The Awami League, one of the oldest and largest political parties in South Asia, is now facing a critical situation that it had never experienced in the 65 years of its eventful journey. It has a glorious history of leading country's Liberation War and a long record of struggle for people's voting rights. It was the AL-led government that framed the country's constitution after Bangladesh emerged as an independent country in the world map, upholding the spirit of democracy and other high ideals of the Liberation War of 1971.
But the party has now been accused of trampling people's constitutional right to franchise for holding the stage-managed January 5 parliamentary election. It has also faced massive criticism for the failure to control unruly party men who resorted to widespread rigging in the upazila parishad elections to emerge victorious by snatching people's voting right again, only one and a half months after the general election. Thus, the party, born to uphold democratic norms and values, has eventually put itself in the same bracket as BNP and Jatiya Party on grounds of trampling people's democratic rights to vote. BNP and Jatiya Party -- the two parties which were formed by military dictators after they grabbed state power illegally -- were earlier accused of destroying people's voting rights for holding controversial national elections to remain in power.
The AL's claim of contributing to consolidating country's democratic process also faces severe setback due to lack of intra-party democratic practice. AL chief and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has emerged as the supreme leader both in the party and in the cabinet since 2009. No one dares to question her leadership and decisions regardless of whether they are right or wrong. Party leaders did not have any say even when she decided to abolish the election time non-partisan caretaker government system in June 2011, ignoring the recommendation made by a parliamentary body on constitutional amendments for retaining the system. The cancellation of the caretaker government system triggered the political turmoil before the January 5 parliamentary election and the country is still reeling from political uncertainty.
The party has already set an unprecedented record by having Hasina as its longest ever serving chief. She has been leading the AL for the last 34 years of the 65-year life of the party. The party, which was founded on June 23, 1949, was led by Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhasani, Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy and Maulana Abdur Rashid Torkobagish until Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was elected as the party chief in 1966. Of them, Sheikh Mujib led the AL until 1975, the longest time. A.H.M. Quamaruzzaman was elected as party president for a short time in 1974.
The AL was dissolved in early 1975 as the then Bangabandhu-led government established one party -- Baksal -- in the country by amending the constitution. After Bangabandhu's brutal assassination on August 15, 1975, the AL was revived during the martial law regime in 1977. In the council held in1978, Abdul Malek Ukil and Abdur Razzaq were elected as party president and general secretary respectively. After the council, the factional fights within the party continued to escalate. And before the party's next council in 1981, the factional fights reached a more acrimonious level. Amid such a situation, the party elected Hasina, who was then abroad, as the chief in an effort to minimise the internal conflicts. Hasina returned to the country on May 17, 1981 and started engaging herself in party activities. She has been leading the AL since then.
Hasina is even more fortunate than her father Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who was the supreme leader of the country. Bangabandhu did not enjoy such supremacy in his party as he had to sometimes take some measures, such as personal intervention or accommodation of factional leaders in powerful positions, to minimise internal conflicts in the party.
In such a situation, the AL is celebrating its 65th anniversary today, and stepping into its 66th year. All the prevailing signs prompt political analyst to fear that there may be more bumpy moments for the party in the coming days. The AL returned to power for consecutive second term through the January 5 election held amid a boycott by the BNP-led alliance. This did not brighten the AL's image in any way. Even after forming the new government on January 12 this year, the party could not come up with any move to minimise the damage it had done by holding the polls. The political situation may turn volatile again in the coming days as the government may use more force to thwart the BNP-led alliance's street agitations.
AL's organisational activities have almost stalled. It had never faced such a situation in the past. Many party men have become more aggressive and violent. Gruesome murders in Narayanganj and Feni and the alleged links of its partymen with the brutality have sent a wrong message to the people. More unpleasant events may take place as consequences of the current ones, which are in fact a manifestation of the fragile state of governance of the AL's previous term during 2009-2013.
It is expected that the AL leaders will not do any soul searching during the celebration of the party's 65th birth anniversary. They will, however, defend their present position and activities. The AL, therefore, is set to step into its 66th year with no fresh move to brighten its history by minimising the damage it has already done. Yet, on this occasion, let's wish AL a happy anniversary and a return to the path of its glorious history.
The writer is Senior Reporter, The Daily Star.