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This situation is steadily stoking the frustration among the party leaders and activists, even though Tarique has more or less established his control on the party over the past three and a half years. He has formed several district committees according to his own choice, as well as committees of Chhatra Dal, Jubo Dal and Swechchhasebak Dal.

‘Local commander’

At a virtual meeting in Tarique Rahman’s present, Cumilla South district president Manzurul Ahsan Munshi proposed the appointment of a ‘local commander’ to run the party. This old leader of the party felt that the acting chairman was facing certain difficulties in running the party from London. A senior leader within the country was required to overcome this situation.

This proposal for a ‘local commander’ did not go down well as was reflected in subsequent developments in the area’s politics. The relatively young Abdul Awal was immediately brought forward as Munshi’s rival. He was even made deputy organising secretary of BNP’s central committee. Abdul Awal recently died of coronavirus.

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In similar situations, many leaders including the party’s central vice chairman Altaf Hossain Chowdhury in Patuakhali, central joint secretary general Mahbub Uddin Khokan in Noakhali-1 (Chatkhil-Sonaimuri), central leader Nazimuddin Alam in Bhola and others, are under pressure. A move is reportedly on to create alternative leadership in various places with Chhatra Dal and Jubo Dal leaders. Then again, many of the senior and veteran leaders of the party do not like Tarique Rahman as he does not consider them his people.

However, speaking to Prothom Alo about differences between Tarique Rahman and party leaders, BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir has said, “It is only natural that the leaders who had worked with Begum Zia, or before that with Ziaur Rahman, had certain reservations initially about Tarique Rahman’s leadership. But now there are no differences regarding leadership. On the contrary, we have been able to create a joint leadership within the party.”

12 Chhatra Dal leaders

In an official order of BNP, 12 leaders of the Chhatra Dal committee dissolved in 2019, were expelled. These leaders of the dissolved committee stood up against the decision taken by Tarique Rahman to have only regular students in the Chhatra Dal committee. They locked up BNP’s central office and severed its electric lines because this decision blocked their way to remain in Chhatra Dal due to their age.

These leaders later apologised to Tarique Rahman and requested that they be included in any other front organisations of the party.

A mid-level leader of BNP told this correspondent an appeal was made to Tarique from a meeting of the party’s standing committee, to retract this expulsion order against the 12 leaders. But the expulsion was not withdrawn and they were not placed anywhere else in the party, much to the chagrin of the senior leaders.

Debate over nominations and party reorganisation

Nominations for the 2018 parliamentary elections also created annoyance within the party. This even led to the resignation of former foreign minister and the party’s vice chairman M Morshed Khan. Despite repeated requests, he was not given nomination for the Chattagram-8 (Boalkhali-Changaon) seat. Instead, Chattogram South district BNP convener Abu Sufian was nominated in his place.

BNP’s nomination board last time had decided that no controversial person would be nominated. But Rafiqul Islam (Bakul), Miah Nuruddin (Opu), Saiful Alam (Nirob) and SM Jahangir Hossain (in a by-election), were nominated. Nominations were changed in almost 50 seats. Tarique Rahman is said to have taken these decisions unilaterally.

There is a propensity worldwide now to back authoritarian governments
BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir

Many of the party men complain that the same is happening in the present reorganisation of the party at the local level. No committee of BNP and its affiliated organisations is formed without Tarique Rahman’s nod. Before any committee is formed, he uses his own men to scout out leaders. As a result, it is alleged, instead of merit, loyalty to the acting chairman is taken as the main criteria in most cases.

Discussing this issue, a leader pointed to the formation of committees in two upazilas of Noakhali-5, the constituency of former BNP standing committee member Moudud Ahmed, who has passed away. The leader, on condition of anonymity, said Moudud Ahmed was not even consulted before the formation of the Companyganj upazila committee. Moudud Ahmed had later brought the matter up at a virtual meeting of the standing committee. Tarique Rahman retorted, “You will be nominated. If you become an MP, you will be made a minister, don’t bother your head about this.”

