By Zoglul Husain
In this article we will have a glimpse on the patriotic politics pursued by Khaleda Zia of Bangladesh, but this article does not deal with her biographical details or administrative successes or failures. We will look at her patriotic politics, in its four distinct aspects: (1) the emergence of the patriotic or nationalist politics in Bangladesh, (2) the root and political heritage of Khaleda Zia’s patriotic politics from the anti-colonial nationalism in British India, (3) her stunning success in politics from 1982 to 2006, and (4) the eclipse of her politics since 1/11 of 2007 to date, by political forces beyond her control. We will then draw a brief conclusion.
(1) The emergence of the patriotic or nationalist politics in Bangladesh:
In this section we will look at the emergence of the patriotic politics, which Khaleda Zia stood for, or for that matter the patriotic politics, which her party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), founded by her husband Ziaur Rahman in 1978, stood for.
When on the night of 25 March 1971, the Pakistan Army launched a most barbaric and genocidal crackdown on the unarmed people of East Bengal (also called East Pakistan and, from the crackdown, called Bangladesh) to quell the movement for autonomy, the Awami League leader, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, surrendered to the Pakistan army in collaboration with Yahya Khan of Pakistan. The rest of the Awami League leadership mostly fled to India. In this dark and dreary situation, when the people were desperate for leadership, they heard over radio the firm and powerful voice of Ziaur Rahman, who declared independence of Bangladesh, and who started and organised the independence war. The people were electrified by the call of Ziaur Rahman and they joined the independence war most resolutely. This was the beginning of the patriotic politics, or the nationalist politics, in Bangladesh, although it did not come to the surface as much until Ziaur Rahman came to power in 1977. At the time, it was a patriotic freedom war, also called liberation war, for the right to self-determination, as a consequence of, and in resistance to, regional disparity and national suppression within a multinational Pakistan, which culminated in a genocidal military crackdown in East Bengal from the night of 25 March 1971.
Bangladesh won the independence war on 16 December 1971 with help from India. India gave shelter to the large number of people who fled the genocidal Pakistani military crackdown in Bangladesh, it organised and equipped the freedom fighters of Bangladesh in their freedom war, and when the Pakistan army in Bangladesh was nearly defeated by the freedom fighters of Bangladesh, the Indian army joined the war on 3 December 1971 to complete the victory on 16 December 1971. Bangladesh thus achieved independence with Indian help.
During the independence war, the political forces of Bangladesh were in the main divided into 3 camps: (i) Pakistan-America, who wanted to quell the rebellion in Bangladesh; (ii) India-Soviet Russia, who wanted to divide Pakistan and turn Bangladesh into a subservient state or vassal state under India-Soviet Russia; and (iii) the overwhelming majority of the people and the patriotic army of Bangladesh, who wanted Bangladesh to be fully independent and sovereign, without bowing to any of the above two axes of forces.
During the war, the small number of Bangladeshis, who supported Pakistan, belonged to the first camp above. The leadership of the Awami League and their supporters, who surrendered to India, belonged to the second camp. Their leader in exile in India, Tajuddin Ahmad, formed a government of Bangladesh in exile in India, and signed a 7-point agreement with India, in which Tajuddin Ahmad sold out the national interest of Bangladesh and surrendered its sovereignty to India. From then on until the present, the Awami League has become a party of national traitors. And so, it remained for the third camp above, i.e. the overwhelming majority of the people and the patriotic army, to belong to the patriotic politics of Bangladesh.
As Bangladesh became independent with help from India, the India-Soviet axis as above, dominated Bangladesh, militarily, politically and economically, after its independence. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who never wanted independence of Bangladesh and, on the night of 25 March 1971, collaborated with Yahya Khan of Pakistan and surrendered to Pakistan, was freed by Pakistan after the independence of Bangladesh. For his political power in the independent Bangladesh, he now collaborated with the hegemonist India, but he only gained the power of a puppet. The Mujib regime of 1972-75 was as good as a puppet regime to the India-Soviet axis. Mujibur Rahman was in office, but not in real power. His fascist regime killed 30 thousand patriots, and through its terror, tyranny, oppression, repression and plunder, it caused the man-made famine of 1974-75, in which 500,000 people died as a direct consequence of the famine, and a further one million people died in its after effects. Mujibur Rahman discarded all vestiges of democracy and founded a totally fascist party called BAKSAL as the only legal party in the country on 25 February 1975. All other parties were banned, all newspapers, except for four compliant ones, were banned. All organisations not approved by the government were banned. During the tenure of the regime, India plundered Bangladesh as much as it could, and dominated it as much as it could. However, wherever there is oppression, there is resistance.
An undeclared army-people alliance was built up to rescue Bangladesh from this dark and dreary situation, created by Mujibur Rahman’s fascism and India’s fascist hegemonism. Of course, at the people’s level, the people of Bangladesh remained grateful and friendly to the general people of India, who stood by the people of Bangladesh in 1971. To reciprocate their support and solidarity, the people of Bangladesh extend their support and solidarity to the Indian people in their struggle against the Indian internal and/or external oppressors. The Mujib regime was toppled by the patriotic army-people uprising of 15 August 1975, and Mujibur Rahman was assassinated, along with 19 others of the members of his family and relatives. Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana, daughters of Sheikh Mujib, were saved as they were abroad at the time.
