Reckless rhetoric

Mahfuzur Rahman
Thursday, March 24th, 2016

BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia addresses the party’s sixth national council at the Institution of Engineers


Good politics demands that political parties hold out hope with their pragmatic offers rather than spreading out rhetoric to make distraught voters optimistic. While struggling to reinvent yourself, you must know how to play with both sides of the political coin. The constant denial mood is unlikely to help you overcome the bad patch. To get the course reversed, you must have your own narrative, clarity and strength.


The BNP in its March 19 council promised to come up with a ‘new model of government’ if it returns to power. In an effort to reach out to people and create a perception among the new generation that her party will do something unique, BNP chief Khaleda Zia has gone all the way with rhetoric. This is true that we cannot think of politics without rhetoric, no matter where, but that does not mean that one will bank on something that sounds ridiculous.


In her nearly one-hour and 10-minute speech at the inaugural session of the BNP council at Institution of Engineers, Khaleda spelled out her party’s Vision 2030 plan to turn the country into a higher middle-income one if the party gets back to power.


According to the Vision 2030, she says, Bangladesh will become a modern democratic and higher middle-income country with the per capita income reaching around US $ 4,000 to 5,000 by 2030. And to make that happen, her party will take creative and well thought-out policies and measures to have a double digit growth rate.


This a well-known fact that our economy grows at a rate of over 6 percent since the mid-90s with the business sectors are showing a tremendous sign of potentials and by tapping that we can decrease unemployment and poverty. The state’s income will increase and the economy will undergo even a more dramatic changes if we can ensure good governance and rein in the all-pervasive corruption. But promising to take the country’s per capita income to around US $ 4,000 to 5,000 by 2030 without giving any explanation sounds outlandish.


It can be recalled that China which is on the trajectory to emerge as the world’s number one economy passed the $5,000 per capita income level barely three years back and it started demonstrating the sign of sluggishness as Japan, Taiwan and South Korea showed during their transformation time.  Amid the sluggishness of these emerging economies, a theory of ‘middle-income trap’ has taken the centre stage.  Despite exhibiting the strong sign of march forward, Bangladesh, perhaps, also awaits the ‘middle-income trap’. So taking Bangladesh’s per capita income to close to $ 5,000 by 2030 will be a much tougher job unless one can eliminate corruption that has already taken a deeper root. Things are easier said than done. Our leaders, therefore, need to enrich their political vocabulary by engaging academic advisers for the better packaging of their messages that will, at least, save them from harsh criticisms.


A question can be thrown after the BNP’s much-hyped council—what has actually the party gained after staging such a programme in capital Dhaka by bringing together its over 3,000 councillors? Holding the council of a political party is actually aimed at rejuvenating its rank and file by allowing them to enjoy the taste of democracy. Had there been any balloting to elect any leader to any vital post? In the name of holding a council, the BNP has staged a drama as there was no election in the council at all.

With Khaleda Zia and her son Tarique Rahman getting elected to the top two posts of the party – the chairperson and the senior vice chairman– the BNP went on council on March 19 only to entrust the party chief with all the power to announce its full-fledged standing committee, which means things are decided behind the door and the function is held outdoor!


BNP acting secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir on March 21 said their chairperson Khaleda Zia would soon announce a full-fledged executive committee of her party as their council had entrusted her with the responsibility to do so. Apprehending possible criticisms, Fakhrul hurried to say, “There’s no option to misinterpret the matter as the councillors delegated the power to her for forming the committee. She’ll do it within a very short time.”


Fakhrul who has been performing as acting secretary general since the death of Khandker Delwar Hossain in 2011 was not declared as the new secretary general as expected since the councillors vested their power in Khaleda to elect the secretary general and all members and officials of the national executive committee.


At the council, the BNP chief pledged to introduce a bicameral parliament, maintaining the unitary nature of the country, and restore the referendum system in the country’s constitution. She said there would be an upper house of parliament with representatives from different communities, marginal groups, knowledgeable and gifted people from different professions. Under the constitution, all powers belong to people, she said in defence of referendum.


Khaleda also talked about the all-important decentralisation. “A massive devolution of power in all strata of government will be ensured. Duties and responsibilities of the local government institutions will be identified to ensure good governance,” she said.


The BNP is not a new political party and Khaleda Zia not a new leader either. Khaleda herself had been in power twice as Prime Minister. The party, which is criticised time and again for being born in Cantonment, ruled the country in many ways other than the two terms served by Khaleda. Now critics say what did the BNP do during its terms on various occasions in the past to institutionalise democracy? Though the country has been under democratic rule for so many years, it has not got its democratic institutions functioning properly. More importantly, Bangladesh is yet to get an election system accepted by all. It was and it is the responsibility of the political parties that were in power and will be in power to make all the constitutional bodies function independently.


About decentralisation, it could humbly be recalled that the BNP government in the early 90s had shelved the upazila system introduced by military ruler HM Ershad. Maybe Ershad was not a good leader but the decentralisation system he had introduced in the 80s was not bad at all.  When it comes to decentralisation it can be said there has been little progress in this regard just because of foot dragging. And more worrying is that Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh, is dying simply for lack of decentralisation.


About striking a balance between the power of the Prime Minister and the President, this could be said that it would really be a very tough job. What it could have been done easily when the BNP was in power, the party chief is talking about a too-a-difficult job when it is out of power. The former Prime Minister is perhaps aware that the introduction of an upper chamber of the House and restoration of the referendum system will require an amendment to the constitution for which two-thirds majority in parliament is essential.


While holding its council, the BNP was, in fact, in an election mood rather than properly holding the council which could ensure its internal democracy. The way the BNP chief used the council stage it looked like announcing an election manifesto. The party which claims itself as a popular organisation could have utilised the opportunity by exhibiting the basic principles of democracy instead of showing the urge for going to power. The pursuit of democratic principles can help a party go a long way. The people of this country actually love that very much.


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