The Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, came to London on 12 June 2015 and returned to Dhaka on June 18, 2015. Her six-day visit was a private one. She came to London for medical treatment and to listen to the maiden speech of her niece, Tulip Siddiq, a newly elected Labour MP, at the House of Commons. She also met the all-party parliamentary group on Bangladesh and discussed matters of mutual interest between Bangladesh and Britain with at least 50 British MPs.
She explained the present condition of Bangladesh to them and clarified her government’s position on pursuing a democratic path in the governance of the country. She seemed to have cleared misunderstandings about her government in the minds of some British MPs. The pro-BNP-Jamaat lobby, consisting of some renowned lawyers and MPs, in Britain, is very strong. They influence many British people against the Awami League government.
The counter propaganda from the Awami League government in Britain and in Europe is not very strong. They could not properly justify their reasons behind holding the elections of January 5, 2014 without the BNP and Jamaat to the outside world. Though the PM’s visit was a private one, it had political implications as well. Her niece’s presence in the British parliament can also be deemed as favourable for Sheikh Hasina and her government.
Some of the British MPs, both Conservative and Labour, acknowledged that they had been misled by certain quarters about conditions in Bangladesh. Hasina’s visit and Tulip’s entry into the House of Commons may create a stronghold for democratic forces in Bangladesh and stave off a misrepresentation of Bangladesh by BNP-Jamaat. Sheikh Hasina noted that she felt closer to the United Kingdom now that her niece was in parliament, though Tulip is not associated with the Awami League and represents British citizens in her constituency.
Even so, Tulip will be a natural link between the democratic forces of Bangladesh and Britain and this will strengthen the ties between the two nations. On 16 June, Tulip Siddiq, MP, and granddaughter of Bangladesh’s founder Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, in her maiden speech, expressed her determination to serve the multicultural communities of Britain, and would also keep in mind the welfare of Bangladeshis.
Her speech made a positive impact in parliament and there was much joy among British Bangladeshis. It also strengthened the pro-Liberation Bangladeshi groups in Britain as a whole, irrespective of their political alliances. It is hoped that the three Bengali women MPs, elected in the new parliament of Britain, will uphold the principle of democracy for both countries against all odds. Supporters of the BNP in London dreaded the victory of these three MPs, who certainly uphold the pro-Liberation ideals of Bangladesh. Hence they targeted Tulip Siddiq particularly and engaged in vicious propaganda against her during her election campaign.
Even Tareq Rahman publicly tried to devalue Tulip’s victory. So long East London was a stronghold of BNP and Jamaat. Former Tower Hamlets mayor Lutfur Rahman was accused of patronizing the Jamaat and BNP. The progressive and secular population of East London were afraid that sitting MP Rushanara Ali would be defeated and her place would be taken over by a protégé of Lutfur Rahman. But the BNP-Jamaat nexus collapsed when the mayor was removed from his post by an order of the court on serious charges of fraud, corruption, and vote rigging. John Biggs of the Labour Party is now the mayor of Tower Hamlets.
During Lutfur Rahman’s tenure, some people used to mock Tower Hamlets Borough as the Islamic Republic of Tower Hamlets. The British government of late has become very worried about the spread of jihadist influence in the schools and mosques of Britain. With Lutfur Rahman’s removal as mayor and John Biggs being the newly elected mayor and Rushanara Ali re-elected to parliament, locals now feel reassured that Tower Hamlets may now be freed of jihadist influence. At the same time, Tulip Siddiq and Rupa Huq’s election to parliament signify a change in British politics. The tide of racism and religious extremism is expected to ebb. This will benefit people across the spectrum.
This time too Sheikh Hasina faced black flag demonstrations from BNP supporters in London. Though the number of demonstrators was few, they were violent. Three of them were arrested by British police for their aggressive behaviour. I wanted to know from a BNP leader in London, given that the mainstream BNP has retreated from street violence and demonstration and has been seeking a dialogue with the government in Bangladesh, what was the point of BNP supporters resorting to violence against Sheikh Hasina in London. He replied that the BNP was now divided and devastated because of their failure in their last movement.
Some old leaders of BNP and some others, who left the party such as Dr.Badruddoza Chowdhury and Col. Oli, are advising Begum Zia to disassociate with the Jamaat and come back to parliamentary politics to combat the Awami League. But Tareq Rahman is opposing this idea from London and is trying to keep his grip on the party by staging a movement in London against the Hasina government. He is now desperate to keep his diminishing influence on the party by delivering provocative statements against Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and disturbing Sheikh Hasina’s London visits from time to time.
Tareq Rahman’s mother, Begum Zia, is now in a dilemma. It seems that she has lost her power over the party and keeping it united. She is still inclined to follow the advice of her son but is under pressure from the senior leaders of the party on the need for her to change her political stance. Recently, Dr.Badruddoza Chowdhury strongly advised Begum Khaleda Zia to maintain a distance from the Jamaat. There are rumours in Dhaka that the old guard of the BNP are thinking about forming a new BNP on the pretext that they are reviving the old BNP along the political lines set by the late Ziaur Rahman.
They are claiming that the BNP under Begum Zia and Tareq has moved away from the ideals of Ziaur Rahman and the party needs re-organisation. There are also rumours that Begum Zia may expel them from the party and thwart their move on the excuse that she needs new blood in her organisation. If that happens, and BNP is divided, and the present leadership is challenged, it will benefit the Awami League immensely.
A BNP leader of London told me about Tareq Rahman’s attempt to have demonstrations against Sheikh Hasina in London as proof of his desperation. He has understood, sitting in London, far away from his homeland, that he cannot control the politics of the country against a tide that is favourable for the Awami League government.
Sheikh Hasina’s latest London visit, though a private one, has had its fair share of political implications. Tulip’s entry into the British parliament along with two other Bengali women MPs and the collapse of the stronghold of the Jamaat and BNP in the Tower Hamlets Borough are a shot in the arm for the democratic, secular camp in the Bangladeshi community. It will help the Sheikh Hasina government in Dhaka in consolidating its position against the communal and fundamentalist forces in Bangladesh.
Abdul Gaffar Choudhury is a bdnews24.com columnist.