4 YEARS OF OPPOSITION
Pressing public issues largely ignoredRashed Ahmed Mitul
Partisan issues took precedence over pressing public concerns in the movement carried out by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party-led opposition last year, though it has apparently been able to win back some support because of the government’s failures on social and economic fronts.
The BNP spent most of the first three years of the Awami League government’s four years on partisan issues like the eviction of the party chairperson Khaleda Zia from her Dhaka cantonment house and the cases filed against her and her two sons, BNP’s senior vice-chairman Tarique Rahman and Arafat Rahman.
Apart from these, the party carried out agitations on issues like government’s misrule, politicisation in the administration and the judiciary, corruption and repression on the opposition.
In the last four years, the main opposition party could not play any significant role both inside and outside parliament in projecting the people’s concerns, including their sufferings caused by price hike of essentials and utility services as well as public safety amid an alarming deterioration of law and order.
BNP and its allies enforced about 15 general strikes in the country in last four years, of which eight were enforced in 2012.
The general strikes were called in protest at the eviction of Khaleda Zia from her cantonment house, disappearance of BNP organising secretary M Ilias Ali and demanding restoration of the non-party caretaker government system.
Five general strikes were enforced on the issue of Ilias’s disappearance in April 2012.
The party had enforced only one shutdown specifically on the issue of public concerns like increasing prices of essential commodities, electricity, gas, fuel oils and share market scam.
Although BNP claimed that issues of public concerns were included in most agitations and general strikes.
BNP had raised voice against the Indian government’s plan to construct the Tipaimukh Dam on the common river Barak and move to give transit to India.
Khaleda Zia had written to Indian prime ministerManmohan Singh requesting that India should not construct the Tipaimukh Dam without a proper survey on its probable impacts on Bangladesh.
BNP kept boycotting parliament sessions for a long time on a number of issues, including seating arrangement in the front row in the house, ‘indecent’ remarks by treasury bench members on the late president Ziaur Rahman and Khaleda Zia.
They stayed out of parliament on the plea that they were not allowed to speak in the house and that their adjournment motions on various national issues were not accepted, though the BNP lawmakers attended standing committee meetings and availed themselves of the facilities, including foreign trips as members of parliamentary delegations.
Khaleda Zia attended only eight sittings out of a total of 337 working days of the last 15 sessions while other lawmakers of BNP and its allies attended only 54 sittings, according to parliament officials.
The BNP in its election manifesto had pledged to take steps to make parliament a focal point of politics and an effective institution.
It had promised to take steps so that no party or alliance could boycott parliament sessions or sittings excepting issue-based walkout.
However, Khaleda Zia along with her party leaders had joined a dialogue with president Zillur Rahman in January 2012 on formation of the new Election Commission.
The BNP-led opposition alliance had directed their movement in the last two years at mounting pressure on the government to hold the next general elections under a non-party caretaker government.
However, general people struggling to cope with the rising prices of essentials and utilities had expected the opposition to play strong role for their causes.
Furthermore, no effective protests were organised by the BNP over issues like Hallmark and Sonali Bank loan scam, plunder of public money by Destiny Group, and ‘corruption’ in the Padma Bridge project, minister Suranjit Sengupta’s alleged corruption in railway and the share market scandal.
It has also failed to build up an effective movement against the ‘enforced disappearances’, including that of Ilias Ali who had been missing since April 17, 2012 after being picked up allegedly by intelligence men.
According to political observers, BNP and its allies demonstrated their might by enforcing a countrywide road blockade on December 9 that sent a signal to the government that all its actions would not go unchallenged.
While spearheading the anti-government agitation many opposition leaders and activists suffered repression.
BNP acting secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir was arrested on December 10 for the second time in 2012 and sent to jail.
BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia claimed that about 25,000 leaders and activists of her party were facing ‘false’ cases.
On April 18, 2012, BNP and its allies launched the ‘18-party’ platform expanding the previous four-party alliance to mount further pressure on the government to concede to the demand for a non-party caretaker government.
Some BNP insiders say the new parties in the alliance virtually could not make an effective contribution to the movement due to their weak organisational strength. The new allies simply helped expand the alliance numerically.
The alliance made a blunder by giving the government an ultimatum on the issue of caretaker government as the incumbents ignored the threat with the opposition failing to spell out any effective follow-up programmes to keep up the pressure.
Khaleda at a public meeting in the capital on March 12 had set the June 10 ‘deadline’ to accept the demand.
Some policymakers of BNP thought that setting a deadline was a premature decision.
According to political observers, Khaleda Zia’s road march in different parts of the country in October 2011-January 2012 was a successful campaign by the opposition alliance.
Apart from the party’s leaders and activists, people in rural areas greeted Khaleda as she led the caravans through upazila and district towns.
Following the road march, activists of BNP from all over the country defied government obstructions and joined Khaleda’s ‘grand rally’ in Dhaka on Marcy 12.
Besides the street agitations, BNP took new initiatives to strengthen its ties with foreign countries, particularly with powerful ones and to win international support for its demand for a non-party caretaker government.
The BNP chair visited India, China, the US, the UK and Saudi Arabia in the last four years to improve her party’s relations with both governing and opposition parties of those countries.
During these visits Khaleda briefed the foreign leaders about BNP’s plans if it returned to power.
Khaleda’s visit to New Delhi, the first ever as the chairperson of BNP and the leader of the opposition, was a significant event.
BNP leaders frequently held talks with foreign diplomats in Dhaka to inform them of the party’s stand on different national issues and the government’s ‘repressive measures’.
BNP quickly responded to the arson attacks on Buddhist temples and houses in Ramu and other places of Chittagong and Cox’s Bazar.
A team formed by the party investigated the Ramu sectarian violence.
Submitting its inquiry report to foreign diplomats in Dhaka had drawn criticism from some quarters.
In the organisational matters, BNP has been able to reorganise the party overcoming the post-1/11 political setback and the election debacle of 2009.
However, the party has not yet taken a decision on holding its next national council after the term of the existing national executive committee expired on December 9 last.
Asked why BNP did not focus on the pressing public issues, the party’s standing committee member Rafiqul Islam Mia told New Age that public concerns were included in the lists of issues in all demonstrations and general strikes.
He said BNP was a democratic party, not a revolutionary party, and it had carried out movement democratically and within the ambit of the Constitution.
Rafiqul said BNP as per its capacity had carried out movement and gave voice to people’s concerns and protested at the recent financial scandals.
He said the caretaker government issue was the focal point to ensure a free and fair election to maintain the constitutional and democratic process.
In reply to a question, BNP standing committee member Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain claimed successes in the campaign for mobilising public support for a non-party caretaker government.
The BNP leader said they had tried to avoid programmes like hartal which caused loss of lives and property.
About organisational matters, he said organisational activities, preparations for election and movement were going on simultaneously.
Asked whether the party had any failures in the last four years, Mosharraf said ‘ I don’t see any failure.’
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