The Madam’s gambit
I did a series of posts on Bangladesh politics back in June-July. By and large, my view hasn’t changed:
– AL will try to hang on to power beyond 2013, possibly by disbarring Khaleda Zia and her sons from running, and enticing a renegade BNP to join a Feb 1996 style election;
– whether BNP can overcome this crucially depends on whether they can lead a street movement like the one AL did in 1995-96, and whether they can win the trust of the establishment; and
– the establishment will put up with AL for the foreseeable future.
So, BNP is in a bind. It has demonstrated that it can be within a whisker of a victory if there is a free and fair election in 2013. But it’s not clear that it has the ability to ensure a free and fair election, particularly if the establishment remains alienated with it.
One would have thought that BNP would have tried to assuage the establishment’s concerns. And there were signs a few months ago that this was in the offing. BNP chief travelled the western capitals and started an outreach programme with smaller non-Islamist parties, while refraining from launching any andolon against the government’s India policy. Meanwhile, AL continued in its own inexorable path of alienating the bhadralok class. The transit issue, for example, seemed to have provided a pretty good cause on which BNP and the bhadraloks could have joined hand. Road safety, or the corruption on Padma bridge, could have done the trick too.
But the Madam has dashed any chance of that. In the road marches around the country, she has indicated the return of Jamaat and Tarique Rahman — two things that the bhadraloks and the establishment are not going to risk.
But wait, did she really do that? Did she really call for the release of the alleged war criminals? As Tacit says, her actual statement was much more nuanced.
But, but, so what?
Daily Star, and the class it represents, despises Jamaat. Is that news?
It is understood that Jamaat and like minded people may form an important part of BNP’s vote bank. But here is the thing. In the current Bangladesh, these voters have no place to go but BNP. BNP doesn’t need to court their vote, they will come to BNP anyway. Why then embrace Jamaat, knowing that it will earn BNP the ire of the establishment?
Who’s the idiot here?
Ah, but perhaps there is method to this madness. In addition to publicly embracing Jamaat and its alleged war criminal leaders, the BNP chief has signalled that should her party win the next election, the country will be handed over to a new generation of leaders.
Who could she have in mind other than Tarique Rahman?
Now, Tarique Rahman is accused of masterminding 21 August. And the Daily Star and friends have been beating that drum for a while. If the bhadraloks hate anyone more than Jamaat, it is young Tarique. It’s hard to imagine that Mrs Zia is unaware of this. Then why rattle everyone by signalling the return of the Prince?
Could it be that she has decided that the only way to save her son is to have him installed in power? And in that quest, Jamaat is the only ally she found?
Note that the trial process or Tarique’s innocence is not the issue here. The war crimes trial is a disgraceful farce. And like everyone else, Tarique Rahman is innocent until proven guilty.
But the issue here isn’t legal. It is political. Politically, Jamaat and Tarique Rahman are two things that cause the establishment to distrust BNP. BNP chief has chosen both, spurning the establishment.
And on top of that, she has started a marathon andolon, where she is ratcheting up the rhetoric which contain communal dog whistling. How long before the old ‘Islam-in-danger’ line appear?
Will she succeed?
I haven’t the foggiest idea. I thought about naming this post ‘mother, son and the unholy ghost’. But it occurred to me that my analysis could well be wrong. I’d like to think so, because the idea of a return to ghastly politics of the past is just too depressing.