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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2827

Legacy of Bangladeshi Politics

By Rabindranath Trivedi - Reporting for Asian Tribune from Dhaka

Part -1 : Dynastic Succession, Islamist Terrorist and Reformists’ Agenda

Dhaka , 26 June,( In the second term in office of BNP chairperson Begum Khalida Zia ,2001-2006,two events in the summer underscored the dynastic impulses of the BNP. Firstly, the then President of Bangladesh Professor AQM Badruddoza Chowdhury had to resign on June 21, 2002 after he faced criticism in the BNP Parliamentary Party meeting for not showing respect to the memory of the party’s founder, Ziaur Rahman (Zia’s widow Khaleda had inherited the party leadership).

Though Professor B Chowdhury is a founding general secretary of the BNP and was a nominee of the party for the post of the President, he irked Zia loyalists for attempting to rise above partisan politics after he became president. Constitutional experts argued that president could not be impeached on this ground.

The Second event was the emergence of Tareq Rahman, older of the two sons of Khaleda Zia, from behind the scene to formally masterminded the BNP’s successful election campaign and was the key decision –maker after the elections though he held no formal position.

On June 22, 2002 he stepped forward and became the senior joint-secretary general of BNP. Rumours were rife that this was a prelude to consolidating dynastic success; that if the BNP wins the next election then Tareq Rahman will take over as prime minister and Khaleda will become the President.

It was known to all later ‘Under Khaleda’s directives, BNP was then in the process of recruiting 40 or more young and wealthy individuals for nomination for the MP elections. This move, many observers perceive, is to create a cadre of loyalists who in the near future, will bow down to her son’s accession to the position of the chief executive. It will be interesting to see if the country will tolerate another half educated person in that position of power.’

The outgoing ruling alliance has rejected the demands for reforms in the Caretaker government system and electoral rules.

Political analysts forecast a volatile political situation after the opposition programme to march towards Dhaka on January 22, 2006. Moreover, Begum Zia,on December 21, 2005,in an oblique reference to the Opposition Leader (Sheikh Hasina)warned of sedition charges for ‘creating anarchy’, and’ told her refrain ‘your tongue, don’t make any flaring remarks,...else sedition charges will be brought against you’.

Reacting to the PM’s warning of sedition charges against her for ‘creating anarchy’. Sheikh Hasina, at Rajshahi mammoth meeting, lashed out at Begum Zia branding her as a traitor for forming government with Jaamat-e-Islami that opposed Bangladesh’s independence.

The opposition leader said,’ you held anti-militancy meeting but you protected militants by not speaking against them rather you came down heavily on the opposition.” Political analysts and columnist termed these uttering on the part of Begum Zia seemed unprecedented in democratic norms. It is present in despotic traditional politics and was characteristic of the despotic regimes in the early fifties and sixties in Pakistan.The army regimes or their protégés like Monem Khan used to speak in the’ language of weapons’ or put them (leaders) behind the bar for years together. The uttering of Begum Zia reflects a complete lack of perception of ‘democracy and democratic values’.

It may be recalled that Begum Zia, not only faked the date of her birth but also lied about her college education, official documents have confirmed in a installment in a long running controversy about her qualifications set off a political crisis in the BNP. Papers released by Dhaka education board showed that Begum Zia was born on September 5,1946, not August 15,as she had previously claimed.

A country's leader does not need to have a university degree, although advanced education is an asset beyond measure. But the position of leadership requires impeccable mental capacity and an indomitable desire to acquire skills to synthesize why leaders -- Steinberg’s study on parent-daughter dynamics suggests a possible explanation for the success of women who achieve senior-level positions of political power. These findings are consistent with Hasina's political background while Khaleda's (who is neither a first born, nor the daughter of a political leader) accession to leadership would not, in all likelihood, have happened, if her husband was not assassinated.

