Begum Khaleda Zia, chairperson of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), has declared the party’s Vision 2030. To many, it came too early with election scheduled for 2019. However, the party has made a smart move and tactically increased its ‘self-life’. This declaration came at a time when most of the party leaders and cadres were hibernating and giving up hope in face of the repressive measures being carried out by the ruling party.
Content wise, Vision 2030 has lot of idealistic ideas which look good on paper but may not be all that easy to implement once in power. BNP has been in power in three terms, but the party cannot really boast of near perfect governance. These sorts of idealistic views are generally put up in election manifestoes to lure in the electorate.
However, the Vision has incorporated few fresh ideas, like the intent of introducing an Upper House and creation of power balance between the president and the prime minister. BNP all along has the support of strong professional groups in various sectors which on various occasions, especially in time of crises, have stood steadfast by the party. So, the idea of introducing the Upper House could be to provide a formal platform and recognition to these loyalists.
As for the issue of power balance, perhaps the party feels that Begum Zia, given her wellbeing and age, at one stage might want to see herself as the president (more in the role of a guardian) and free herself from the day-to-day affairs of running the state.
Without much ambiguity, BNP in its Vision 2030 has sent a feeler to China, indicating that once in power they would join the Chinese ‘One Belt One Road’ (OBOR) mega initiative. The CPEC, China Pakistan Economic Corridor, a project of the OBOR initiative, has proved to be a game changer for Pakistan. So, being in the Chinese loop would benefit Bangladesh to a great extent. And also “initiatives for establishing road and rail communication network with SAARC and ASEAN countries will be taken.” This will help keep the other neighbours happy.
The Vision also mentioned a deep-sea port in Chittagong, probably keeping Chinese interests in mind. It also indicated initiatives to be “taken to establish regional road connectivity and rail connection between Dhaka and Kunming.”
BNP, during its second term in power, had taken up the “Look East” policy. However, it proved to be more in word than action. It was not pursued further and gradually both the government and the party forgot all about. In fact, it went as far as to open a Taiwan trading office in the country, seriously upsetting its relationship with China. The relationship is yet to be fully mended. Again, at the Chinese President Xi Jinping’s meeting with Begum Zia during his visit to Bangladesh last year, someone ‘not on the list’ perched himself on the vacant chair meant for Reaz Rahman. Reaz Rahman got stuck in traffic and could not reach the venue in time. For obvious reason the Chinese did not like this impromptu intrusion. BNP certainly can do with some pragmatic damage control where China is concerned and Vision 2030 may well be the best ‘Band Aid’ for the time being.
It’s better late than never. BNP seems to have grasped the significance of Beijing’s strength in the regional power game. But then again if BNP means business, a mere feeler in the Vision 2030 will not help in winning over China. It has to be followed up effectively by sending in emissaries or delegates to convince China that the Nationalist Party means business. Only then it might be possible to make China turn around.
During last election, BNP’s hobnobbing with America did not pay off. It spent both time and money in wooing the US, but no tangible dividends emerged from these efforts. At the time of movement, the party become so dependent on the US that they used to email Begum’s statements to Dan Mozena, the than US Ambassador to Bangladesh, for ‘endorsement’. However, it is not known if this was done with concordance from Begum Zia, or whether it was the task of some over-enthusiastic individual or group.
It’s time that BNP chose its friends rightly. Globally speaking, international relations have taken on more complex equations than ever before and the party needs to get its math right. It is time for it to take certain long-term decisions and forge ties with tried-and-tested reliable partners.
Out of confusion, in an almost desperate bid, BNP even tried to reach out to India for help. A section in BNP still tends to believe that without India’s blessings it cannot come to power. There is no reason for India (at this moment) to provide support to BNP. Some are of the opinion that to keep Hasina in check, New Delhi would look for an alternative in BNP! It should be remembered that India has enough people within Awami League who are ready to jump boat when required. Indian Prime Minister Modi went out of the way, breaking all protocol to personally receive Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina during her recent India visit. This is a significant indicator of how things stand. It would be same in case of Bangladesh election. Modi will go the extra mile to bring Hasina to power. After all, among other things, there are three specific counts for which India is happy with Hasina and her government. One is for whole-heartedly addressing India’s security issues. Two is for connectivity. And three is for signing the comprehensive defence deals.
So BNP should not suffer from any illusions. It should not try to be a chameleon to change colours as it deems necessary. Consistency will pay off.
BNP has shown political acuity in mentioning “BNP will not interfere in the internal affairs of any other country, neither will create any security threat to any other country.” This possibly refers to addressing “India’s security concerns”. The party has on many occasions been ‘accused’ of providing ‘space’ to the India’s North Eastern insurgents groups. However, one should not forget New Delhi’s support in form of arms and finance to the ethnic Shanti Bahini insurgents group operating inside Bangladesh’s Chittagong Hill Tracts. The Shanti Bahini carried on a low intensity war with Bangladesh’s Armed Forces over decades.
The 28-page 256-paragraph document of Vision 2030 covers almost every issue. From Democracy, Good Governance, Defence, Conservation of Resources, Earthquakes to Social Pathological Problems, Moral Rearmament and more, all issues has been addressed.
The party has been pragmatic enough to admit “realisation of our Vision is difficult but not impossible”. The good thing is that now had shed any ambiguity that may have spread over it during it critical times. Shrugging off any impression of political ennui, Begum Zia has armed BNP with a long-term vision. It has given the party, its leaders, workers and supporters, a sense of purpose. It is a clear message to all that BNP wants to follow the democratic process.