BNP needs an image reset: The questionable path of Bangladesh's opposition politics

So, when the Maitree Express train between Bangladesh and India was attacked during the blockade program, the BNP's image was sorely tarnished in the eyes of the neighboring country.

Farabi Bin Zahir Nov 14, 2023
The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)

The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) is one of the major political parties in Bangladesh. It was founded on September 1, 1978, by President Ziaur Rahman. Subsequently, this party came to power four times in Bangladesh. In its long journey, BNP had to endure many ups and downs. Especially after Ziaur Rahman's death, when a large faction of the BNP at that time joined the ruling H M Ershad's Jatiya Party, the BNP faced a major setback. 

But under the leadership of Ziaur Rahman's wife Begum Khaleda Zia, the BNP emerged like a phoenix. By playing an active role in the anti-autocratic movement, the party again made a place for itself in politics that was effective and acceptable. Under Begum Khaleda Zia's leadership, the BNP got the opportunity to run the country three times. Despite various criticisms, it is undeniable that the BNP has occupied an important place in the political history of Bangladesh.

For the last 15 years, the party has been out of power. Understandably, leaders and workers at all levels of the party have had to face various kinds of political and social pressures due to being out of power for such a long time. As a party, the BNP's ability to provide the financial or social support needed to deal with this pressure is diminishing day by day. When a party stays out of power for a long time, a kind of frustration arises among its leaders and workers. There is also huge legal pressure of lawsuits against BNP leaders and workers at almost all levels. But the reality is that apart from a few top leaders, BNP leaders and workers do not have the capacity to legally fight these cases.

Cult of violence

Despite its best efforts the party has failed to build a successful anti-government movement. Even on many controversial or unpopular decisions of the government, the party could not unite the people against the government. The BNP's movement can be broadly divided into two phases - before and after BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia was jailed. Before Khaleda Zia's imprisonment, most of the agitations were limited to personal issues like Khaleda Zia's house or cases against her. Due to the lack of vigor in their movement at that time, the government could put Khaleda Zia in jail without much opposition.  After Khaleda Zia's imprisonment, shortsightedness and lack of coordination have been evident in BNP's movement. 

Let's look at BNP's rally on 28 October 2023. We will see that although the non-violent program of the BNP created some enthusiasm among the leaders and workers a few days before the rally, the violence during the rally itself put the party in an embarrassing position. Certain incidents happened in the rally that raised questions about BNP even among the general public, for example, attacks on journalists, hospitals, and police. It is difficult to understand what the BNP wanted to achieve by attacking journalists who were just covering the rally as part of their professional duty. By attacking a hospital, what message did the BNP want to send to the international community? Only BNP leaders can best explain this.

What is the BNP ideology?

Even before the violence of the rally subsided, the party was moving ahead with frequent blockades and other violent programs. So, when the Maitree Express train between Bangladesh and India was attacked during the blockade program, the BNP's image was sorely tarnished in the eyes of the neighboring country. In the past too, the BNP has landed the government in an awkward situation over engagements with Indian leaders.

 There is no denying that the BNP has a large army of workers and supporters. In order to utilize these workers and supporters, the BNP leadership needs to properly frame their ideology and course of action. The mindset needs to change. More emphasis should be given to people-oriented programs instead of violent ones. If BNP policymakers fail to realize this truth, by the age-old rules of politics the party will have to pay the price.

(The writer is a Dhaka-based columnist. Views are personal. He can be reached at

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