Reviving BNP — what are we talking about?

Posted in politics by jrahman on March 30, 2014

If there is one constant refrain in Bangladeshi political punditry, it is that BNP as a political party has no future, it is broken beyond repair, it really stands for nothing, why, BNP means Basically No Party.  But defying these pundits, BNP keeps bouncing back.  And yet, some pundits keep ignoring the facts of BNP’s resilience, and continue to harp on about BNP’s imminent demise.

The thing is, cacophony of these pundits actually drown out some very legitimate critical analysis of BNP, analysis that BNP leaders and supporters would do well to dwell on at length.  This post provides a framework to think about these critical analyses.

Suppose BNP was analysed by a top management consultant firm like McKinsey or BCG.  How would they go about the task?  What would they advise?

After doing an assessment of the global, regional and national political environment, and motivations/aspirations of the key stakeholders, they would focus on three possible problems BNP might have.

Firstly, they could conclude that BNP has great political potential, but is held back by problems of perception that it is corrupt and supports extremism.  That is, its problem is not product, but brand.  It’s a marketing problem.

If this view is correct, then the solution is a media offensive.  Now, this is not easy, but it’s much easier than the next possibility.

The second possibility is that the problem is not primarily image/brand/marketing/perception, but that there were/are elements in BNP who really are corrupt or extremist.  If this view is correct, the solution is major rehaul of party machinery.

Of course, the higher up in the leadership chain such rehaul touches, the harder it is to implement (or even conceive).  Particularly, what if the problem is not the rank-and-file of the party, but some very senior leaders?

Does BNP have the stomach to confront that?

And yet, even this possibility is not the hardest one for BNP.  What if the problem is neither marketing nor management, but the product?

What does BNP stand for?  Why would anyone support BNP?  Is it just a collection of people who are upset by the Awami League?  What will BNP do if someone else can sell a shinier version of anti-AL-ism?

If BNP has no product people want, neither a media offensive nor a leadership change (hard as they might be to pull off) would suffice.

But is it self-evident that BNP has no product?  Or is it that its product is not marketed properly by an incompetent management?

Instead of just pronouncing BNP’s demise, or coming up with a laundry list of things to do, BNP’s well wishers would do well to think about whether it is the product, brand or management that needs fixing.

(First posted at ND).


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6 Responses

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  1. Diganta said, on April 30, 2014 at 11:58 pm

    I personally believe BNP has no future in BD, or if they have to have one, they need to start distinguishing them from Jamaat immediately.

    • Mubara said, on May 5, 2014 at 5:11 am

      So what, [effectively] revert to a 1-party system? AL all the waaaaaaaaaaaay! BAKSAL 2, ay?

      No thanks.

  2. Mubara said, on May 5, 2014 at 5:17 am

    How about become one of those really hardcore “it’s the economy, stupid” kind of parties? With a moderate Islamic lean? Couldn’t they target this really hard?

    Seems to me that few in BD think or have a strong connection between AL and competent economic management. Or at least loads of folks seem to complain about it.

    But if BNP could go in for this issue really hard, they could essentially pull off something akin to a “Narendra Modi” in BD i.e. “the development party”. But don’t make it about one man/person like the BJP have done (or more accurately, have had done to them).

    They need some good slogans for the same.

  3. Zubal said, on May 17, 2014 at 10:20 pm

    All of these analyses and punditry have a major pre-supposition. That is; elections in Bangladesh are free & fair.

    Given the farce that has transpired at the last one, this is clearly a ludicrous statement to make. If the will of 150mn souls is not respected, then you will surely have a type of uprising/resistance against it. This is basic common sense. Real democracy requires free & fair elections. Period.

    Now let us take this notion of free and fair elections as a given in future Bangladeshi politics — a situation completely different to today.

    Ditching Jamaat outright would be a bad move for BNP. AL already swings towards the core group of a “liberal” mindset. It would be a pointless ploy to try and snatch that vote. You can’t beat “secular” by claiming to be “more secular”. Besides which, I don’t think most Bangladeshis really care either way. Appealing to the Jamaati block pulls some easy votes their way. The key difference is to not allow said group to dominate the actual politics. If they do, your party is doomed. You can put up with “fake” religionists. But the minute you allow genuine religionists into the folds of power, you can kiss goodbye to it. Ziaur knew this well.

    I think a major overhaul of the party is in order. They can get a good headstart on AL by changing top management. Whilst I don’t want to sound sexist, it is clear that it would be better (and a revamp) if a man was in charge. This would make it seem like the “masculine” party of hard-charging economists vs the “sissy” party of “secular” (joke) values.

    I think as the other poster has mentioned, a good counterpart has been shown in our western neighbour. Modi has many critics, and whilst his real economic performance is perhaps a little overstated, the truth is he is clearly a much more efficient and less corrupt administrator than his peers. That’s all he needed to be elected.

    This is something the BNP can champion. Better administration & governance, rapid education & infrastructure enhancements, and better management overall. Throw in a bit of foreign policy jingoism (“we will defend our borders”) and promises to use growth to enhance the military, and you are on to a winner.

    Ultimately, in a free set of elections, achievements as well as rhetoric count. Voters aren’t stupid; they see the results on the ground level. Zia had tremendous public support not because he promised the moon, but because he gave them the land i.e. tangible achievements. Without that, all talk of “media enhancement” is a silly attempt to hoodwink voters who are far smarter than you give them credit for.

    I think the farce elections in Bangladesh 2014 have given the BNP a great opportunity to do something historic in the country, much like the party’s founder did when he assumed power. It would be silly for Khaleda and co to hang on to the reigns of power for the sake of misguided vanity when they could be famed and loved for something far closer to the heart of the average Bangladeshi — a real future for Bangladesh.

    Enough talk of one party representing Bangladesh better than another — it is the development agenda that can and must be put forward to make this a truly viable and (famed) golden land.

    For the BNP, the ball is in their court.

  4. Bleak, Ne’er-do-well, Past | Mukti said, on December 12, 2014 at 5:21 pm

    […] from BNP leadership’s actions, we can deduce something about its self-assessment.  Recall, we can summarise BNP’s travails as one of marketing, management, or product.  By […]

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