Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) needs a few grand and revolutionary ideas, which do not involve street protests, at least for the time being. The party has just got outwitted in the game of tricks that were played deftly by a geopolitical alliance, with less regard for norms or propriety.
The BNP should start its reassessment with a recap of the current political realities. They should realise that the prevailing political leadership, including themselves, have unlimited tolerance for absorbing economic destruction, while trying to stick to respective positions. If taking the economy as a hostage was still a useful tactic, it should have worked by now.
The current political climate also has unlimited tolerance for accepting human toll, both in terms of the number of death or injury. If the count of dead bodies and human suffering could still make anyone sympathetic enough to give in, we would have seen it in 2013.
The BNP should know its opponents have close friendship with a specific foreign ally, strong enough to weather temporary diplomatic setbacks. The BNP’s opponents also have strong influence on the media, the civil society, and the most vocal part of the urban population.
In sum, the simplified list of strengths of BNP’s opponents stated above should make anyone making strategies for BNP cringe.
Despite the weaknesses above, the BNP does have some major strengths. The government’s intense geo-strategic alliance may soon turn out to be a liability for it. For example, the new government so far has managed to get congratulatory messages from only India, Russia, China, Vietnam, and Cambodia. This must send a rather peculiar signal to the Western capitals, which still have substantial influence over matters in Bangladesh. It is granted though, that foreigners are not going to bat for the BNP. It needs to find its own batsman, who can whack the ball out of the park. Who could that be?
Let’s now enter the territory of the silent majority, where the BNP traditionally fared well. The country has a huge pro-religion voting bloc, which has always been fractured. That fracture however is healed to a great extent and ready to vote for a BNP led alliance. The moderately secular and/or moderately religious voting bloc (for lack of a better term) is still the bastion of democracy-lovers in Bangladesh. This coalition of moderates is now ripe for the BNP to take into its fold.
This silent majority has deep penetration into the society; they are well informed, patriotic, fiercely mindful of Bangladesh’s sovereignty, and they can pull the right strings, when the time is right. All the BNP needs to do is to engage these folks somehow on an urgent basis. Continuation of street fights or “more-of-the-same” politics of street agitation will not get this silent majority excited. That is my bet.
Given the above backdrop, to make a stronger case to the silent majority, the BNP will need big, revolutionary ideas. Here are a few humble suggestions.
The BNP should declare a moratorium on street politics for at least six months. The BNP should bring the civil rights groups and the diplomatic community into its fold, and collectively pressure the government towards allowing civil political gatherings, which will avoid street agitations. Politicians can figure out the proper format. This will help the BNP re-group, re-energise, and revive the party ultimately towards a new election, which may well take place sooner than some people would prefer to think. If the BNP plays its cards right, the civil society and the international community may assist the party holding such gatherings, making it difficult for thugs to show up with flag-sticks.
The BNP should also make a few bold, revolutionary declarations. One of those could be dissolving student politics in educational institutions, similar to what Malaysia did under Mahathir Mohamad. The BNP may ask its allies to comply with this as well. The lessons of 2013 must have taught all political parties that street fights via students cannot topple governments anymore. Youth engagement can be continued via regular party memberships, like it is done in other nations.
The BNP should speak up about the War Crimes Trials. It should ask the international community to establish a truly international court, and encourage the UN to take the trials to a neutral venue. This move may not be popular, but will be hard to get tagged as unfair.
Having addressed the ICT trials, the BNP should request the Jamaat-e-Islami to re-brand itself into a new party, where leadership positions can only be given to folks born after the year 1955 (this ensures they were underaged during 1971). This new party should be encouraged to disown questionable activities of the Jamaat during 1971, and if necessary, unconditionally apologise to the people of this country.
Instead of focusing on ascending to power, the BNP should instead press hard on major institutional reforms in police and judiciary, two major hurdles for Bangladesh’s troubled democracy. The BNP can hold civil gatherings where victims of police brutality and judicial crimes will express their grief, and will be helped financially. If the media and proper local and international groups are engaged, the government will have little opportunity to foil these gatherings.
The BNP should focus on party finance and financial reform. As the first of the two major parties, the BNP should come up with transparent fee structure for party membership and systematic gathering of legal revenues through fund raising events. For example, people can purchase a membership in the party paying a fee, and as a result obtain a membership card with an identification code number. This identification code can then be used for SMS voting, for assessing supporter sentiment before making major party decisions in the future. This will eradicate the need and importance of “few old rich men” making all the decisions for the party, particularly in the times of need.
The BNP should form a human rights activism wing. This wing can seek assistance from local and international rights groups and carry out campaigns against torture against the minority Hindu, Christian, Buddhist population, as well as victimisation of the Muslim population in the country due to their party affiliation. The BNP and its allies should publicly expel any leader, irrespective of position level who are found involved in gross human rights abuses. Similar mandate should be shown against terrorism of any kind, when proven.
The BNP must establish the meritocracy practiced by President Ziaur Rahman, who brought greatness to this party out of nowhere.
If the BNP does any of the above, the party may take control of the country’s political agenda in the immediate future. Critics of the above suggestions should realise that the BNP has only following three options: 1.) Increasing street agitations, almost to the point of taking the country towards a civil war, 2.) Continue doing what it was doing for the last few years, 3.) Do something dramatically different.
The option 1 and 2 are not feasible or recommendable for obvious reasons. And I just had a crack at option 3. The floor is now open for debates.
Shafquat Rabbee is a freelance writer and social-media activist.