Always criticised by political analysts for its lack of farsightedness, Khaleda Zia’s BNP has lost another year, 2020, in its efforts to remerge as a strong political party with a glowing role.
As in the previous years, the party confined itself to mainly indoor activities like discussion meetings, doa mahfils and press conferences throughout the year instead of overhauling the party and coming up with effective and time-befitting action programmes.
Though BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia was released by an executive for one year in two phases, she kept her away from politics silently staying in her Gulshan residence in accordance with the conditions given by the government.
Political analysts think BNP has failed to play its due role for long as a political party for its leadership crisis, wrong policies and lack of political acumen.
They said the party is unlikely to regain its position as a major political force in the country even in the coming years if it fails to come up with a well-designed political strategies and pro-people action programmes by overhauling the organisation under able leadership.
BNP joined elections to two Dhaka city corporations held on February 1 as part of its ‘movement’, but it failed to take its supporters and polling agents to election centres during the voting.
After a massive drubbing in the polls, the party enforced a hartal on February 2 rejecting the results but it only evoked criticisms instead of public support.
Talking to UNB, Dr Tarek Shamsur Rahman, a political analyst and professor of International Relations department at Jahangirnagar University, said BNP did not take the city elections seriously as the party might have a perception that they would not be allowed to win the polls.
“Their (BNP leaders’) body language during the campaign demonstrated that the party didn’t have the strong resolve to come out successful in the election,” he observed.
He also said BNP enforced the dawn-to-dusk hartal in the capital protesting ‘irregularities’ in the elections to the two city corporations injudiciously as its leaders failed to understand people’s pulse. “People now don’t support hartal. I think BNP leaders exposed their political bankruptcy by announcing the hartal going against people’s sentiments.”
Corona Led to Isolation
As the coronavirus spread in the country, BNP kept its organisational activities suspended for nearly seven months from March 26 to September 15.
With the situation getting normal after September, the party arranged some human chain and demonstration programmes. The party ended the year by staging a countrywide demonstration on December 30 in protest against the 11th parliamentary election, marking the second anniversary of its voting day.
Since the detection of first corona cases in the country on March 8, most party leaders went into isolation.
BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir and senior joint secretary general Ruhul Kabir Rizvi often arranged virtual press conferences. They also joined some party programmes physically. But other leaders preferred staying home.
The party leaders at the grassroots level, however, actively joined relief distribution and stood beside the jobless and poor people extending their helping hands.
Some party leaders, including Chowdhury Kamal Ibne Yousuf, Shahjahan Siraj, MA Hashem, Shafiul Bari Babu, Abdul Awal Khan, Ahasnullah Hasan and Shafiul Azam, died of coronavirus.
Many others like standing committee members Mirza Abbas, Nazrul Islam Khan, Iqbal Hasan Mahmud Tuku and vice-chairman Barkatullah Bulu were infected with the deadly virus.
No sign of Khaleda’s release
Amid the coronavirus outbreak, the government freed Khaleda Zia from jail for six months through an executive order suspending her sentences on March 25, nearly 25 months after she had been convicted and sent to jail in graft cases.
The government did not release her for any pressure created by BNP through any movement, but on humanitarian and health ground.
On August 27, the government extended her release for six more months.
But BNP could not gain anything politically as Khaleda has been staying at her house avoiding political activities and her party leaders. Some party leaders can meet her on some occasions.
BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said though their party chief was released, she has been kept under “house arrest”.
Some party leaders said the BNP chief has lost interest in politics due to her falling health and bleak political future.
Shocking Election Performance
On September 7, Mirza Fakhrul announced that their party decided to join all the upcoming elections and by-polls.
Later, the party participated in by-polls to different vacant parliament seats and some local body ones, but demonstrated very poor show.
Like the city polls, the party could not send its agents and party men to the polling stations.
Mirza Fakhrul said they could not perform better in the polls due to obstruction and repressive acts by the ruling party men and the administration.
But Dr Tarek Shamsur said the party failed to encourage its rank and file to join the election seriously. “I also think the party leaders and activists didn’t get proper guidelines from their top leaders about the elections.”
Besides, intra-party conflicts following the election also widened in the party and the supporters of party’s rival aspirants engaged in fighting at different time.
No Progress in Party Overhauling
BNP has been talking about its national council by reorganising its organisations, but it could not make any good progress to this end.
The party only formed some convening committees of its some district and upazila units.
The party also could not fill three vacant posts in its highest policymaking body standing committee and around 50 ones in its executive body.
At the end of the year, the party faced serious intra-party conflict and some senior leaders, including Hafizuddin Ahmed and Shawkat Mahmud, were served show-cause notice for violating party discipline.
Besides, some grassroots leaders were expelled from the party for their involvement in anti-party activities.
Party leaders said they could not overhaul the party this year as their party’s organizational activities hampered for a long time.
BNP Needs New Leadership
Gonoshasthya Kendra founder Dr Zafrullah Chowdhury said BNP must bring a new leadership through a council if it wants to stage a comeback in politics.
"The party should wage a movement to free Khaleda Zia and thus invigorate its rank and file. The party top leaders must give its grassroots the light of hope. Leaders need to be united by removing misunderstandings among them. BNP will have to do politics in a positive way,” he said.
Dr Zafrullah said BNP cannot act as a major party due to its leadership crisis.
“BNP leaders always wait for messages from London and make only hollow statements, but they could neither overhaul their organisation nor work out any strategy to rejuvenate their grassroots and strengthen the party,” he observed.
BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said last year was very painful not only for the BNP but also for the entire world. “The pandemic has turned everything upside down. It has also had an adverse effect on politics.”
He said they have carried out political activities on a limited scale this year maintaining health safety rules due to the prevalence of coronavirus.
Fakhrul hoped that people will get united in the coming year 2021 to bring a change in the government and get success in the movement for the ‘restoration’ of democracy.
"The current year is going to end. Let’s all have the same resolve for unity in the next year,” he added.