Toughest time for BNP

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Asianbangla, Dhaka : Since its inception four decades ago, the BNP formed government four times — once under the leadership of its founder Ziaur Rahman and thrice under the leadership of his widow Khaleda Zia.

Arguably the second largest political party in the country after the ruling Awami League, it ruled the country for 14 years.

But as it observes its 40th founding anniversary today, the BNP faces the “toughest time” yet since its formation in 1978.

Party chief Khaleda, 73, is in jail for seven months now after being convicted in a corruption case, and faces at least 34 more lawsuits. It’s not clear when she will be able to walk out of prison.

Her son Tarique Rahman, 50, the second-in-command of the party, has also been convicted in two graft cases in absentia. A fugitive facing several arrest warrants, he has been living in London in self-exile since 2008.

With Khaleda in jail, Tarique has been instructing the party leaders about their course of action.

Apart from its own organisational weakness, government’s tough stance has rendered the BNP unable to fight back and the grassroots are frustrated about this, said a number of leaders.

Many BNP leaders and workers are behind bars or are hiding to avoid arrest in dozens of cases filed over the past 10 years.

Meanwhile, a fresh fear has gripped the party after police filed several cases against BNP men in recent months, including over their alleged role in the road safety protest.

Just about four months before the next general election, party grassroots are frustrated in the absence of clear-cut directions.

“The BNP is passing through the hardest time in its history and is facing a great many challenges,” BNP Standing Committee Member Lt Gen (retd) Mahbubur Rahman told The Daily Star yesterday.

The BNP never faced such a situation before, he added.

But despite the challenges, the party is hopeful about a turnaround, said BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir.

“We will overcome this all…. We are trying to go to people through different activities and programmes and will take necessary actions to free our chairperson before the election,” he said.

The BNP was founded on September 1, 1978, by late president Ziaur Rahman with a 19-point programme to build a “self-reliant” Bangladesh.

Ever since, the party came to power four times and was in opposition bench twice. For the first time in its history, it is neither in the government nor in the opposition as it boycotted the January 5, 2014, election.

It has been out of power for over 11 years since the 1/11 political changeover in 2007. When it formed government last time in 2001, it did so by bagging 40.97 percent of the total vote and securing 193 out of the 300 parliamentary seats.

But with the December election nearing, the party is hoping for a turnaround.

In the coming days, the BNP will launch a “peaceful protest” against the government while also preparing for the next election, sources said.

The BNP has faced several existential crises in the past resulting in splits. One such crisis was the assassination of Ziaur Rahman in 1981 in Chittagong by some army personnel.

Khaleda, who had no experience in politics, was made vice-chairperson of the party in March 1983 and was elected chairperson in May 1984. She has been leading the BNP since, forming government in 1991, 2000 and 2001.

For the party’s present condition, some senior BNP leaders blame only themselves in private.

For example, they now admit, boycotting the 2014 election was a mistake. Khaleda Zia’s last-minute refusal to meet visiting Indian President Pranab Mukherjee the year before was another “big political blunder”.

Before that controversial election, Khaleda also turned down Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s invitation for talks, worsening the political standoff.

The violent agitation it launched, first to thwart the 2014 election, and then to unseat the AL government earned it a bad name at home and abroad. During its countrywide blockades and strikes, scores of innocent people were killed in arson attacks on public transports. The attacks were allegedly carried out by activists of the BNP and its ally Jamaat.

Talking to The Daily Star, Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain, another BNP standing committee member, admitted that his party was indeed going through a tough time, but said it would not last long.

“The BNP will be able to materialise all its demands over holding of a free and fair election and the release of our chairperson,” he added.

BNP Senior Joint Secretary General Ruhul Kabir Rizvi Ahmed and central leader Moazzem Hossain Alal said they would focus on reorganising the party to overcome the current crisis.

Asked about their future plan, including for the election, Standing Committee Member Lt Gen (retd) Mahbubur Rahman said, “We will not boycott the election. We are not a party of negative politics

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