July 14, 2024

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Fading Opposition in Bangladesh: Who is to Blame?

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Agartala, 28th of March 2024 : In recent years, the opposition political parties in Bangladesh have seen a decline in strength, which is detrimental to the establishment of a robust democratic system. Undoubtedly, the extended tenure of the Awami League has significantly contributed to the decline of the opposition party. A political party that originated in the army camp would not have a better chance of maintaining its members’ loyalty if it stayed out of power for over fifteen years. Undoubtedly, it may be contended that the Awami League managed to reclaim political authority in 1996, marking a significant return to power after 21 years. However, they did not experience political marginalization.

The Awami League is the oldest political party in the country, founded under the leadership of the Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur- who led the country to independence in 1971 following a nine-month-long war. Consequently, they possessed a committed hierarchy at the highest level and a multitude of devoted adherents at the lowest level. Despite the military government’s significant efforts in the 1980s to divide the party, the Awami League, led by Sheikh Hasina, successfully maintained its position in the political landscape. Sheikh Hasina returned to Bangladesh on May 17, 1981, defying the army dictators.

The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) emerged in military camps following the assassination of the father of the nation and most of his family members on the night of August 15, 1975. The former military dictator granted indemnity to the assassins of Bangabandhu, indicating their direct involvement in the murder. Not only did they provide indemnity to the murderers, but they also assigned them to various very profitable posts inside the government, including overseas diplomatic assignments. Regrettably, the political party was unable to strengthen its authority with the assassination of its founder, General Ziaur Rahman in the early 1980s by a faction of the military.

Following the restoration of democracy in the post-1990s era, the BNP formed alliances with the Bangladesh Jammat-e-Islami in both the 1991 and 2001 elections. It is important to note that the Bangladesh Jammat-e-Islami is a political party comprised of individuals who were involved in war crimes and collaborated with Pakistan against the interests of Bangladesh during the war of liberation. The BNP not only established an alliance with Jamaat but also appointed two of its leaders as ministers allowing them to display the national flag on their vehicles. Subsequently, these leaders were found guilty of war crimes. Such political behavior is not anticipated by a prominent political party in Bangladesh.

The BNP’s strategy of carrying out deliberate acts of setting fires as a means of resisting the elections in 2014 and 2024 is widely known within the political sphere of Bangladesh. From 2013 to 2014, the party supporters caused the deaths of hundreds of innocent individuals by deliberately burning various cars. This was done in conjunction with their call for hartals and blockades, which lasted for around three months. Additionally, thousands of people were injured as a result of this ruthless strategy to set things ablaze. They executed a similar act of arson on the vehicles before the 2024 election but with somewhat reduced ferocity. For years, the citizens of Bangladesh have harbored a strong aversion towards this type of detrimental political behavior.

Every political party should engage in politics while respecting the principles and values of the liberation war, considering the immense sacrifices made by three million individuals and the loss of dignity experienced by two hundred thousand women during that period. Consequently, the citizens of Bangladesh harbor a distinct sentiment towards our struggle for independence. Therefore, it is anticipated that each political party should demonstrate sufficient reverence for the essence of the battle of independence. Regrettably, the BNP lacks a robust dedication to the essence.

Undoubtedly, each ruling party since gaining independence has made concerted efforts to strengthen its authority upon winning elections. In contrast to other parties, the ruling Awami League employs tactics to secure their position of power, similar to what the BNP did when they were in government. Nevertheless, a political party must possess the fortitude to combat the dominant party’s tactics. This is the standard operational procedure for governance in all democratic nations. Regrettably, the BNP is unwilling to gain the confidence of the public through the implementation of diverse initiatives. Instead, they depend on external factors to acquire power. Therefore, their reliance on external forces did not prove effective. Conversely, they have experienced a decline in strength.

Now, a crucial inquiry arises as to why the political opposition has seen a significant decline in strength inside the nation. Who should bear the responsibility? The possible answer is the BNP should shoulder the responsibility, as they failed to implement an effective approach at the appropriate moment. Simultaneously, they have been unable to maintain public support.

Political mobilization is crucial in a democracy when an opposition party seeks to organize protests against the government. Regrettably, the BNP has been unable to garner support from its followers and the general populace through the presentation of several alternative policies. Conversely, the extensive development initiatives implemented by the government have fostered the people’s confidence in them. Therefore, for the BNP to restore its reputation and maintain its position as one of the most influential oppositions in Bangladeshi politics, it must overhaul its strategy and embrace a positive approach in its political endeavors. Otherwise, their survival will be in question.

Dr. Pranab Kumar Panday (Professor in the Department of Public Administration at the University of Rajshahi)

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