India hit back with a counter coup on 3 November 1975 led by Khaled Mosharraf. But this was short-lived, and 4 days later, on 7 November 1975, there was a further patriotic and glorious army-people uprising, which brought Ziaur Rahman to power. 7 November 1975 has since been called the National Revolution and Solidarity Day by its supporters. In retaliation to the patriotic army-people uprising, which was anti-fascist and anti-hegemonist, India prepared for a military intervention in Bangladesh, and moved its army to the Bangladesh border, and readied its airports nearby. The army-people alliance now led by Ziaur Rahman in Bangladesh also prepared for guerrilla war in defence. However, India’s ally the Soviet Union dissuaded India from intervention, for fear that the US 7th fleet nearby might get involved in such a war, as to some extent it did in December 1971. From 10 December 1971, 6 days before the Pakistani army surrendered in Bangladesh, the US 7th Fleet moved towards Bangladesh, basically to save West Pakistan (called Pakistan from 16 December 1971), and it was trailed by Soviet nuclear submarines, as the Soviet Pacific Fleet moved towards Bangladesh. Also, the British fleet moved towards the Arabian sea, if need be to attack the West coast of India, in support of the US 7th fleet. After independence of Bangladesh on 16 December 1971, the war ended, and the 7th fleet returned to its base at Yokosuka, Japan, and the other fleets also returned to their bases. The US 7th Fleet manoeuvre was later interpreted as PsyWar to save West Pakistan (later known as Pakistan).
The glorious and patriotic army-people uprisings of 15 August 1975 and 7 November 1975 brought Ziaur Rahman to power officially in 1977. With Ziaur Rahman in power the country smiled again. Ziaur Rahman now openly declared his patriotic politics, or the nationalist politics as he called it. It was the politics of freedom and sovereignty. The emergence of Ziaur Rahman as the leader of the country at this crucial juncture of history of Bangladesh was a momentous event. Ziaur Rahman disciplined the army and established the chain of command and immediately introduced multiparty democracy. He lifted the ban on all parties, which were imposed by Mujibur Rahman. He lifted the ban of all newspapers and the other media. He gave freedom to the judiciary. And, so, democracy was restored in full under Ziaur Rahman’s patriotic politics. Ziaur Rahman founded the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) on 1 September 1978 on a 19-point programme.
The basic principles of the party were: to expand democracy, achieving economic development, uniting the country on the basis of nationalism and achieving self-reliance among the people, protecting Bangladesh from colonialism, etc. The founding manifesto of the BNP claimed that the people of Bangladesh want to “see that all-out faith and confidence in the almighty Allah, democracy, nationalism and socialism of social and economic justice are reflected in all spheres of national life”. (Wikipedia article, Bangladesh Nationalist Party). Ziaur Rahman united and disciplined the country and made rapid development on the basis of a free-market economy.
Ziaur Rahman forged alliance with the US and China, the countries at the time existed as allies in an axis. He avoided antagonising the India-Soviet axis as much as he could. However, Zia was assassinated in 1981 in an Indian plot within a section of the Bangladesh army, with alleged cooperation from Gen. H. M. Ershad and Sheikh Hasina.
The dictatorial regime of H. M. Ershad was in power from 1983 until 1990. His government was toppled by a mass uprising, led by all opposition parties, particularly by the BNP led by Khaleda Zia.
Khaleda Zia joined the BNP politics in 1982, on request from the BNP leaders, after the death of her husband Ziaur Rahman. She was elected Chairperson of the BNP in 1984 uncontested. She is still the Chairperson of the BNP after 36 years. She is still the most popular leader in Bangladesh, since Ziaur Rahman’s death. Through the fascist conspiracy of the Hasina regime, Khaleda Zia was sent to prison on 8 February 2018 for 17 years, on totally trumped up charges. But, because of the pandemic situation as prevailing now, the government did not want to take a risk of her infection under prison conditions, which could whip up a consequent political uproar, and so, from 25 March 2020, the government released Khaleda Zia for six months by suspending her sentence on humanitarian grounds, on the condition that she stays at her residence and does not go abroad, the conditions tantamount to house arrest for six months. “The government made the decision on Khaleda’s release as per section 401 (1) of the Criminal Code of Procedure (CrPC), which allows such suspension of sentence”, according to the Law Minister. (The Daily Star, 25 March 2020). Further decisions are to be made after the expiry of six months.
Khaleda Zia became Prime Minister 3 times. She followed the patriotic or the nationalist politics as established by her husband Ziaur Rahman. Her politics remained patriotic all through, although her administration and the BNP had various lapses besides their achievements. We will come to this later.
(2) The root and political heritage of Khaleda Zia’s patriotic politics from anti-colonial nationalism in British India:
Since the independence of Bangladesh, main stream politics of Bangladesh has been divided into two strands: (i) the Awami League politics of BAKSAL fascism and national-treachery by selling out national interest and surrendering sovereignty to hegemonist India, and (ii) the BNP’s patriotic or nationalist politics for freedom and democracy.
In this section, we will discuss the root and political heritage of Khaleda Zia’s nationalist politics from anti-colonial nationalism in British India.
