force to emerge and win the hearts of a large section of the citizenry.
Historians would say that then left political forces also indirectly but prominently helped this anti-Awami League platform to emerge.
The historians would also say while the founding man of our Liberation War was brutally killed, there was no “democracy” in the country. The stalwarts of our Liberation War were divided.
The philosophical leader of the “new Bangladesh” Tajuddin Ahmed was not in talking terms with the president of the republic. He was forced to resign almost a year ago.
The formation of one party “Baksal” and excesses committed by then para-military force “Jatiyo Rakkhi Bahini” made many leaders like Syed Nazrul Islam, Zillur Rahman and others extremely uncomfortable. The country was not going anywhere.
We unfortunately lost many friends in the Western world or failed to make them appreciate our situation and come forward to salvage us from the “deep soup.”
The new force or platform ultimately consolidated into Bangladesh Nationalist Party or BNP.
Considering the situation around and global realities their leaders had to take liberal democracy or multi-party democracy, anti-corruption stance, austerity and more importantly market based economic reforms embedded into their core vision.
Fortunately enough, the platform had many freedom fighters and liberal-minded people, professionals, businessman and entrepreneurs into their fold.
Ironically instead of “nationalism,” anti-Awami League and anti-India philosophy played a pivotal role in keeping them together.
However, their ability to attract leading professionals, few forward-looking politicians and more importantly creating space for the professionals and leaders to leave their mark in the development and change process brought in a lot of success in taking the economy forward.
Private entrepreneurship flourished, so did the formation of “national capital.” Global political and economic environment also helped them to bring in adequate support from the development partners and international community.
Economic successes unfortunately kept them way from the required political reforms within the party.
Party decisions and political graduation process was left with wrong, misguided and corrupt people. The party to a great extent failed to form a broader philosophical base and go beyond the anti-Awami League and anti-India club.
At times, the party was also found sponsoring “religious extremism” for shallow political interest giving a “natural advantage” to rival Awami League to unjustifiably enjoy the loyalty of the “Hindu vote bank.”
Now a historical time has come back for BNP. They have been out of power for almost seven years. They had enough time to look back and fasten their seatbelt to pass the turbulence. Despite lots of efforts the ruling Awami League failed to marginalise them or break them apart.
The party regained their popularity without Tareque Zia or Lutfuzzaman Babar alike. They now command a large alternative force, which wants the country to move forward settling all past issues like terrorism, militancy and submission to backdated ideas for narrow political gains.
Admiral Montgomery or Nelson or some such, in war history, has taught us: “Retreat is a part of war strategy.”
One would retreat to come back more forcefully and organised. Newspaper reports, opinion poll results or even the recent local government elections are telling us – BNP is making a comeback.
With only 30 odd seats in the parliament, BNP climbed the ladder, despite the ill-planned and abrasive behaviour of the ruling Awami League and its top leadership.
While our people are soft, God-fearing and also to a great extent stuck with 1971 history, they also put a lot of importance on good governance, job creation, similar access to opportunities or privileges and combating corruption.
Ours is a transition economy, our political thought process is also going through a dynamic change process. Once the few collaborators of the 1971 mass killing have been dealt with, I am confident we will see a “new Bangladesh,” a much more united Bangladesh and nationalist Bangladesh without much stigma of the black days of 1971.
BNP has to realise – it is not only about winning the election, it is working alongside a government, helping a nation to enter new trajectory of growth and leading a young, forward looking and “no nonsense” community to integrate well with the international community and help them find a respectable position in the global market places.
We need a lot of planning, lot of patience, lot of hand-holding and most importantly a lot of space created for the opposition, the citizenry and the global community to play their due role. None of us is as strong as all of us.