Reflecting their frustrations about the country's degradations even the BNP's grassroots leaders in their October 15-16 meetings made very poignant accusations about the party's gaudy bosses. Some of the accusations are: "If the ministers and the lawmakers eat up everything, what will be left for the other leaders and workers?" "The ministers will leave the country if the party fails to win the next election, but we will have to stay and face the adverse situation." "Our ministers and senior leaders are too busy with their own affairs. They must rid themselves of such tendency." Dr. Abdullah A. Dewan observed (DS, October 17).

Birth of BNP under Martial Law regime of Gen. Zia in 1978

On July 28,1976,the government issued a Political Parties Regulation (PPR) which allowed the political parties to seek government’s permission to function. Under the PPR, the government had the final authority to “license” the political parties to function; but even the parties which got the permission to function could operate only “indoors.”

After assuming office in April 1977 as head of the state Ziaur Rahman issued a proclamation order amending the Constitution to insert Bismiliah-ir-Rahmanir Rahim (In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful) in the Preamble of the Constitution. In Article 8(1) and 8(1A) the principle of ‘absolute trust and faith in the Almighty Allah has been added. In Article 8(1), socialism has been defined as ‘economic and social justice’. In Article 25(2) it has also been provided that “the state shall endeavour to consolidate, preserve and strengthen fraternal relations among Muslim countries based on Islamic solidarity. In Article 12 Secularism has been repealed.

On 1 September 1978, a new political party, BNP, was launched with Chief Martial Law Administrator Gen Zia as its chairman. The parliamentary elections were held in February 1979 under Martial Law and 6-month old BNP won 207 seats out of 300. What a fantastic popularity of army general in people’s democracy?

On 1 April 1979, the first session of the Second Parliament was convened. On 5 April, martial law was lifted after the enactment of the Fifth Amendment, a package of martial law ordinances.

It may be recalled that “In a historic verdict, the High court declared on the 29 August 2005 that the Fifth Amendment to the constitution illegal, meaning the rules of Khondakar Mushtaque Ahmed, Abu Sadaat Mohammad Sayem, and Major General Ziaur Rahman from August 15, 1975 to April 9, 1979 were unlawful. The Court, however, noted that although all government activities between August 15, 1975 and April 9, 1979 have been declared illegal, the history couldn’t be altered. Many of these illegal acts were done in the public interest. From this perspective, the Court ‘condones’ some of these actions that could have been done in line with the constitution.

The coup of 15th August ,1975 by Khandker Mushtaque Ahmed, placing Bangladesh under Martial Law, and taking the office of the president of the Peoples Republic of Bangladesh by the Proclamation of August 20, 1975 were in clear violation of the constitution and done without lawful authority. “All his subsequent actions as the president were illegitimate and void,” it observed.

By taking over the office of president on November 6, 1975 by Justice Abu Sadaat Mohammad Sayem and his assumption of the powers of Chief Martial Law Administrator (CMLA) and appointing Deputy CMLA [Ziaur Rahman] and the Proclamation of November 8, 1975 were all in violation of the Constitution, which means all functions and actions as the president or CMLA were illegitimate, the court observed in the verdict. “ Being beyond the ambit of the Constitution, the handing over of the Martial law authority’s office to Maj Gen Ziaur Rahman by Abu Sadaat Mohammad Sayem by the third Proclamation on November 29 , 1976 , enabling the latter to exercise the powers of CMLA were illegal and illegitimate”, the bench announced. Ziaur Rahman’s becoming president on April 21, 1977 was also illegal, it added. The Government filed a review petition to the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court. The case is lying with the Supreme Court for final judgment.”( DS,30 August 05).

However Bangladesh was rocked on 30 May 1981 when army rebels assassinated President Ziaur Rahman. Justice Abdus Sattar, Special Assistant to former President A S M Sayem who got elevation to the post of the Vice President and was then convulsing in the military hospital, became Acting President. Acting President Abdul Sattar proclaimed a state of emergency and suspended most of the civil rights.

President Sattar grants and life -time perks for Begum Khalida Zia and her family in 1981

Anthony Mascarenhas in his “Legacy of Blood’ mentioned : “Although there was no love lost between Zia and most of his BNP ministers during his life- time, once he was dead the successor BNP government of Acting President Sattar seems to have gone overboard in conferring honours and favours on Zia nad his family.

