A Non-Dynastic Prime Minister for Bangladesh
(Guest post by Tacit. First posted at Rumi Ahmed’s).
In the current conflict of attrition between BNP and Awami League, AL’s main advantage is that it has the resources of the state to inflict as much damage as it can on BNP. Furthermore, the creation of RAB means that AL is able to hand-pick the most AL-leaning of armed forces men and send them on killing sprees, while the rest are kept cooped up in the cantonments. Against this, all BNP can hope for is to slowly unravel the unwieldy coalition of military and civilian bureaucrats and businessmen who are now currently keeping AL in power. In this conflict, as in most conflicts in Bangladesh, the situation favors the state.
All discussions of Bangladesh in its domestic English press start with a lament about how its politics has just become a proxy battle between the two netris. And in the next breath, there is usually an off-handed comment about how BNP committed a cardinal mistake by not participating in the 2014 election. As if the only point of elections is to alternate between our two parties and place them in power in turn.
To any right-thinking individual, it has to be extremely insulting to be the citizen of a country where the ruling party engages in more and more elevated forms of kabuki every week to justify their misdeeds of the last week. To be told that the current parliament is a fine one. Or that there is freedom of expression in Bangladesh. Or that democracy can be put on hold for a little bit for the sake of development, the same tired song of tyrants that keeps being discredited, from Putin’s Russia to Mahathir’s Malaysia, but never loses its popularity amongst autocrats and their toadies nevertheless.
So in Bangladesh, is the current situation an intolerable state of quasi-dictatorship that will linger on as a disgrace of our nation-state, or just the latest stage of the battle between AL and BNP? Perhaps it’s mostly the former and a little bit of the latter, but there is a concerted effort being made to convince people that it is only the latter, that this is just business as usual, and there’s nothing worthy for the people of Bangladesh here – they should move on. And if the current government is to be dislodged anytime soon, it is vital for BNP to shatter this myth, and make clear to people the true stakes of what is going on.
There are probably many ways to do so, but one that is very easy to think of. So what’ll be the big deal if Hasina is removed, they say? It’ll be back to Khaleda, and we know how that goes. At least now, we get a well-run personality cult to motivate the weak-minded amongst us. We won’t even get that with BNP.
But what if, what would be available with BNP was a Prime Minister not named Khaleda Zia? What if she announced that her countrymen had bestowed enough honors on her to last her several lifetimes, and she would not take any positions in the next government, but be a simple MP from Feni or Bogra and offer advice and guidance?
It would, in one stroke, shatter this insidious propaganda that what we’re seeing was merely another stage in the never-ending BNP-AL fight and give people something new to be excited about. It would renew BNP’s reputation as the party that had always heralded democratic change in Bangladesh. And it would again remind everyone what a psychopath Hasina really is.
Forget about it, some may ask, who’s ever heard of a Bangladeshi leader giving up power voluntarily? And who would be the PM anyways? But both questions are ultimately moot. If we were ever in the position of having to choose such a person, Khaleda Zia would have successfully ousted the current dictatorship and would be enjoying unparalleled power and prestige. No matter who the PM was, she would still retain a massive moral authority which would ensure that she would have significant say over the direction of the new government. Another plus: the next non-AL government will have to seriously investigate the prosecute amongst other crimes, the 2009 BDR carnage and the abduction and killing spree that RAB indulged on during 2013. Having someone other than Khaleda Zia head the government would certainly dampen the shrill accusations of partisanship that would hound these efforts.
It’s a bold and unconventional idea. But BNP needs a game-changer at this point. And they owe it to the people of Bangladesh to seriously consider any idea that could shorten the present government’s tenure by even one single day.