Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s recent comment that “everything will be back to normal soon” is meaningful. Meaningful, because Khaleda Zia’s advisers, now, have been advocating the BNP’s participation in the April 28 city polls in Dhaka and Chittagong under the same “partisan” Election Commission they snubbed -- a U-turn from the position they had in January, when the BNP-led 20-party conglomerate went for all-out violent politics to “force the government to call for a snap polls under the supervision of a non-party caretaker government.”
No doubt, the Awami League president has played the city polls card to lure the BNP-Jamaat alliance into the politics of voting out from their politics of violence. Hasina understands how dependent the mainstream parties are on elections.
The many senior BNP leaders, including Khaleda Zia, see several political benefits in the upcoming polls, although a section of its leaders vehemently oppose the idea. Although, many experts say that the elections can provide somewhat of an honourable exit from the current politics of hartals and blockades that has become intertwined with petrol bomb attacks on the public.
The most important opportunity the BNP is likely to grasp from the elections is, I think, that they can reorganise the party leadership, which is now shattered due to the police actions taken against them for their alleged role in the street violence.
The BNP leadership understands that they must take part in elections -- be it of union parishad, general, or the city. A majority of the grassroots leaders did not like Khaleda Zia’s decision to boycott the January 5 polls, which “they would have swept clean even it took place under the AL administration.”
That feeling may have prompted the opposition to vie in the upzilla polls in a bid to bring some semblance of order to the party’s battered organisational structure. The elections have an economy, too.
For the upcoming city polls, the grassroots leaders, who have waited since 2007 with the hope that they would do business with the government and get contracts if the BNP came to power in 2014, would see some flow of money from the contenders.
In case the BNP candidates win, they would at least get a share of the contracts from the city corporations, further consolidating the organisation financially.
But the pertinent question is whether the BNP-Jamaat will withdraw its hartals and blockades. I think they would not. If they do, they will find themselves in a serious contradiction.
But if they lift the strikes, the ruling party will be sure to ask the following question: “Why have you killed so many people by petrol bombs, when you vie the polls under this same election commission?”
The AL will celebrate the withdrawal of the hartal-blockade, campaigning that Hasina had forced the opposition to withdraw the strikes and stopped the violence, not caving in to the pressures of the “militancy” of the BNP-Jamaat. Again, people in other parts of the country will not accept the relaxation of the strikes in Dhaka and Chittagong -- the lifelines of Bangladesh.
The blockades and hartals only exist in the newspapers these days, seeing how the people are actively flouting the calls of the opposition. But the opposition must cling to their action programs, or in other words, kicking people below the belt just to save face.
If that is the case, I fear the petrol bombings and attacks will only increase in frequency in the coming days for the sole purpose of continuing the blame game.
If they do not relent, the ruling party would just keep campaigning in the elections with gruesome pictures of the arson victims of “the jongi (militant) party.”
BNP-Jamaat are playing something that can best be described as a “jungle game,” one which has the people getting caught in its web of violence. The BNP-Jamaat finds itself trying to answer a tricky question: “Do you beat your wife, now?” “Yes” needs no clarification. But “no” means the husband used to beat his wife.