The politics that Ziaur Rahman and later Khaleda Zia pursued, had a very rich heritage from the days of the Pakistan Movement in British India, when the Muslims of India, in addition to their movements for national liberation and economic emancipation, had to fight for the right to self-determination i.e. fight for the creation of Pakistan, in which the Muslims from Bengal took a prominent role. Pakistan was created because of communal disparity within British India and Bangladesh was created because of regional disparity within Pakistan.
The politics of the present has its heritage or legacy from the past. The political heritage may be considered from the perspectives of world history, regional history or local history, depending on the context. For example, Western political heritage consists of the body of political thoughts and actions from the Greek antiquity to the present. Similarly, in the world context, the political heritage begins from the earliest recorded history in ancient Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt, unless one wants to consider pre-history. The political heritage can be both positive and negative, for example, a genocide is a negative political heritage, on the contrary, if the political heritage is beneficial to the human society or humanity, it is positive.
Political heritage can be considered from a relevant node of timeline in history depending on the contextual objective. In discussing Khaleda Zia’s political heritage briefly, we will consider it for the period spanning from the anti-colonial independence struggle in British India to the creation of Bangladesh, as we have already discussed the emergence of patriotic or nationalist politics in Bangladesh. We will divide the period in the following phases: (i) Anti-colonial independence movement in British India, (ii) Creation of Pakistan, and (iii) Creation of Bangladesh.
(i) Khaleda Zia’s political heritage from the anti-colonial independence movement in British India:
It is of utmost importance to understand our political heritage from the anti-colonial independence movement in British India, as the present politics in Bangladesh is a latter-day development of the same strands of politics at a different juncture and stage of history. Ziaur Rahman and later his wife Khaleda Zia followed the positive heritage, staying on the positive side of history, while Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and later his daughter Sheikh Hasina followed the negative heritage, staying on the negative side of history.
So, what is the positive political heritage that we observe in the anti-colonial independence movement? The European colonial system existed for more than five hundred years, from 1402 to 1945, and it ended within a couple of decades after the end of WWII in 1945. Colonialism is full or partial military control over another country, occupying it by settlers, and plundering and exploiting it economically. Thus, colonialism consists of national subjugation on the one hand and economic exploitation on the other. The anti-colonial independence movement conversely consists, in the main, of national liberation movement on the one hand, and the movement for economic emancipation on the other.
The anti-colonial independence movement in British India had those two elements, the national liberation and the economic emancipation, but, in addition, there was another hugely important element, which was the movement for the right to self-determination of the Muslims. The movement for the right to self-determination of the Muslims in British India created Pakistan from British India, while the movement for the right to self-determination of the Bangladeshis within Pakistan created Bangladesh from Pakistan. I usually say, Pakistan was created because of communal disparity in British India, and that Bangladesh was created because of regional disparity in Pakistan. In order to understand the politics of Bangladesh, we need to elaborate on the movement for right to self-determination of the Muslims in British India.
The communal disparity between Hindus and Muslims in British India was the creation of the British as a consequence of their divide and rule policy.
When the British came to India, the Mughal empire was the richest in the world, and Bengal was its richest province. Bengal was thus the richest, or one of the richest, countries in the world. The British plundered it most brutally and reduced Bengal to one of the poorest countries with occurrence of famines, which it never had in the past.
The British applied a divide and rule policy in India, they drove away the Muslims from power, property, jobs, business, education, etc., while they created a high caste Hindu elite class as the second tier of administration under the British rule. With the help of the British rulers this class thrived. Later, as the British were preparing to leave India, Hindu-Muslim unity was tried. The Lucknow pact was arrived at in 1916, Muhammad Ali Jinnah was hailed as an apostle of Hindu-Muslim unity by Sarojini Naidu, but the Congress later repudiated the pact, and partition then became inevitable.
Historian William Hunter expressed the conditions of Muslims in British India, especially in Bengal, quite aptly. “In his search for the causes of the increasing Muslim discontents in Bengal, William Hunter found in 1871 that “a hundred and seventy years ago it was almost impossible for a well-born Musalman in Bengal to become poor; at present it is almost impossible for him to continue rich””(Iftekhar Iqbal, Paper prepared for XIV World Congress of Economic History, Helsinki August 2006, The Sundarbans forest systems in Bangladesh: indigenous response to capitalist enterprises and the patterns of colonial control, c.1830-1905). The situation was similar throughout India. So, for the Muslims in British India, the demand for Pakistan was a case for “Right to Self-Determination” (“In drafting the Declaration of Independence (of America) in June 1776, Jefferson stated his fundamental philosophy of government, upon which the modern concept of self-determination rests”, from the article, Self-Determination – The American revolution, American Foreign Relations). Also, nationalism can be intertwined with religion, race, ethnicity, etc. The two-nation theory was thus based on a valid ground in the above historical context. So, the creation of Pakistan was an historical necessity, as later was the creation of Bangladesh from Pakistan.
The Muslims had to achieve (i) national liberation from British colonialism and (ii) the right to self-determination from the upper caste Hindu ruling elites, who formed the second tier of the British administration in India. The movement for economic emancipation was not that great at the time and so the movements for national liberation and right to self-determination were given the priority over the movement for economic emancipation, which was relegated to a secondary position. This was the main and basic weakness of these movements.
