‘Ghu­lam’ Fac­tor In Bat­tle of Begums

De­fy­ing all odds, Bangladesh’s cen­tre-right op­po­si­tion party, BNP has aligned with Ka­mal Hos­sain, an 82-year-old sec­u­lar icon, rais­ing its hope to end Haseena’s decade-long rule

The Day After - - CONTENT - By danFES

How much would you bet on a party that has been out of power for more than a decade, its chief be­hind bars on cor­rup­tion charges and its ex­iled de facto leader just sen­tenced to life in a case over a deadly bomb blast? Not much.

But, de­fy­ing all odds, Bangladesh’s cen­tre-right op­po­si­tion party, Bangladesh Na­tion­al­ist Party (BNP), has just clinched a deal with Ka­mal Hos­sain, an 82-year-old sec­u­lar icon, rais­ing its hope to end the rul­ing Awami League’s decade-long rule.


Ka­mal Hos­sain, fa­mously known as Dr Ka­mal, has an im­pec­ca­ble rep­u­ta­tion as an in­ter­na­tion­ally ac­claimed ju­rist and hu­man rights de­fender. He served as a UN Spe­cial Rap­por­teur for Afghanistan from 1999 to 2003 in ad­di­tion to serv­ing as a mem­ber of numer­ous in­ter­na­tional ar­bi­tra­tion tri­bunals. A for­mer Ox­ford Uni­ver­sity pro­fes­sor, he was a close ally of Sheikh Mu­jibur Rah­man, the coun­try’s In­de­pen­dence leader, from the preIn­de­pen­dence pe­riod un­til his bru­tal mur­der in 1975. He was the coun­try’s first law min­is­ter and the chief of the con­sti­tu­tion draft­ing com­mit­tee. He then went on to serve as the coun­try’s for­eign min­is­ter.

He played an in­stru­men­tal role in bring­ing Sheikh Hasina, Rah­man’s daugh­ter and the cur­rent prime min­is­ter, to Bangladesh from her ex­ile in In­dia in the ‘80s, to mount a po­lit­i­cal chal­lenge to the rule of Gen­eral Zi­aur Rah­man, BNP’s founder. Now, with pol­i­tics true to its form, he’s now seek­ing to end her rule by win­ning the forth­com­ing elec­tion af­ter forg­ing an al­liance with the BNP.


Hos­sain formed a new party in the early ‘90s, hav­ing fallen out with Hasina. Since then, he has worked on hu­man rights is­sues. Dur­ing the cen­tre-right BNP’s 20012006 ten­ure, he was one of its fiercest crit­ics. He was par­tic­u­larly vo­cal about the then govern­ment’s fail­ure to pro­tect mi­nori­ties. What’s more, the heavy­weight lawyer al­most sin­gle­hand­edly de­stroyed BNP’s ploy to ma­nip­u­late voter list in its favour.

In re­cent years, es­pe­cially af­ter Sheikh Hasina’s un­op­posed re­turn to power in an elec­tion boy­cotted by the op­po­si­tions, an ail­ing Hos­sain has been con­cerned by what many say the govern­ment’s drift to­wards au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism.

A ne­go­ti­a­tion be­tween BNP and Hos­sain’s plat­form, Na­tional Unity Process, has gained mo­men­tum only af­ter Khaleda Zia, BNP’s chief, was jailed in a cor­rup­tion case in Fe­bru­ary this year. “I’m not sure how he plans to pull it off with his ail­ing health. He can barely walk,” a fam­ily friend re­cently this re­porter. “His fam­ily is to­tally op­posed to what he’s do­ing. But to him, it’s a last-ditch ef­fort to save the coun­try.”


Khaleda Zia’s son and po­lit­i­cal heir, Tarique Rah­man, has acted as de facto leader of the party from his ex­ile in Lon­don. How­ever, he, too, has been sen­tenced to life in ab­sen­tia in a case over a deadly bomb blast dat­ing back to 2004, when BNP was in power, tar­get­ing a rally of the then-op­po­si­tion party, AL. The blast, known as Au­gust 21 at­tack, killed 24 killed, while leav­ing hun­dreds, in­clud­ing Sheikh Hasina, in­jured.

