Grievance palpable but BNP’s stance still unclear

BNP logo

A sense of frustration against the Indian government has gripped the opposition BNP following the 12th general election in Bangladesh. Many BNP leaders are raising questions about the Indian government’s role in the last general election and criticizing the neighboring country.  There are varying opinions as to how much BNP would continue with anti-India politics.

BNP is yet to finalise its stance on the issue. Several senior BNP leaders said the issue might be discussed at the party’s standing committee meeting on Monday.  

Meanwhile, a movement to boycott Indian products in Bangladesh has gained traction on social media. BNP’s senior joint secretary general Ruhul Kabir Rizvi on 20 March expressed solidarity with the movement. He threw away his Indian shawl publicly in front of the BNP office at Nayapaltan. The leaders-activists accompanying him set the shawl on fire.

Rizvi told Prothom Alo on Saturday that he threw away his shawl as a symbolic protest against the Indian government. He claimed his party was aware of his protest. However, Rizvi’s protest has given rise to much discussion in the party.

Several members of the standing committee said they are not sure whether Rizvi’s act was outburst of his personal emotion or was a party decision.  

BNP’s ally Ganatantra Mancha’s leaders said BNP’s stance is not clear to them either. Several leaders of the alliance told Prothom Alo that India’s role in the last election has created a negative impression among its leaders-activists. But the way many BNP leaders expressed their grievance has created confusion about the party’s stance to many in BNP’s alliance partners.

Mahmudur Rahman Manna, one of the leading figures of Ganatantra Mancha, told Prothom Alo that India took the side of Awami League during the 7 January election. Such role by India has given rise to many questions in not only BNP, but also ally parties and alliances. But some BNP leaders are making India the main opponent instead of Awami League. It remains to be seen how prudent this stance will be politically.

BNP’s standing committee member Gayeshawar Chandra Roy, however, told Prothom Alo that what stance the party takes on India has not been discussed yet. It will be decided upon discussion in the party’s top forum.
Meanwhile, AL general secretary Obaidul Quader has criticized the protest of Rizvi. Addressing a press conference on 22 March, he said, “BNP has been planning to destabilize the country’s market system in the name of boycotting Indian products. People won’t respond to the BNP's call.”

Why anti-India remarks again

BNP took a strategy of shunning anti-Indian stance overtly for the last decade. Awami League held a one-sided election in 2014 amid boycott of BNP. After that election, BNP tried to bridge its gap with India and started communication with India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). BNP did away with its alliance with Jamaat-e- Islami before the 11th national election in 2018. The BNP leaders also became wary of making any remarks about India. The BNP was cautious about issuing any statement regarding India even before the 12th parliamentary election on 7 January.

Many BNP leaders expressed hope that India will stand by democracy without taking side of any particular political party.

But several senior BNP leaders said India continued to side with Awami League. BNP leaders believe Awami League succeeded in holding the 7 January election mainly due to India’s role despite an opposing stance by the US and other western countries.  This belief has led to resurfacing of anti-India sentiment among many BNP leaders-activists. The BNP leaders also think that India’s role in the election has irked the majority of Bangladeshis.

In the wake of such circumstances, BNP leaders have again started to launch anti-India remarks. Leaders of BNP’s allies have also started to make anti-India remarks.

Veiled strategy

Nurul Haque Nur-led Gana Odhikar Parishad, which is an ally of BNP’s simultaneous movement, started the India out campaign on social media.
Nur told Prothom Alo yesterday that his party initiated the campaign of boycotting Indian products due to India’s partisan role in the last election.

Several members of BNP’s standing committee said the party is yet to have any discussion on the issue. But Rizvi's protest led many leaders to believe that he could not have done it without consent or signal from the party's top leadership.

Some of the leaders think the party’s high-ups might have any veiled strategy behind Rizvi’s action.