This basic weakness is still there today in the politics of the BNP and its leader, Khaleda Zia. The weakness was that the movement for economic emancipation was relegated to the background, at most to a secondary position. The Muslim League leadership was controlled by the rich people, although there were many leaders, who were committed to alleviation of poverty. Because the party was controlled by the rich people, who wanted to be richer after independence, they formed an oligarchy of the rich, and that was the main problem of Pakistan, and later in Bangladesh. The patriotism and benevolence of Ziaur Rahman and Khaleda Zia, in Bangladesh, could not stop these get rich quick leaders, though Ziaur Rahman could manage them to some extent, and Khaleda Zia in her first term as Prime Minister could also manage them to some extent.
(ii) The Creation of Pakistan:
After the fall of Bengal in the battle of Palashi (Plassey) in 1757, there were rebellions and resistance struggles against the British for about 100 years, of which the following are well known: Fakir-Sannyasi rebellion (1770-1820, Titumir (d. 1831), Hyder Ali (d. 1782), Tipu Sultan (d. 1799), Paika rebellion (1817), etc., and the Indian Rebellion of 1857 (also known as the Sepoy rebellion), which has been called the First Indian War of Independence. The next phase of the resistance was the political movement for Indian independence.
“The Indian Independence Movement was a series of activities with the ultimate aim of ending the British rule in India. The movement spanned a total of 90 years (1857–1947). The first nationalistic revolutionary movement for Indian independence emerged from Bengal.” (Wikipedia article, Indian independence movement).
Another development during the independence movement was the awakening of the Muslims of India. It was mentioned before, how the Muslims in India were driven away from power, property, business, professions, jobs and education, because of the British policy of divide and rule, which also created a second tier of British administration from the high caste Hindus. Now the Muslims started to wake up.
One of the pioneers of the awakening was the Aligarh Movement, led by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, who founded the Muhammadan College in 1875. This movement gradually led to Muslim awakening, which in turn led to the Pakistan Movement.
The Bengal Muslims played a significant role in Pakistan Movement. To save the Muslims, there was Muslim awakening in Bengal too. In 1863, Nawab Abdul Latif of Faridpur founded the ‘Muhammedan Literary Society’ in Kolkata (formerly, Calcutta). In 1877, Syed Ameer Ali founded the ‘Central National Muhammedan Association’. Munshi Meherullah (1861-1907) of Jessore played a very important role in the campaign and organisation. Many writers, campaigners and organisers joined this movement for the awakening of Muslims in Bengal. This awakening of Muslims in Bengal since 1860s is called the second renaissance of Bengal, the first being from the first decade of the nineteenth century, which was pioneered by Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar, and in which the Muslims were virtually excluded.
This awakening of Muslims led to the founding of the All India Muslim League in 1906 in Dhaka (the present capital of Bangladesh), under the patronage of the Nawab of Dhaka, Sir Khwaja Salimullah. In 1940, the Lahore Resolution was moved by the sitting Chief Minister of Bengal A. K. Fazlul Huq, it was adopted on 23 March 1940, and its principles formed the foundation for Pakistan’s first constitution. Just 7 years after this, Pakistan was created in 1947.
(iii) The creation of Bangladesh:
Bangladesh became independent from Pakistan because of regional disparity within Pakistan.
We discussed that, in British India, there developed two types nationalism: firstly, the anti-colonial nationalism and, secondly, the Pakistani nationalism as a right to self-determination of the Muslims from the subjugation of upper caste Hindu administration, forming the second tier of the British administration, which ruthlessly dominated and exploited the Muslims. The movement for economic emancipation was embedded in those two nationalisms. Relegation of the movement for economic emancipation to the background or to a secondary position was a basic weakness of the movement, as mentioned before. This is a general weakness in most developing countries, though there are notable exceptions such as China, which however was a semi-colony, not a colony.
When Pakistan started its journey as a new state, initially it had a short spell of democracy. But soon the feudal big landowners, rising industrialists, leaders of military and bureaucracy together formed an oligarchy. They grabbed power, and their policies gave rise to regional disparity within Pakistan as well as economic disparity within the people. East Bengal (or East Pakistan, or after independence, Bangladesh) bore the brunt of the disparity, both regionally and at the people’s level. There were many factors such as geographical distance, socio-economic conditions and cultural issues. Bangladeshis were the majority in Pakistan, but the ruling oligarchy exploited Bangladesh, and deprived the Bangladeshis in business, civil service and military service, etc. Thus, alienation and grievances created a volcano of Bangladeshi nationalism, which finally erupted in the freedom war of 1971 after the Pakistan government’s barbaric and genocidal military crackdown in East Bengal on the night of 25 March 1971.
The language movement of 1952, although victorious within 4 years, showed the arrogance and antipathy of the ruling elites in Pakistan towards Bangladesh and its people. It gave rise to Bangladeshi nationalism. I will not, in this article, go into the controversy between Bengali nationalism, as expressed by the Awami League, and Bangladeshi nationalism, as expressed by the BNP, but I describe it as Bangladeshi nationalism. The effect of the language movement in Bangladesh was telling. The language movement along with the disenchantment of the people with the Muslim League government brought about a landslide victory for the United Front against the Muslim League in the election of 1954 in East Bengal.
