The BNP -- and the politics of petulance | The Daily Star
11:00 PM, October 20, 2009 / LAST MODIFIED: 11:00 PM, October 20, 2009

The BNP -- and the politics of petulance

YOU watch the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and you wonder where all the good people in it have gone. It is, of course, another matter that you may not consider the party a true representative of popular aspirations as they shaped up in the 1960s and during the entirety of the War of Liberation. Its coming into being was, as we have learned so sadly and so bitterly by now, fundamentally geared to putting our secularism under the rug or even cause it to crash headlong into the rocks below our perch of Bengali nationalistic fervour. But that is a subject for another day. We will talk about it later, as we have talked about it in the past.
And so let us go back to this question of good men being in the BNP. You can be pretty sure that in all the chaos the party has wallowed in, whether in power or out of it, there have been some individuals who have sometimes given us reason to think that someday the BNP would forge itself into a voice of moderation and constructive politics.
It was this hope, feeble though it was, that led us into believing last week that Begum Khaleda Zia would actually be seen sharing an anti-poverty platform with Sheikh Hasina. There were, after all, some sure signs of that happy event really coming to pass. Her party chief whip Jainal Abdin Faroque was there, beside Speaker Abdul Hamid and ruling Awami League chief whip Abdus Shahid. For the first time in years, it was a whole country, which prepared to see the two women stepping on to the same platform and giving it a sense of what they planned to do about tackling poverty.
And then the Begum backed out, for reasons that were not simply there. She spoke long and intensely before the media, focusing on the areas where the government was stumbling and where it was committing blunders. No arguing with that, for every opposition in every country has the right to perceive conditions as it sees fit. If the former prime minister was flailing away at the Awami League, no one was complaining. But it is what she did next that left us all feeling disappointed and feeling low. She would not, so she said, be there at the anti-poverty rally after all. And there it was, this deliberate torpedoing of a good cause by an individual who by now should have turned into a respected elder stateswoman for Bengalis through her long stint in power. That she has not, that she has regularly made it known to the nation that she and her party are demoralised and depressed once they are out of power, is a truth whose veracity has been noted by people yet once more.
That leads to the bigger question: what is it that ails the BNP, keeps it from taking its rightful place in the Jatiyo Sangsad? In politics, you do not expect petulance or indulge it. You might have a long face, you might quibble, when in your youth you lose a game of carom or badminton, but once you have settled on politics as a career, you are expected to take things in your stride. But that is a state of maturity, which has not yet touched the BNP.
In power, it becomes a symbol of ruthlessness. Out of power, it does not know what it wants. And because it does not, it does all sorts of strange things. Think of the former speaker, deputy speaker and chief whip, all BNP men. Despite the charges of bad politics levelled at them by parliament, they have carried on as though nothing has happened. Good politicians are they who, having been accused of wrongdoing, are ready to clear their names in the interest of their future. Not here, though; not in the BNP. Khondokar Delwar Hossain gives you a daily breakdown of BNP thoughts, or the lack of them, as they develop or do not develop. He is not worried at all about his reputation as it came to be in the past.
Now, about this insistent boycott of the Jatiyo Sangsad by the BNP, there are two ways of looking at it.
Firstly, you tell yourself that the party has psychologically been unable to reconcile itself to its defeat at last year's election. That is something bizarre, given that the party ought to have known that after all the corruption and the bad administration it had put the nation through, there was no way it could ride back to office.
Secondly, this boycott of Parliament makes you wonder if the party is waiting for a miracle to take place, or call it disaster, and throw the Awami League out of office.
Sheikh Hasina's government is surely in an embattled state, but that is no reason to suppose that the BNP should now believe it can take charge again. It has not acknowledged its mistakes; it has never gone for soul-searching and it yet looks upon all those men and women who have given it a bad name as heroic figures in its councils.
That is not politics. It is anti-politics at its worst.

Syed Badrul Ahsan is Editor, Current Affairs, The Daily Star. E-mail:

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