It is reported that district and upazila committees are being formed without consulting the senior leaders of the areas, not even the possible MP candidates. As a result, most of the committees are hardly meeting the requirements at the grassroots, nor have any input from the local senior leaders. This is leading to further clashes and conflict.

According to Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, all this is nothing but planned propaganda of those in power, aimed at weakening BNP, projecting a negative image and creating misunderstanding among its leaders and activists.

Debates about decisions

BNP sources say there is mixed reaction within the party about the inclusion of Selima Rahman and Iqbal Hasan Mahmud in the party’s standing committee. Many feel that several senior and experienced leaders of the party could have also been included alongside them in the vacant posts of the standing committee.

A show-cause notice was issued against Mirza Abbas for certain controversial statements he had made, but no discussion on this was held at any level in the party.

Sources have reported that it was at Tarique’s behest that dialogue was held with the prime minister before the 11th parliamentary election and that BNP joined the polls. It was also his decision to reject the results of the election and then later join the parliament. The decision to form the Jatiya Oikya Front under Dr Kamal Hossain’s leadership in order to do away with the negative ‘BNP-Jamaat’ alliance identity before the election, also had Tarique’s approval. This Oikya Front was given BNP’s ‘sheaf of paddy’ election symbol. Jamaat also joined the election under the same symbol.

Political calculations

Political observers and several BNP leaders and activists feel that the party’s top leaders at this juncture should have gathered all the new and old elements together to consolidate the party. But this has not been done. On the contrary, many activities and decisions taken by Tarique Rahman have created disruptions and divisions within the party.

Besides all of this, his alienation from local and foreign friendly forces in power politics, has not been resolved. There is no visible strategic planning within the party in this regard either.

However, political analyst Dilara Choudhury feels that that public opinion or popularity had no value in politics now because Bangladesh’s politics is controlled from outside. So there is no point in worrying about the party or its leadership.

BNP has certain illogical perceptions. They are not on the streets, nor do they have any strategy. Their brains have come to a standstill. They are not even trying
Dr Zafrullah Chowdhury, Trustee, Gonoshasthaya Kendra

BNP leaders say that when the party was it power, certain quarters, including Awami League, ran a smear campaign against Tarique Rahman, tarring him as an icon of corruption. This campaign was carried out to render BNP’s future leadership questionable and controversial.

The BNP secretary general says, “We see this as a conspiracy. Till date, no corruption of even a single taka has been proven against Tarique.”

BNP policymakers say that there have been extensive changes in global politics over the past few years. Liberal democracy trends have been weakened to give way to authoritarian rule. The cause behind this is the struggle for control over global economy. Then there are the international alliances against so-called militancy and terrorism. BNP is victim of such negative propaganda because several Islamic parties are included in their alliance. And so even if BNP comes under attack, this does not come to light under the domination of authoritarian rule.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, Mirza Fakhrul said, “There is a propensity worldwide now to back authoritarian governments. The western world, even China and the third world, are looking at business interests in Bangladesh. As Bangladesh has a Muslim majority, they fear Islamic militancy here. And this is used as an excuse to repress the opposition. We believe fascism cannot last long in any country of the world.”

Tarique Rahman’s position in the party has been inherited from father Ziaur Rahman and mother Khaleda Zia. Party people feel that even under pressure, Tarique Rahman has consolidated his position in the party due to the reality of dynastic politics in the region. However, many people have doubts about how far he will be able to manage everything in attaining his future goal. BNP leadership has the old belief that the more the government’s misrule increases, the more the people will lean towards BNP.

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Trustee of Gonoshasthaya Kendra Dr Zafrullah Chowdhury, known to be a well-wisher of BNP, told Prothom Alo, “BNP has certain illogical perceptions. They are not on the streets, nor do they have any strategy. Their brains have come to a standstill. They are not even trying. They are not even active about the release of their leader Khaleda Zia. Tarique Rahman is of the idea that someone or the other will place him in power.”

* This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir

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