The United Front won the election with slogans of ‘Huq-Bhashani Zindabad (long live)’, Huq in the slogan referred to A. K. Fazlul Huq, Prime Minister of Bengal (1937-43), who presented the Pakistan resolution in 1940, and Bhashani referred to Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani, the leader of the then Awami league, both being veteran leaders of the Pakistan movement.
But the Pakistan central government intervened and the Fazlul Huq ministry was removed from power within a few months of winning the election in 1954, through the exercise of section 92A of the Government of India Act 1935, and emergency rule was imposed. The allegation against Fazlul Huq was that he wanted secession of Bangladesh. “The New York Times published an article claiming Huq wanted independence for East Bengal” (Wikipedia article, East Bengal). This emergency rule was resented throughout East Bengal.
In 1957, in his famous speech, Maulana Bhashani, the dreamer of independent Bangladesh, delivered his famous “As-salamu alaykum” speech, to warn the Pakistan government that unless the demands of East Bengal are met, East Bengal would be compelled to bid farewell to Pakistan. Maulana Bhashani was still the leader of the Awami League. But after this speech, Shaheed Suhrawardi and his follower Mujibur Rahman opposed Maulana Bhashani’s political stand, and shortly afterwards, Maulana Bhashani and his supporters were compelled to leave the Awami League and found a new Party, the National Awami Party (NAP), which upheld Bangladeshi nationalism with pro-people programmes.
The Pakistan administration was already in shambles. Martial Law was imposed by Ayub Khan in 1958.
After the death of Shaheed Suhrawardi, Mujibur Rahman upheld the demand for provincial autonomy through his declaration of 6-point programmes in 1966. This created a huge wave of support for Mujibur Rahman. The Ayub regime of Pakistan filed a sedition case against Mujibur Rahman and 34 others in early 1968, implicating that the accused were conspiring with India against the integrity of Pakistan. This was the famous Agartala Case.
Starting from a student unrest in November 1968, a huge movement in 1969 developed throughout the country. This historically very significant movement in Bangladesh, known as the 1969 Mass uprising in East Pakistan, was led by Maulana Bhashani, it also spread to West Pakistan and caused the downfall of the Ayub regime. During the course of the movement, the Agartala conspiracy case was withdrawn on 21 February 1969, and Ayub Khan handed over power to Yahya Khan on 25 March 1969. This led to Yahya Khan being in power in Pakistan. He called election in 1970.
In the election of December 1970, Mujibur Rahman and the Awami League achieved a landslide victory, which Bhashani NAP did not contest. The Awami League won an absolute majority of 160 seats and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party won 81 seats in the National Assembly of the 300 seats. In the Provincial Assembly of East Pakistan in the provincial elections held ten days later, the Awami League won 288 of the 300 seats.
This was an unexpected shock to the Yahya regime. They hatched a most heinous conspiracy. In the name of negotiations with Mujib, they bought time and brought arms and troops to East Bengal, and on the night of 25 March 1971, they launched a most barbaric and genocidal military crackdown on the unarmed people. Shortly afterwards, the independence war started with the help of India, and Bangladesh became independent on 16 December 1971 after achieving a glorious victory.
Mujibur Rahman never wanted independence of Bangladesh, he wanted to be the Prime Minister of Pakistan and he used the movement for autonomy as a pressure lever for his bid to be the Prime Minister. This is why he arranged with Yahya Khan his own security and the security of his family, as well as a monthly allowance of 1,500 Rupees (about 5 lakh Taka now) during the war, for his family, and then surrendered, with the understanding that, after the rebellion is quelled, he would be made the Prime Minister. So, Mujib was the first collaborator with the Yahya regime and he was the first national traitor in the freedom war of Bangladesh.
(3) Khaleda Zia’s stunning success in politics from 1982 to 2006:
The rise of Ziaur Rahman as a star in the political firmament of Bangladesh was stunning. It was stunning because Ziaur Rahman had no political experience when political power was bestowed upon him by the patriotic army-people uprising of 7 November 1975, which he did not lead. But, by this time he became widely respected as a military leader as, in 1971, when Mujibur Rahman surrendered to Pakistan army, the Awami League leadership fled to India, and the people were in a desperate situation without leadership, it was Ziaur Rahman, who declared independence of Bangladesh. He organised the freedom war, which electrified the people, who resolutely joined the freedom war. Then after being in power in 1977, Ziaur Rahman, through his patriotic, honest, bold, determined and efficient short rule, lifted the country from an abyss, which it had been thrown into by the fascist Mujibur Rahman regime, to a respectable high ground, which won the admiration of the whole world, except for the ones who wanted to subjugate Bangladesh.
When Ziaur Rahman was assassinated in an Indian plot, allegedly with cooperation from Sheikh Hasina and Gen H. M. Ershad, and shortly afterwards, pro-India Gen. Ershad took over power, the BNP felt like they were leaderless, although there were many office bearers in the party. Also, many BNP leaders joined Gen. Ershad. The leaders of the BNP requested Ziaur Rahman’s wife, Khaleda Zia, to join the BNP. Khaleda Zia had no political experience at all. Although she was the first lady, when her husband Ziaur Rahman was the President, she was not involved in politics at all. Thus, Khaleda Zia’s rise in the political firmament was as stunning as her husband’s rise in the recent past. Also, in spite of the heavy obstacles, both of them achieved a great deal.
