Which path should BNP take now?

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There are many paths before BNP now. Now that the 7 January election is over, what will BNP do? The upazila elections are ahead. BNP has not taken any decision as yet regarding the upazila polls. The party has taken a tactful stance regarding the move to boycott Indian products. The matter of carrying out their movement along with Jamaat is also being mulled over.

Then there is the overall matter of restructuring the party organisationally. There is also the matter of reevaluating relations with foreign quarters in keeping with international politics. There is a lot on BNP's plate at the moment. It has a lot of work in hand.

Firstly, Awami League has held the 7 January election. This can be viewed from two angles. From the angle of Awami League, BNP could not thwart the election. It failed.

From the opposite angle, BNP has succeeded by allowing the election to be held. Sometimes one must give the opponent leeway in the playing field in order to bring victory back home.

The 7 January was one such game. BNP managed to win the game even by not playing. Large numbers of voters did not take part in the election. They did not cast their votes. In fact, even a large section of Awami League's voters didn't go to the voting centres. This was an unprecedented occurrence in the country's history.

It was feared that there would be extensive violence in the country centering the election. But BNP managed to completely decimate the credibility of the election in a peaceful manner. BNP's success lies in avoiding violence and competently managing the situation with patience and skill even after the imprisonments and torture. BNP was instigated in many ways, but it didn't step into the trap.

After the election BNP seemed to falter. It must emerge from this condition. It now must take its success of 7 January ahead. It must take the public opinion that was in favour of boycotting the election and use it in its politics ahead. It must see the upazila election as the next step after the 7 January election.

The question is, will BNP take part in the upazila election or not. BNP can view the upazila election from two angles. Firstly, if they participate in the upazila polls, the leaders and activists at the grassroots will be activated. Having stayed away from the elections for long, those who are eager to be people's representatives, will get a chance to project themselves. They can be elected and they build up a strong movement for the party. They will be able to influence development work. They will be able to display through their performance that good governance is possible on the part of BNP. The bottom line is, BNP will be able to brand itself in front of the new generation.

Then there are risks too if BNP joins the upazila election. Those who win in the election may sever ties with the party or distance themselves from the party in order to win the government's favour. There is precedence of such action. No many of the election representatives were seen active in the field during the movement. While the leaders and activists were suffering in jail, giving their lives on the streets, many of them were joining meeting and gatherings on the same stage as the government's ministers and MPs.

At a book launch in New Delhi recently, India's former high commissioner to Bangladesh Pinak Ranjan Chakrabarty quite openly stated it was because of India's stern stance that the US ambassador Peter Haas went under covers. In other words, the US moves away from its stance for free and fair election in Bangladesh

It was even seen that while BNP leaders and activists were being beaten up by police on the streets, the BNP leader upazila chairman drives past in his car, least bothered. This generates anger within the party. And the general activists of the party lose interest in the programmes of the movement. That is why BNP needs to minutely analyse the upazila election issue before it take a decision.

Then again, BNP must also consider how justified it would be to take part in the local government election after having boycotted the national election. BNP may argue that the local government election does not change the powers at the helm of the country. The national election changes power. That is why many feel that BNP was right in boycotting the national election.

If BNP had joined the national election, it would have had to face a situation similar to that of 2018. They would be given a handful of seats and made to sit in parliament. This will give the polls recognition as an election inclusive of all parties. But BNP would have effective participation in either the election or the parliament. So boycotting the 7 January election was a correct decision of BNP. Awami League may cry itself hoarse, claiming that they formed the government with the people's mandate, but everyone now the real story.

BNP must also give due thought to the 'boycott Indian goods' move initiated on social media. India interference in the election is more or less open. India itself is not bothering cover it up and talks about it quite openly.

At a book launch in New Delhi recently, India's former high commissioner to Bangladesh Pinak Ranjan Chakrabarty quite openly stated it was because of India's stern stance that the US ambassador Peter Haas went under covers. In other words, the US moves away from its stance for free and fair election in Bangladesh. BNP must determine its stance on the basis of these India-related issues.

BNP must also pay attention to organisational issues. It needs to restructure the part at various levels. From the grassroots to the district level, committees must be formed by the direct votes of the leaders and activists through councils. This practice has not development in our political parties other than in a few left and Islamic parties. The party's leaders and activists must be empowered. Just taking part in rallies and meetings is not enough.

The participation of leaders and activists in decision making must also be increased. BNP can set a precedence in this regard. If committees are formed by means of elections at a local level, there will be less conflict and lobbying 'business'. Organisational strength will increase. Central leaders will be more focussed on devising strategies and programmes.

BNP has already began reorganising its affiliated organisations. Chhatra League has a new committee. The other committees are likely to be finalised soon. Initiative has been taken outside overseas too to from new committees in various countries. Councils to form committees will be held in many countries. This is a good initiative. If committees can be formed through votes in councils overseas, then why can't this be done within the country too? BNP can use the experience of forming committees overseas through council votes, and apply within the country.

The committees abroad can also serve to strengthen BNP's ties with various countries. The expatriates who understand international politics well, who are good at negotiations, can be given place in the foreign affairs committees so they can ensure BNP's interests through diplomacy. The countries of the West have recognised the government even after an election without voters. BNP's policy strategy may have flaws in this area.

Finally, there is only one path in front of BNP -- to assess and analyse all its successes and failures, turn around and bring an end to the prevailing political predicament.

* Dr. Maruf Mullick is a writer and political analyst

* 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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