What made BNP chief Khaleda Zia so desperate to go to a hotel suite where Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj was staying during her brief visit to Dhaka?
Khaleda was elected prime minister for thrice. Currently, she is leading the BNP, one of the two major political parties in the country. So, it is normal that Swaraj would make a courtesy call to Khaleda. But the Indian side stuck to maintaining the protocol as Swaraj cannot go to Khaleda's residence or office for the meeting. Finally, the BNP leader agreed to meet the Indian minister at the hotel. The way the former prime minister held the meeting with the Indian minister has raised the question of the necessity of the parley. The BNP leaders however have claimed that they want to build good relations with India, the powerful neighbour that plays an important role in the power politics in Bangladesh.
What the BNP thinks necessary today has neglected it over a year ago. BNP insiders now think the party made a serious mistake by not meeting Indian President Pranab Mukherjee during his first official foreign visit to Bangladesh in March 2013. Before Pranab came to Dhaka, he in November 2012 had given a warm welcome to Khaleda at Rashtrapati Bhaban when she went to India at the invitation of the Manmohan Singh government. At a meeting with the Indian premier, Khaleda told him that she had come with an “open mind” and with the “hope of a new era” that would include overcoming “past wounds” and “past bitterness”.
But Khaleda backtracked from her stance. She refused to meet Pranab at the eleventh hour during his visit as President of India, citing protests and disruptions as a reason for not being able to make it. Incidentally, Jamaat, further agitating Indian interlocutors, had organised the protest. Her refusal to meet the Indian President in Dhaka changed the situation. Indian Express in a report in early January of 2014 said Khaleda's refusal to meet Pranab made New Delhi throw its weight behind her opponent Sheikh Hasina in the January 5 elections. From that realisation, the BNP leadership was desperate to meet the external affairs minister in a bid to build trust with India.
The AL-led government's "success" in staying in power even after holding the January 5 voter-less parliamentary election has buried the BNP's hopes for an early general election. This means the BNP will have to wait at least four and a half years more with its hopes for another parliamentary election. And without an election, there is no lawful means for the BNP to return to power. The way Khaleda Zia complained to the Indian minister about the current state of democracy in the country has indirectly urged the Indian government to do something for holding an early parliamentary election. The BNP leaders also strongly believe that the BNP will win the election if it is held in a more or less free and fair manner.
But the BNP missed the train by boycotting the January 5 parliamentary polls. The party could not mount pressure on the AL-led government to negotiate with the opposition parties to go for an early election. It is difficult for the BNP to wage any strong agitation in the coming days to achieve its goals. The party does not have the organisational strength to wage any vigorous movement. The party was in power for more than a decade since 1991, but it had not emphasised the need to make the party stronger by ensuring intra party democratic practice.
Khaleda Zia's remark that there is no democracy in Bangladesh right now is also true for the BNP. It is difficult to find democratic practice within the BNP. However, under the present situation, the BNP wants Indian Modi-led new government to do something. At the meeting with Swaraj, Khaleda expressed her desire by saying that there is no democracy in Bangladesh right now and the "so-called" parliament does not represent the people's will. She also wanted to know from Swaraj whether India, being the largest democracy in the world and a big neighbour, wants “such democracy” in Bangladesh. The Modi-led BJP's overwhelming win in the recent parliamentary polls had boosted the BNP that had blamed Indian Congress-led immediate past government for backing the AL in holding the election.
The AL has succeeded in holding the January 5 polls by rejecting many leading countries' opposition to such a farcical election. The AL has already trampled its glorious history of struggle for people's voting rights by holding the January 5 general election which denied people's voting rights. The widespread rigging by ruling AL men in the upazila parishad elections has bulldozed the country's electoral system. And many more unwarranted things will take place exposing the bankruptcy of the current politics which has little to do with people.
The writer is Senior Reporter, The Daily Star.