The implementation of the patriotic politics by the BNP was an arduous task, both due to the weakness of the internal set up of the BNP, as members of various orientations joined together to form the party so that the organisation lacked coherence, and the external conditions of its intense and severe conflict with the Awami League fascism and the Indian fascist hegemonism acting together. In the prevailing world geopolitical situation of a deadly rivalry between the US and the Soviet Union, the BNP sided with the US and China, while the Awami League and India sided on the Soviet side. But after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, India forged alliance with the US, which eclipsed the BNP since 1/11 of 2007, and brought Bangladesh under Indian dominance with Sheikh Hasina in power.
When Ziaur Rahman came to power, he defined his politics of Bangladeshi Nationalism. He stood for freedom and sovereignty on the one hand and, on the other, through restoration of multi-party democracy, he stood for democracy. On the contrary, as we have seen before, the Awami League stood for fascism and subservience to Indian hegemonism. The divide is still there today: the BNP stands for freedom and democracy and the Awami League stands for fascism and subservience to Indian hegemonism. Thus, the BNP is a party for patriotism and nationalism, though it has many shortcomings and lapses, but the Awami League is a party of fascism and national treachery, which in course of time, will be consigned to the negative heap of history.
Khaleda Zia boldly and firmly held up the banner of freedom and democracy, as she was entrusted by the BNP. As mentioned before, she joined the BNP politics in 1982, on request from the BNP leaders. She was elected Chairperson of BNP in 1984, uncontested.
As soon as Khaleda Zia joined the BNP in 1982, she embarked on a nine yearlong arduous struggle for restoration of democracy, and she fought valiantly until the fall of Gen Ershad’s dictatorship in the mass uprising in 1990. She led the movement for restoration of democracy with alliance of other parties, and the support of the significant movement of the students, including the student wing of the BNP. She was detained under house arrest in 1983, 1984 and 1987. In 1987, the police detained her during a meeting at the Hotel Purbani in Dhaka. Her spirited, undaunted and inspiring leadership earned her top popularity next to Zaiur Rahman, and she was popularly called “the uncompromising leader” and “the mother of democracy”. “On 24 May 2011, the New Jersey State Senate of the US honoured Khaleda Zia as a “Fighter for Democracy” (Wikipedia article, Khaleda Zia).
In 1983, a 7-party alliance was formed under the leadership of Khaleda Zia, and she started the movement against the military rule of Gen Ershad. At around the same time, the Awami League formed a 15-party alliance and they also joined the movement for restoration of democracy together with the Khaleda Zia led alliance. But as the pro-India Gen Ershad called an election in 1986, pro-India Sheikh Hasina betrayed the united movement and joined the election. The Sheikh Hasina led 15-party alliance broke up to form two alliances, an 8-party alliance and a 5-party alliance. Sheikh Hasina led the 8-party alliance and joined the election. But the Khaleda Zia led 7-party alliance boycotted the election, and from 1987, started a 1-point movement of ouster of Gen. Ershad from power. Gen. Ershad was compelled to dissolve the parliament, and then the Awami League led by Sheikh Hasina was back again to the street to join the movement for democracy.
The general discontent of the people with Gen. Ershad’s dictatorship and the movement by all party opposition, strengthened by the student movements, raised a tumultuous political storm, which swept Gen. Ershad from power. His government fell in 1990.
In the election of 1991, Khaleda Zia won the absolute majority and formed the government. She won all the 5 seats she had contested. Indeed, she won all 5 seats contested in the elections of 1991, 1996 and 2001. She is almost as popular as her husband Ziaur Rahman still today.
Politically, she followed the line of Ziaur Rahman, which is based on Bangladeshi nationalism and democracy, i.e., freedom and democracy, as opposed to the Awami League’s policy of subservience to India and fascism since 25 March 1971. She took steps for development of children, the empowerment of women, and general economic development, and was successful in these. Unfortunately, power corrupts, and the BNP during 1991-96 became somewhat corrupt. The main obstacle to Khaleda Zia during this time was the opposition from India and its puppet Sheikh Hasina, who was the leader of the opposition. The BNP mishandled a by-election at Magura in 1994, which stirred up a huge opposition movement jointly by the pro-India Awami League and also pro-India Gen Ershad’s Jatiyo (National) Party. Sheikh Hasina held hartal (general strike) 173 times during this government. Instead of uniting, organising and mobilising the people and taking a strong stand against Indian hegemonism, the BNP was in a resigned situation, and in the name of respecting democracy, it showed weakness to the Awami-India conspiracy.
Most of the opposition boycotted the 15 February 1996 election, and Khaleda Zia was elected Prime Minister again with all seats in the parliament, but in a difficult situation. She amended the constitution to allow for a non-party caretaker government to oversee the election, and to show respect for democracy, as she always did, called for election in June 1996. In the election Sheikh Hasina won and formed the Government during 1996-2001. Khaleda Zia became Prime Minister again in the election of 2001. The elections of 1991, 1996 and 2001 were free and fair and were acceptable.
