BNP must change its strategy if it is to survive

BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir speaks at an election rally in NarayanganjUNB

The 12th Jatiya Sangsad election has been held, no matter how. Prior to the election, many were in doubt as to whether it would actually take place. After all, the situation was fraught with tension. There was pressure from home and abroad. But the controls were in ruling Awami League’s hands.

On the other hand, BNP was a strong opposition. They had managed to create a palpable vibe with continuous processions, meetings, human chains, hartals (strikes), blockades, and so on. They hoped this pressure would work, that it would help in achieving their demand. Then there was the western world, particularly the US, the European Union and others exerting pressure. They were vocal all along for a free and fair election in Bangladesh.

While those in power ignore pressure from the citizens of the country, they often cannot ignore pressure from foreign quarters. After all, they have to come to all sorts of equations with these foreign quarters for various political, economic  and strategic reasons. Yet the ruling quarters sidestepped all pressure and went ahead to hold the election.

BNP and its like-minded parties had declared a boycott of the election from beforehand. This boycott, in a sense, was successful because a large number of voters refrained from voting. The supporters of BNP in particular, or those of the anti-Awami League ilk, did not go to vote. The voter turnout was meagre. Many felt that it may have been 20 per cent at the most. That later rolled to over 41 per cent, though the figure hardly seems credible.

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According to our constitution, no matter what the voter turnout may be, it will not create a legitimacy crisis for the election. So this election is constitutionally legitimate. And so those who were elected have now formed the government. Perhaps this government too will last for five years as before.

But the question is whether that means BNP has become an outcast in politics. In 2024 BNP adopted the same strategy as it did in 2014. They were defeated in their 2014 strategy. The government survived even after clinching 153 seats uncontested. In 2024 their strategy was beaten again, albeit differently.

Other than elections, we have seen two methods of power change in our country. The first is mass uprising. A mass uprising creates a circumstance and the government changes. The second is military coup. Here too a circumstance must be created

In the three consecutive elections, Awami League adopted different strategies. In 2014 their strategy was to keep BNP away from the election. In 2018, the ruling coterie held talks with BNP, held dialogue. When our political parties negotiate, we do not get to hear the entire interactions that take place behind the scenes. They do not reveal all either.

It is assumed that Awami League and BNP reached an understanding behind the scenes before the 2018 election. BNP had imagined they would get a decent number of seats in parliament. They were meted out merely six seats. This was not just a matter of dismay for BNP, but a humiliation too. So there was that apprehension within BNP that if they held dialogue and joined the election, there would be a repeat of 2018. There are logical reasons for BNP not joining the polls this time. The question is, however, what did BNP achieve by not joining the polls?

Awami League adopted a different strategy this time. The party candidates were told to contest in the election. Dummy candidates contested. There was some agitation here, some outburst of violence there, but on the whole, a peaceful election was carried off.

Awami League adopted three types of strategies in three consecutive elections, but BNP did not change its political strategy. They stuck to their processions, rallies, hartals, blockades, statements as before. The government can’t be changed in this manner. In a country like ours, the most credible, legitimate and constitutional way to change government is the election.

However, elections are rigged under a partisan government. That is common knowledge. In each and every election since the country’s independence, there has been rigging. Even in the elections under caretaker government, while there hadn’t been rigging to that extent, those who had been in the government, did try to rig the polls. They charted out things in such  manner that their people could be elected. But the caretaker government often changed that chart.

During the caretaker government rule, governments were changed through elections and never did the same government manage to come to power for the second consecutive time. That was a big attainment for the people. The people could exert the power of their vote to change the government. The people have lost that power now. Politics in Bangladesh has, to a greater extent, become unipolar, where the people have hardly any space at all.

BNP must also take liability for this harm that has been wrought. After all, it would not be possible to change government with the strategy that it has used for the past 15 years. Does that mean BNP should turn to violence? Actually the issue is not about taking up violence or not. It is true that many people did not go to vote this time. And it is also true that many people do not like Awami League. But why will the people go forward for BNP and take a bullet in the chest?

BNP only spoke of the election, about a non-party government, But it did not clearly enunciate what it had to offer the people. The people have seen both the parties act the same once at the helm. If BNP just keeps up the same method in its attempt to go to power, they will just have to lament. All they can say is that the elections were rigged, that Awami League remains in power by force.

Other than elections, we have seen two methods of power change in our country. The first is mass uprising. A mass uprising creates a circumstance and the government changes. The second is military coup. Here too a circumstance must be created.

If BNP is to survive in election politics, it must definitely change its tactics. The youth play the role of catalysts in any movement. BNP has been unable to enter among the youth effectively. The BNP leadership must understand this.

Many of BNP leaders are getting on in years. Many of them have amassed wealth. Their concern is how to protect that wealth. Many feel that at this age it is better to take up a strategy of survival rather than go to jail. But the question is how far BNP will prove to be effective as a party if it continues on these lines.

BNP has survived despite being out of power for so long. Political strength is required to give shape to the burgeoning anger and frustration of the people. That is how BNP has managed to survive. But BNP does not have a leader in whose name a movement can be drummed up. The time has come for them to realise that. It is time for BNP to rethink, to change their strategy. They must break away from the conventional path.

* Mohiuddin Ahmad is a writer and researcher

* This column 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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