Former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia Chairperson BNP lone popular opposition in Bangladesh

Muhammad Quamrul Islam
This is the feeling of surviving septuagenarians now at 78 years age who at early childhood have seen setting sun of British rule, partition 1947 into independent two states India and Pakistan, and emergence of sovereign Bangladesh thru liberation war 1971 in East Pakistan to vindicate democracy in the true spirit of mother language movement. We were Dhaka University batch 1961 had natural political cultural inclinations participated in mother language movement in serene academic atmosphere under the control of teachers customarily with no outside interference; as students were not in front of any party; and in early career contributed to socio-political-cultural movements from respective positions.
It is hoped historians have noted this trend, mainstream parties were Muslim League, opposition Awami League 1949, National Awami Party (NAP) 1957 upholding regional autonomy and neutral foreign policy and both founded on principles of democracy by MaulanaBhashani that attracted our attention on entry to S M Hall. To cite for instances KaziZafar Ahmed, AZM Enayetullah Khan Mintu founding editor of Holiday, BazlurRahman of vernacular daily Sangbad, Mohiuddin Ahmed, Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus and chief adviser of last caretaker government Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed. All students in different organizations were in fraternity, participated in annual Students Union election, in democratic feat under the benign control of teachers for future leaderships in various sectors of the country.
Yes, over this period ZiaurRahman was not in our midst; but in other academic area surely he was in same spirit that took him to opt for military career very successfully that call for bravery and sacrifice for the country and people. Like all Bengalis he felt current politics in consonance with the wishes of the people led by Bhashani and Mujib carried in newspapers truly as usual. It finally led to 7 December 1970 election that gave Awami League under the leadership of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman won landslide victory in National Assembly and Provincial Assembly in East Pakistan. In West Pakistan People’s Party leader Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto got majority seats destined to sit in Opposition as per electoral verdict. But President Yahiya Khan and Bhutto hatched conspiracy did not accept democratic verdict that led to historic speech March 7, 1971 by Sheikh Mujib: ‘Our struggle this time is the struggle for freedom- our struggle this time is for independence.’ Declared peaceful non-cooperation program and accordingly observed.
At zero hour on 25 March, 1971, President Yahiya unleashed army crackdown on the unarmed Bengalis in connivance with Bhutto. We heard in the evening of March 27 in Radio broadcast Major Ziaur Rahman urged the people to join the freedom struggle under the leadership of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Instantly Major Zia, turned out a blessed son of history, emerged as the political leader as we heard his broadcast people were emboldened. Pakistan forces was resisted countrywide by the people throughout 9- month long bloody struggle and those who crossed borders got shelters in refugee camps in India till war won on surrender of Pakistan forces on December 16,1971. Zia fought in his assigned sector with success, seen exile government, camp politics and all that during war.
After release of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib by Pakistan President Bhutto from Pakistan Jail, Bangabandhu returned to his motherland, Dhaka March 10, 1972 and addressed the largest rally in Bangladesh. We listened to him and started afresh with highest zeal for socio-economic emancipation of people from respective position and reviving traditional Bengali cultural unity and harmony. We had no hankering after posts and positions opened up by sovereign status of erstwhile East Pakistan and looked to Awami League Government for restoration of law and order and developments promised before. But Minister Khandaker Mushtaq Ahmed hatched conspiracy to kill Bangabandhu, satisfy his lust for power.
As ill luck would have it very few listened to Mujib’s call; all near seat of power flattered around for post and property at home and abroad, had no concern for war torn sufferers. Refugee camp politics raised its ugly heads caused split in Chhatra League, Awami League that formed Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (JSD) 31October.1972. It caused deteriorations of law and order along with other elements; and famine crept in 1974. The University Ordinance1973 for so called autonomy pressed by teacher leaders’ broken traditional discipline institutionalized never ending campus violence. In the following turmoil President Mujib was killed along with his family 15 August, 1975 and Minister Khandaker Mushtaq Ahmed became self-proclaimed President and chief martial law administrator. Most of the members of Mujib cabinet were sworn in Mushtaq cabinet. Army chief, Air and Navy chiefs, Police and Civil expressed allegiance to him.
People were thunder stricken; following melee in Army crooked Mushtaq was removed from President before he could complete 3 months and Justice Sayem took over, an act of Divine indeed. It placed finally Ziaur Rahman in power 7 November, 1975. In this process President Zia formed Bangladesh Nationalist party (BNP) 1 September, 1978 with a 19-point program. President Election 1978, Parliament Election 1979 held by Election Commission. All parties participated in free and fair elections accepted the result. Law and order was being restored, government planning and development countrywide brought to line under enlightened guidance of Advisers/Ministers during Zia regime as per rules.
Conspiracy within the establishment led to coup killing President Zia 30 May1981 at Chittagong. He was reportedly planning to get rid of bad elements and purge the party to make it equal to the task identified by him. Constitutionally Vice President Satter temporarily took over the charge. Free and fair election to the post of President was held, participated by all parties and won by Justice Satter. He was sworn in President 20 November, 1981. But, military coup by H M Ershad 24 March, 1982 removed democratically elected President Justice Satter. It started autocratic Ershad regime and Jatiya Party that survived in following democratic period, commenced from his downfall thru mass upsurge 6 December 1990.
During anti-Ershad movement Khaleda Zia came up as BNP Chairperson acclaimed uncompromising leader. She won 5th parliamentary election 1991 became Prime Minister, unanimously ruling BNP and opposition Awami League passed 11th and 12th amendment to constitution paved way to lasting democracy. Soon it stumbled thru Magura by- election; led to unending controversies about non-party caretaker government during election, fomented by vested quarters including NGOs post Bangladesh phenomenon.
As of today the ground reality is there are actually two parties in the electoral field Awami League and BNP; other 38+ parties registered with Election Commission toeing anyone of the two for personal aggrandizements. Khaleda Zia is in jail for last one year and a half, still stands as lone opposition. BNP leaderships organizationally are unpopular, ineffective both in Court and field and faces charges of corruptions, nomination business etc. Let it be considered in 41st founding anniversary on September 1 if democracy is to sustain end confrontation politics to which Bangabandhu’s daughter PM Sheikh Hasina should surely extend cooperation.
(Muhammad Quamrul Islam economist, advocate and columnist
E-mail: [email protected])

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