During Khaleda Zia’s term of 2001-2006, although the general political line of freedom and democracy was adhered to, and economic development programmes went on alright, there developed in the main two problems. Firstly, the party noticeably got involved in corruption, which weakened the party, and secondly, the BNP faced dreadful conspiracy by India, this time supported by the US as a result of geopolitical changes since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. When India moved from the Soviet camp to the US camp during this time, the US wanted alliance with India as a counterweight to China.
India with support from the US and its allies, including the UN, engineered a military takeover in Bangladesh on 1/11 of 2007 to reduce it to a subservient country.
India prepared for it for a long time. It perpetrated many false flag terrorist attacks in Bangladesh, and took full advantage of the Islamophobic political environment in the world since 9/11 of 2001. During this government the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) party became an ally of the BNP. In the previous Sheikh Hasina government, the JI was an ally of the Awami League. Now, because the JI became an ally of the BNP, India and the Awami League launched vicious campaign, national and international, of “Islamic terrorism” and “Islamic fundamentalism” against the JI and the BNP as its ally. The second pretext of military takeover was corruption, which was present, but nowhere near the reckless plunder and lawlessness of the Mujibur Rahman regime or even the Sheikh Hasina regime of 1996-2001. Indeed, the reckless corruption and lawlessness of the Sheikh Hasina regime since 2009 till to date, knows no limits. However, on those two pretexts, “Islamic fundamentalism” and corruption, the military takeover of 1/11 of 2007 was engineered.
(4) Khaleda Zia’s politics eclipsed since 1/11 of 2007 to date by political forces beyond her control.
A new phase of politics in Bangladesh started from 1/11 of 2007, when the geopolitics of India and the US took over the national politics of Bangladesh, and Bangladesh was brought under the influence of India with help from the US. 1/11 of 2007 was a huge conspiracy by India, which was supported by the US and its allies, including even the UN representative in Bangladesh. Its objective was to snatch the independence of Bangladesh, plunder its natural and other resources, and trample its democratic and human rights. Without US help, India would not be able to implement the conspiracy. The whole thing was beyond the control of Khaleda Zia, and her patriotic politics was eclipsed, and this eclipse has continued till today in 2020.
The Indian conspiracy, supported by the US, brought the army into power for two years, which with the pretext of eradicating corruption, repressed in the main the BNP, to weaken its influence and render it powerless, although token punitive actions were also meted out to other parties to make a show of neutrality. Khaleda Zia was interned on 3 September 2007 on trumped up charges of corruption and was released by court verdict on 11 September 2008. To make a show of neutrality, Sheikh Hasina was also interned on 16 July 2007 and released by court verdict on 11 June 2008. The BNP was subjected to the steam roller of repression.
These were all done by the ruthless military regime of Gen. Moeen in order to transfer the power from the BNP to the Awami League.
A general election was called in December 2008. The election, mainly contested by the BNP and the Awami League alliances, was rigged with ballot box stuffing to give Sheikh Hasina a landslide victory, so that she could amend the constitution at will.
After military takeover of 1/11 of 2007 by Gen Moeen U Ahmed, a caretaker government was formed under Fakhruddin Ahmed with the aim of holding an election in December 2008. It was done because, in the election scheduled on 22 January 2007, the BNP alliance was expected to win again. So, the Moeen-Fakhruddin caretaker government cancelled the election of 22 January 2007. They prepared the ground for two years to remove the BNP alliance from power.
First, they tried to exile both Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina, the policy became known as the minus-2 plan. The idea was to give the power to someone chosen by India and supported by the US. But the plan failed miserably, because Khaleda Zia, known as an uncompromising, courageous and determined leader, refused to leave the country, even after her two sons were tortured barbarously. As a result of the torture her elder son Tarique Rahman’s back was severely injured, for which he had to go to London for treatment and he is still there in 2020 leading an exiled life, and the younger son Arafat Rahman had injuries in the chest, for which he died in 2015.
Following these heinous actions, they installed Sheikh Hasina in power through a rigged election by ballot box stuffing the night before the election scheduled on 29 December 2008 and declaring a predetermined result by giving the Awami League a “landslide victory”, so that it could amend the constitution with two-thirds majority. Before the election the BNP alliance was bulldozed, a huge number were put into prison, and the rest driven away from their homes, only allowing a small number to return home before the election. Also, the conspirators divided the BNP by creating a faction called the ‘reformists’, who opposed Khaleda Zia leadership within the party and collaborated with the conspirators. The ‘reformists’ however, later came back to the party through a process of unification. Thus, after the rigged election, the conspiracy was completed, and Bangladesh had an Indian puppet government supported by the US and its allies.
Since then, Sheikh Hasina has remained in power after two more rigged elections in 2014 and 2018. Thus, Hasina has remained un-elected Prime Minister since the rigged election of 2008. The BNP launched two huge movements in 2013 and 2015, but the first was sabotaged by government agents and there was severe repression, and in the second the BNP was dissuaded from the movement by the US and its allies. The US and its allies kept supporting the Indian conspiracy, although they showed duplicitous support for democracy in Bangladesh. And that is still the situation as of 2020.
