There is no clear explanation regarding referendum in the BNP's Vision 2030, but it appears to have been introduced with an ill motive, writes Swadesh Roy for South Asia Monitor
By Swadesh Roy
The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) is still out of sync with Bangladesh politics. It is leading a 20-party alliance of which at least 15 constituents are extremely radical Islamic entities. On the other hand, the characteristics of BNP are covered by a veil. An illusionist unveils different faces at different times to the people according to his play -- and so does BNP.
Late M.R. Akhtar Mukul -- a prominent political analyst in Bangladesh and also a historical personality known for his programme named Chorompotro at Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendro in 1971 -- wrote that until and unless the face of BNP was unveiled totally, the crisis of Bangladesh politics would not be resolved.
Under the veil, BNP remains an Islamic radical party that endorses Islamic terrorism. It has a group of the country's finest elites which it got inherently as most of the rich Muslim League families were in opposition to the Liberation War in 1971. After the assassination of Bangladesh's founding leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on August 15, 1975, these elements joined BNP thus getting a new lease of life politically. More than three or four generations of these families are well educated. And they never reveal that they are in BNP -- rather they show themselves as neutral.
There is another group of people in Bangladesh who were once so-called communists but now their main occupation is to work for non-government organisations (NGOs). They prefer a weak government in the country for if a government is weak, the NGOs get an upper hand.
A strong government like that of Sheikh Hasina Wazed is not only unsuited for their working environment but also a threat to their occupation and inflow of foreign funds. As a populist democratic government of Bangladesh, Hasina's administration is working more in favour of the poor.
As a result, the NGOs are not getting a chance to gather funds from donors on account of 'the helpless poor'. So, in their own interest, they are always in favour of BNP professedly in the name of human rights, protecting nature, women's empowerment, and the like.
BNP’s economic policy is conservative and the party has no capacity to run a strong government. It has never done much for the poor and this situation enables the NGOs to do their business showing that they are assisting 'the helpless poor'. This is why most of the NGOs work in favour of BNP.
These two groups are darlings of the present media in Bangladesh -- a consequence of the long period of military rule that the country has seen and the military culture that has eventually grown. Not only the country’s politics and media but also the civilians continue to be ruled by the military culture.
The present Bangladesh Awami League government has given permission to a large number of radios and television channels and most of them are subconsciously affected by the military culture. Consequently, these two groups have got more opportunity to present their opinion in media than the intellectuals of the pro-liberation front.
These two groups never aver that BNP is good or the better party -- they only say that BNP and Awami League (AL) are the same. And this is sufficient for BNP.
If BNP is portrayed as AL, BNP will be automatically portrayed as a pro-liberation force. Eventually it will also be portrayed that BNP does not favour Islamic terrorism and even that it does not give shelter to Islamic terrorists. Rather, BNP will be shown as a fighter against terrorism like AL. It is enough deception for BNP to confuse the educated people.
On the other hand, under a progressive veil, BNP wants to change the mental demography of the common people through religion. They know that Bangladesh was created on the ideology of geographical and cultural basis. If they can replace religion over geographical culture among the common people, their mission will be successful.
Their ultimate goal is to raise a debate like in 1946 when the common people of this country came to believe that religion is a nationality -- and as they are Muslim in religion, they are a Muslim-nation. In the election of 1946, during the movement for Pakistan, people participated thinking that their nationality is Muslim. But they began to understand from 1948 onwards that they had made a terrible mistake.
They changed their opinion by 1966 and finally fought against religious nationality to secure liberation from Pakistan in 1971. Despite this, following the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the military rulers tried to again accord primacy to religious nationality over geographical and cultural nationality.
Two military rulers, Ziaur Rahman and H.M. Ershad, laid the foundation of this thinking. The military rulers got huge monetary help from Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. At that time, a large number of illiterate people went to Saudi Arabia where they came to believe that the semitic culture was their religion. Subsequently, they imposed this very belief in their families which also helped religion assume ascendancy over culture in the country.
After the two military rulers, BNP -- under Khaleda Zia, widow of Ziaur Rahman -- came to power through elections in a continuation of military rulers.
Basically, during the last eight years, the progressive AL government has been working in Bangladesh with a strong hand. A major development during this period has been the Shahbag movement -- a mass awakening of civil society demanding stricter punishments, including the gallows, to 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War criminals.
The government has had to pass a crucial time fighting in the courts for death sentences to war criminals and facing the repercussions after execution of the death sentence. During this time, BNP and its intellectual groups have made Madrassa-based (Islamic education institutions) organisations -- dominating the society even under the present government -- the spearhead in their opposition to the Shahbag movement.
BNP and its mentors Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan have understood that religion is now stronger in the mental demography of the common people in Bangladesh.
Recently, BNP declared its Vision 2030 akin to AL's Vision 2021. Political observers say that BNP's 256-point vision paper is a copy-paste job of AL’s vision, but there is a dangerous agenda in the BNP Vision 2030 -- it says BNP will change the constitution and will have a provision of referendum in the constitution if it wins the election and comes to power.
Why referendum? There is no clear explanation regarding referendum in the BNP's Vision 2030, but it appears to have been introduced with an ill motive.
BNP and Pakistan have understood that if BNP comes to power and has to run the country, it will have to maintain all the ties with India that have been built by the present AL-led government.
This is quite impossible for BNP. If it comes to power, it will need to give full space to its mentors ISI. It also knows fully well that India will not tolerate this -- so it will have to create a new Pakistan in Bangladesh.
Therefore, it is now telling India, the West, and even the people of the country that it will run a moderate Bangladesh. In reality, it will not maintain its commitment. If its wins a future election, it will go for a referendum for a confederation with Pakistan in the name of saving the country from Indian "aggression".
The history of referendums under the BNP government is too well known as people have already seen the referendum of 1978 in which the voters purportedly reposed confidence in Zia and his policies and programmes. The only goal of this copy-paste Vision 2030 of BNP is to effect a confederation with Pakistan.
(Swadesh Roy is Executive Editor of The Daily Janakantha, Dhaka, Bangladesh. Comments and suggestions on this article can be sent to email@example.com)