When a party loses its marbles . . .
THE elder child of General Ziaur Rahman and Khaleda Zia is back in the news. Nothing wrong there, except that he has once again begun to inject negativity into Bangladesh's politics and this time from a safe haven abroad. He has, out of the blue, sought to inform people that the 1972 constitution did not reflect the aspirations of the people of Bangladesh. You sense a serious misreading of history here. Worse, you wonder why a young man who imagines for himself a role in the politics of the future would come forth with such a poor sense of history. Or it could be that it is all a plan of subverting our national history yet one more time.
You could argue that there is really nothing to write about Tarique Rahman. All these years after Hawa Bhaban, after the khamba business, after the manner in which things were pushed to a necessary promulgation of emergency in January 2007, there ought to be little interest in talking about an individual whose reputation remains in question. And yet there is a huge need to take such people to task every time they seek to tamper with history or with tradition. So when Khaleda Zia's heir-apparent tells you that the 1972 constitution went against the sentiments of the Bengali nation, you know that mischief is at work again.
And, indeed, mischief has been peddled around aplenty in these past many months. When you hear a former diplomat who today is a front-ranking politician in the BNP informing Tarique Rahman of the use the party is making of certain journalists in propagating its politics, you realise what we are all up against. Here's an image of how mischief can cause real tragedy: citizens have been burned to death by opposition arsonists, trees have been cut down by elements determined to bring down a legally constituted government, railway tracks have been uprooted in demonstrations of unabashed terrorism and roads have been dug by fanatical brigands whose earlier generation happily helped the Pakistan army in the genocide of Bengalis.
Not a word of regret has been heard from those whose politics has caused all this mayhem. The politics, of course, has been of a rather circumscribed sort. It has all been about blockades and general strikes. Now a third dimension has come to it, through the video-ed message of Tarique Rahman: the BNP will not talk to the government because the government is 'illegal.' So what you have now, in addition to that poor sense of history, is a fundamental absence of understanding of the law and the constitution. To be sure, the recent elections would have cheered us all to no end had the BNP been part of it. The fact is that the BNP stayed out of it. It expected the election to be scuttled because it would not be there. That has not happened. A perfectly legal election, in terms of the constitution, has taken place. The BNP missed the bus.
Stubbornness does not work in politics. Principles do. A spirit of accommodation does. For Khaleda Zia, an opportunity to create new space for herself came when she was invited by Sheikh Hasina to negotiations. She could have done away with the sixty-hour blockade she had decreed. Or, as she had promised, she could come forward to negotiate with the prime minister once that spell of blockade was over. She did no such thing, in the belief that Sheikh Hasina would genuflect or even collapse under the pressure of the opposition agitation. That was a mistake. Now, with the prime minister poised to lead a new government, the BNP appears to have lost its way, unless Ayman al-Zawahiri-style video messages can be looked upon as manifestations of leadership.
In the matter of diplomacy, the BNP is losing its marbles yet once again -- after a hiatus of more than a year. More than a year after Khaleda Zia made a well-publicised visit to Delhi, more than a year after staying away from anti-India diatribes, the BNP has opted for a return to its old India bogey. The Hasina government has offered the country for 'sale' to a neighbouring country; Bangladesh is not Sikkim -- these are the 'truths' for the party once more. Politics is simple: if you cannot run your rival out of town through violent agitation on the streets, paint her in the colours of treason. But even that does not seem to be working.
What, then, will work for a party which now is in obvious need of clarity and a sense of purpose? It must rethink its hartal-blockade strategy, for that strategy has taken it nowhere. Agitation on the streets is fine, up to a point. Beyond that, a party must convince a nation that it has or can have a road map to the future. If it means to measure up to politics in Bangladesh, it ought to free itself of the Jamaat and distance itself from the war criminals it has so long given shelter to. It must sit back and ask itself why Bangladesh's Hindus live in ceaseless fear, why schools are burnt down even as happy children go home with their new books in hand, why poor bus drivers are reduced to cinders through petrol bombs being flung at them.
Parties become irrelevant when they run out of ideas. They become a menace when they fall foul of reality.
The writer is Executive Editor, The Daily Star.
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