The Sheikh Hasina regime since the election of 2008 (it formed the government on 6 January 2009) has been a totally fascist regime subservient to Indian hegemonism, like the regime of her father, the Mujibur Rahman regime of 1972-75. The present Sheikh Hasina regime, since 2009, perpetrated three massacres (on BDR, Jamaat and Hefazat), indiscriminate killings, terror, tyranny, abductions, reckless plunder, oppression, repression, in many cases in connivance with India and Indian commandos, and above all, it has sold out national interest and surrendered sovereignty to hegemonist India.
Khaleda Zia’s and the BNP’s policies and power have been completely eclipsed since the India-Awami League conspiracy of 1/11 of 2007, supported by the US and its allies, including the UN. It is not known if and when the eclipse would be over. With about 90% of the people opposed to the Awami League and the Indian hegemonism, the situation can become volatile and it can brew a political storm, which can bring about new developments in the political arena of Bangladesh anytime.
The eclipse of Khaleda Zia’s patriotic politics is beyond her control, as the eclipse has been imposed by India and supported by the US and its allies. We discussed before that one of the basic weaknesses of the anti-colonial independence movement in British India, and the right to self-determination movement to create Pakistan, was that although the movement for national liberation and the movement for right to self-determination was in the forefront, the movement for economic emancipation was relegated to the background, at most to a secondary position. This was because the anti-colonial independence movement and the movement for creation of Pakistan was led, in the main, by rich people who wanted to be richer after independence at the cost of the general people, although there were many leaders who were committed to alleviation of poverty.
The leadership of the BNP, with the best of intentions to be patriotic, was not immune from the above weakness. The get rich quick group within the BNP was visible during Khaleda Zia’s government of 2001-2006, although they were nowhere near the reckless plunderers of the lawless Awami League counterparts. This Khaleda Zia Government achieved remarkable economic development so that one of the largest investment banks in the world, Goldman Sachs, listed Bangladesh in 2005, as one of the next 11 emerging countries after the Asian Tigers.
The BNP is a constitutional party, pro-US in outlook, following the free market economy of the US. It did not and could not unite, organise and mobilise the people to develop a formidable and invincible resistance to the Awami League fascism and the Indian hegemonism. It lobbied the US in vain, as the US, in its policy of using India as a counterweight to China, supported Indian hegemony, while being duplicitous in maintaining a friendly approach to the BNP and equally deceitfully supporting the democratic process.
The BNP even tried to appease India, before the 2018 election. They sent a 3-leader delegation to India in June 2018, but it was in vain. In the election of 30 December 2018, rigged by ballot box stuffing, a predetermined result was announced, in which the BNP was given a meagre 6 seats out of 300. So, the BNP’s policy of appeasement failed miserably. The BNP is now in a state of virtual surrender, but it is still very popular as it gets the benefit of the huge anti-fascist and anti-hegemonist sentiment in the country. The BNP has now been quietly waiting for what the future unfolds.
Khaleda Zia’s politics has always been patriotic, supporting freedom and democracy, as her husband Ziaur Rahman’s politics had been. Both Ziaur Rahman’s and Khaleda Zia’s rise as stars in the political firmament of Bangladesh have been stunning and glorious. Both are the most popular leaders in Bangladesh. While since 25 March 1971, the Awami League followed the politics of fascism and subservience to India, the BNP followed the politics of freedom and democracy. While the Awami League, since 25 March 1971, followed the politics of national treachery, the BNP followed the politics of patriotism.
But the BNP’s politics has a basic weakness, which it inherited from the anti-colonial independence movement and the historically necessary movement for the creation of Pakistan. The weakness is, as discussed above, relegation of the movement for economic emancipation to the background, and thereby letting the rich and the get rich quick groups control the politics of the BNP. Because of this the BNP has failed to unite, organise and mobilise the people to build a formidable and invincible resistance to the Awami League fascists and Indian hegemonists, both during the Ziaur Rahman government and the Khaleda Zia government. Ziaur Rahman was assassinated in an Indian plot allegedly supported by Sheikh Hasina and Gen. Ershad, and Khaleda Zia has been sent to prison since 8 February 2018 for 17 years by the same conspiracy. But it has been mentioned before that 90% of the people are opposed to fascism and hegemonism. This may brew a storm.
Wherever there is oppression there is resistance. The people of Bangladesh are suffering under the two mountains of fascism and hegemonism. But imbued by the patriotic politics of Ziaur Rahman, Khaleda Zia and the other leaders who fought for the country and the people, the people will unite and fight until victory is achieved. They will fight to recover their freedom from the hegemonists, and democracy from the fascists. They will win and establish freedom, democracy, justice, human rights and harmonious development. The movement for national liberation and economic emancipation will certainly be victorious.
(The writer is a London-based political commentator and a former activist and columnist constantly campaigning for Freedom, Democracy, Justice, Human Rights and Harmonious Development in Bangladesh. He appeared many times on Bengali-medium TV talk shows in London speaking on the political affairs of Bangladesh. A retired computer consultant with a Master’s degree in Mathematics, he left his PhD studies in the UK to travel to Kolkata, India, in 1971 to join the Independence War of Bangladesh.)