THE Awami League may be feeling self-satisfied that it is happily ensconced in the driver's seat with a free road right up to the next election in 2019. That its invocations for an election to uphold the constitution, and its avowal that it would be only a temporary expedient pending another, soon to be held election, was only a ploy which everyone but the BNP saw through.
AL's election strategy, to keep the BNP out of the parliamentary election, has paid off, and it seems that the party has no qualms about heading a government bereft of moral mooring. And the fact that it has no plans to hold any preterm election has been haughtily voiced by many of its influential ministers. And having neutered what was left of other opposition parties, pseudo and real, and taking some of them on board (most of them had become so politically inconsequential that for them joining the AL bandwagon was the only means of displaying their existence), the AL wanted an opposition—free dispensation for the rest of its tenure, except for the fact that the BNP was still in its way. Thus we see the two-pronged AL action on the BNP—political and legal. And both to ensure that the party no longer remains a viable political force let alone a credible opposition.
The point is how sound is the AL strategy vis-à-vis the BNP. Let us review the party's BNP policy.
AL's plans regarding BNP will draw full marks as a brilliant military strategy. A military commander does not allow a defeated foe , or an adversary in disarray, the chance to regroup. He does everything to ensure that an opposition which is in a state of disorder, is divested of leadership and it denied any opportunity to either think or pass on its plans to the subordinates. That is exactly what the AL is doing, and doing it with a great deal of success, if not panache, given what one has seen so far of BNP activities post 5th January elections.
Very few will contest the fact that as a party BNP is trying to find its feet. Regaining the morale of the party cadres, and more importantly, salvaging the confidence of the grassroots workers on the leaders, which was so badly dented during the party's anti-election programmes, where the party leaders were seen by its workers to be interested only in saving their skin, has become a priority. No wonder we hear of preannounced programmes whose date keeps changing. Perhaps the BNP think tank has done a postmortem of its January election strategy and it would not be misplaced to suggest that within the BNP the jury is still out on its decision to boycott the election.
Although the BNP has been able to hold a few rallies and meetings recently, some of those, like the one in Suhrawardy Udyan, were allowed on certain conditions. And one programme was disallowed on the grounds of prime minister's security. The idea is to give as little space to the BNP as possible so that it cannot demonstrate its capability as a political party.
However, what is proving perhaps even more harmful at the moment for the BNP than the shrinking of its political space is the legal bind that the party finds itself in. Nearly all its top leaders have been indicted on charges relating to violence during last year's agitation programmes; its acting secretary general has been booked on more than a dozen counts. Some of the charges are ludicrous but instead of going on to the streets or whatever little of it is allowed by the AL, the BNP leaders will have run between bail and jail with little time in between for their workers. This will eventually make the party a political non-entity.
But disarming the BNP is a shortsighted strategy and although that might fetch short term dividends for the ruling collation it has some serious portends for Bangladesh. Nothing can be worse than politics sans opposition. It will degenerate not regenerate democracy in the country. One wonders whether the ruling coalition has considered as to who would fill the void that the absence of viable opposition will create. Are we not alive to the fact that extremists and religious groups are waiting for just such a chance to grab. Recall how these groups had exploited the animosity between the two major parties. The recent killing of a religious figure is not a stray incident. The killers have their sponsors who might emerge in the garb of innocuous political elements to occupy the vacuum. These will need the combined efforts of all the secular parties to combat. Otherwise we will all be dragged down to the depths including the AL.
The writer is Editor, Op-ed and Defence & Strategic Affairs, The Daily Star