BNP main­tains that the charge against Tarique Rah­man was po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated and that the ju­di­ciary re­mains at the be­hest of the govern­ment. They cite the case of for­mer chief jus­tice Suren­dra Ku­mar Sinha, who was forced to re­sign last year, to claim how the govern­ment con­trols the ju­di­ciary.

His lawyers ar­gue that the cen­tre­piece of the ver­dict was a re­vised con­fes­sional state­ment given by Mufti Han­nan, the

leader of Harkat-ul-Ji­had (HuJI) – which was said to have carried out the at­tack, in­crim­i­nat­ing sev­eral BNP lead­ers. They point out that Mufti Han­nan, who was ex­e­cuted in April last year in an­other case, later ap­plied to with­draw his state­ment say­ing he had been co­erced into sign­ing it.

By any means, it was a se­vere blow for a party try­ing to mount a chal­lenge against a govern­ment which has solidly en­trenched it­self in the sys­tem over the course of its back-to-back tenures. In any other cir­cum­stances, a life sen­tence for the only heir-ap­par­ent of a po­lit­i­cal dy­nasty might spell its demise. But, the BNP has bounced back in­stead of crum­bling.

Tarique, from his safe ex­ile in Britain, does not seem to be strug­gling to main­tain his grip over the party. The ‘el­ders’ of the party, who once re­sented his lead, seem to have grudg­ingly ac­cepted him and de­fended him – vig­or­ously that too, at a time when the moral le­git­i­macy of his lead­er­ship is be­ing ques­tioned. What’s more, just days af­ter the judge­ment, which was ex­pected to be a ma­jor set­back for the party, BNP has just forged an al­liance, Na­tional Unity Process, with par­ties and groups be­long­ing to dif­fer­ent aisles of the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum.

But such de­fi­ance was un­sur­pris­ing. Af­ter all, BNP has sur­vived many ru­moured at­tempts to di­vide the party with hun­dreds of thou­sands of its ac­tivists tar­geted by po­lice. More­over, it had 14 years to pre­pare it­self for this ver­dict which it saw com­ing miles away.

Even so, the BNP has paid an in­evitable po­lit­i­cal price by ac­cept­ing Ka­mal Hos­sain as the leader of the al­liance as Khaleda and Tarique are highly un­likely to be able to con­test in the elec­tion. It means, for the first time since Khaleda took the helm of the party in the early ‘90s, it may be go­ing to polls un­der the lead­er­ship of some­one else.


With BNP put on the back foot in the wake up of the Au­gust 21 ver­dict, its po­ten­tial part­ners – mainly small par­ties with al­most no po­lit­i­cal prow­ess – are try­ing to as­sert greater po­lit­i­cal lever­age be­cause they know the rul­ing coali­tion, too, is look­ing to ex­pand it­self.

Bikalpa Dhara, a small but im­por­tant party led by for­mer pres­i­dent Badrud­doza Chowd­hury, an­other po­lit­i­cal heavy­weight who had left BNP in 2006 af­ter a bit­ter episode, has al­ready parted ways with the unity process. The party was known to have been at log­ger­heads over the BNP’s sep­a­rate ties with Ja­maat-e-Is­lami and seat shar­ing.

An­other party, Kr­ishak Shramik Janta League, led by Kader Sid­dique, an in­de­pen­dence war hero, which was un­til re­cently in­for­mally al­lied with BNP, is ru­moured to be cosy­ing up with the rul­ing party.

Known left-lean­ing par­ties, such as the Com­mu­nist Party (CPB) and So­cial­ist Party (BaSAD), while op­pos­ing Hasina’s rule, have not con­sented to be a part of the BNP-led al­liance.

There­fore, the new po­lit­i­cal plat­form, Na­tional Unity Process, may come short of be­ing a uni­fied op­po­si­tion al­liance, as its founders are hop­ing it to be.

There­fore, the new po­lit­i­cal plat­form, Na­tional Unity Process, may come short of be­ing a uni­fied op­po­si­tion al­liance, as its founders are hop­ing it to be

Khaleda Zia jailed for five years in cor­rup­tion case

BNP and three other po­lit­i­cal par­ties for­mally an­nounce the for­ma­tion of an al­liance styled “Jatiya Oikyafront” at a press con­fer­ence

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