By a Cabinet decision (No.35/81) dated 12th June, 1981, the Sattar government approved the following grants and life -time perks for Begum Khalida Zia and her family:

1. An immediate cash grant of 1,000,000 (Ten Lakh) Taka.

2.The allotment of full ownership of a large modern bungalow in a privileged area of Dhaka for the nominal price of one Taka.

3.The government will bear the entire cost of educating the two sons in Bangladesh and abroad until they are 25 years old. During this time they will also receive an allowance of 1500 ( Fifteen hundred) Takas each per month in cash.

4. The governent will bear the entire cost of medical treatment for Begum Khalida Zia and family in Bangladesh and abroad.

5 The government will give them a car and will bear the cost of a driver and all petrol requirements.

6. They will be provided with a free telephone.

7. The government will pay Begum Khalida Zia’s gas, electricity and water bills. Its will also provide guards for her home.

8. The government will pay for her personal secretary and for FIVE domestic servants- two ‘bearers’ or valets, a cook, a gardener and a sweeper.

Begum Khalida ZIA in fact ended up with not one but two magnificent bungalows. The one in the posh Gulshan area of Dhaka (estimated market value 5,000,000 to 6,000,000 fifty to sixty lakh Takkas) she obtained for a nominal one Takka, has been leased to a foreign mission for what is said to be a handsome monthly rental. Meanwhile she and her sons continue to live at government expense in the sprawling bungalow in the Dhaka Cantonment which the family occupied when Zia was President.

Sheikh Hasina ‘s return to Dhaka from exile in May 1981

“The Coup of August 15,1975 in which Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his family were assassinated, shows how easy it really is to change a government by such means. The events of the three months following the coup, especially the power struggle in the week of November 3, 1975, have also shown that it is easier to change a government than to established and maintain an effective administration,” Prof. Raunak Jahan observed.

Sheikh Hasina, daughter of Bangabandhu, who was in Germany at the time of Bangabandhu’s assassination and then lived in self-exile in New Delhi, returned to Bangladesh as the President of the Awami League on 17 May 1981. When Sheikh Hasina reached Dacca from Calcutta, the tens and thousands Awami League leaders, workers, sympathisers and elites of the country gave her a tumultuous welcome, braving rain and storm. The scenes were reminiscent of Bangabandhu’s triumphant return to war devastated Bangladesh from Pakistani jail on January 10,1972. His was ‘a journey from captivity to freedom, from desolation to hope’. Bangabandhu’s triumphant return was a history of fulfillment of Independent Bangladesh, but Sheikh Hasina’s return was different with a mission for the realisation of her father’s ideal.

Her mission is to demonstrate the grater protest of killing and lead the nation from darkness to light. She had been living in the shadows for more than five years, she had cherished the hope that she would return Bangladesh one day. She came to limelight when she was elected President of Awami League on 16 February 1981. In 1982 she was the first to protest against General Ershad regime. Sheikh Hasina formed 15-party alliance to struggle the military despotic rule. In 1986 she became leader of the Opposition in the third Jatiya Sansad. During this nine-year, she had to suffer detention time and again. She survived several attempts on her life.Finally Sheikh Hasina spearheaded the historic mass movement, which toppled the General H M Ershad regime in December 1990 and compelled to transfer of power to a neutral caretaker government headed by Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

In 1991 she was elected Leader of the Opposition in the Fifth Jatiya Sansad. Sheikh Hasina, meanwhile known as daughter of democracy, gave a befitting reply of the fraudulent election in February 1996 and forced Begum Zia,widow of Gen.Ziaur Rahman,to handover power to a caretaker government headed by former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. After the fair election victory in June 1996, Sheikh Hasina became prime minister on June 23,1996.

Rabindranath Trivedi is a retired Additional Secretary and former Press secretary to the President of the People's Republic of Bangladesh.

To be Continued -Part-II

- Asian Tribune -

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