In broad terms, the people of Bangladesh are divided into two groups in terms of their political spirits: one camp belongs to the Awami League and the other to the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). Shaheed (Martyred) President Ziaur Rahman is the exponent of Bangladeshi nationalism, the political philosophy of the nationalist group and founder of the nationalist political organisation, i.e., the BNP. After the untimely death of Ziaur Rahman, his political successor Begum Khaleda Zia, upholding the nationalist ideals, has been continuing to uniting, extending and strengthening the nationalist group with her uncompromising and dynamic leadership. In continuation of his family tradition, Tarique Rahman, the elder son of Ziaur Rahman and Begum Khaleda Zia, got the opportunity to endow his leadership to the BNP’s organisational politics along with his mother.
Tarique was raised in the family socialisation of multi-dimensional tradition of Ziaur Rahman and received political initiation from his parents. He grew up with the psychological attachment and resonance of the characteristic nature of his parents, as vindicated in perception and belief, history and tradition, consciousness and patriotism. Not only that, the personality of Ziaur Rahman is reflected in the physical figure, harmony of speech, measured conversation and political belief of Tarique. Tarique is a patriot for whom Bangladesh comes first before anything and everything. He believes in the principle of an inclusive society that is integrated by national identity and communal recognition rather than divisions based on races, religions, casts, etc. He believes in the promotion and development of a peaceful and harmonious society where people can live and work happily. He believes in hard work and believes that one should always be optimistic in outlook. He believes in a future where the resources are shared and utilised for the benefits of all Bangladeshis.
Through my involvement in services with the government of Bangladesh and the World Bank and the United Nations agencies, I have closely seen top-tier leaders from Bangladesh and abroad. I can confidently say that I have not come across a Bangladeshi leader like Tarique in the recent years. In the political arena of today’s Bangladesh, he is the only leader among the top leadership of both the BNP and the Awami League who not only has the experience of seeing historical national events from a close proximity, but also has the dynamism to add value to the existing system by bringing the spirit of the youth and changing the status quo, even more so in the greater interests of the country.
Tarique Rahman has been involved with active politics since the early 1990s and his portfolio includes some great electoral and strategic achievements. For over a decade, he was shying away from top leadership positions, despite the tremendous pressure created within the BNP to see him in a position that would make him the obvious leader of the future. Having contributed to the BNP’s successful election campaigns in 1991 and 2001, he was repeatedly recognised for his political excellence. Finally, after the formation of the BNP government in 2001, upon the unanimous demand of the leaders and the activists, in June 2002, Tarique became the Senior Joint Secretary General of the BNP with a view to providing stronger leadership in organising the party from the grassroots levels. He, however, remained strict not to join the government and therefore stayed away from a position either in the cabinet or in the parliament.
After assuming the responsibility as the Senior Joint Secretary General, Tarique started the programme of holding council conventions locally at the grassroots levels and walked villages after villages in the whole of Bangladesh. He became successful in connecting local leaderships with the central leaderships – and at the same time achieved fame and popularity beyond the generic expectations – among the grassroots workers and supporters as a faithful young leader. They greatly valued that he drew on dynamic and sagacious nationalist leadership inspired by the notion of patriotism. Within a short period, Tarique became a brilliant potential leader stirred up with the nationalistic youthfulness. He organised hundreds of grassroots conferences throughout the country, beginning from the Union Parishad to the Upazilla, District and Division levels. As a part of this nationwide conference programme,
while participating in a council meeting held at Tungipara, Gopalganj, he visited the grave of late President Sheikh Mujibur Rahman which is a new addition of generosity and non-partisan values in the political culture of Bangladesh.
The main objective of the nationalist politics is to ensure the welfare of the people of the country through economic development. For this reason, Tarique believed that there is no alternative to obtaining the micro-level details of the socio-economic conditions of the people. He conducted in-depth economic research and large-scale surveys on the problems and prospects of the rural areas in Bangladesh. His research and surveys covered critical developmental sectors such as farming, agriculture, pisciculture, poultry and cattle, cottage, etc. He also took initiatives to get to know the demographic details of the individuals in those rural areas, particularly about their family members, academic qualifications, professional backgrounds, etc. Using these data, Tarique initiated tailored programmes to solve the problems of the rural areas and provided creative frameworks for the improvement of the living standards of the people. As an example, having taken a pro-agriculture mindset, he was particularly enthusiastic to initiate programmes for materialising green revolution in agricultural goods and products by taking seeds, oil, irrigation, subsidy, and loan projects.
Tarique is currently living in London as part of his physical recovery from the injuries caused by the brutal torture of the unconstitutional militarybacked caretaker government of 2007. They made him a victim of scandalous conspiracy, but failed to associate him with any conviction whatsoever, which in turn, has made it clear that the cases were politically motivated. It all has made Tarique even more famous and lovable to his countrymen. He has come closer to the people and become a sparkling ideology from a mere person. He is an ideology of progressive politics, social empowerment, economic development and national advancement. I have had the privilege to visit Tarique in London a few times, to see his lifestyle and meet with the people who surround him, and to speak with him about his own present as well as the future of Bangladesh.
I am so glad that Tarique is spending his time in London reading articles and newspapers not just about Bangladesh, but the whole world. He is using the internet and watching television programmes to find solutions to the problems of Bangladesh. Parallel to the ongoing medical treatments, Tarique passionately follows the current conditions of Bangladesh and researches as to how he will change the country with progressive policies. He is articulating a well-grounded plan of actions, and if the Almighty brings the BNP to the power and Tarique receives an opportunity to become an integral part of the government, I can assure everyone that he will change the fate of the country. In the process, Tarique has been closely working with a group of non-political scholars and students based at the world’s leading institutions, including the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford, so as to utilise their world-class profiles and cutting-edge educations in the advancement of Bangladesh. Tarique is not just using the spirit of the youths; he is also frequently exchanging ideas with eminent experts and professionals with exceptional track records in politics, public service, journalism, healthcare, business, social work, and other fields. In doing so, Tarique is bridging the energy of the youths and the experience of the olds, and aiming for a new era of Bangladesh’s national development by exploiting the best of the nation’s talent, know-how, expertise and labour.
Tarique’s philosophy is that Bangladesh needs to have fundamental changes in the ways it has long been run. He advocates for a bottomup approach, wherein party decisions and government policies would be generated from the grassroots. His vision is that the people of the grassroots would not only drive the way in which the country is run, but also take part in the implementation of the complementary policies and decisions. Tarique promotes a two-way communication mechanism between his party leaders and the general people, whereby the leaders pursue politics not just to attract votes for the elections, but also to stand by the people in their daily lives. Tarique believes that all the BNP politicians should work as change agents and play a critical role in empowering their followers, so that the society as a whole can move forward by forsaking negative customs and practices such as bribery, corruption, dowry, polygamy, school dropout, alcohol addiction, sexual harassment, domestic violence, etc.
Tarique envisions a rural-based economic development perspective where professional empowerment of the poor would play a key role. The prosperous future of the agriculture and farming sector lies in the central place of his plans. At the same time, Tarique extends programmes to decentralise Bangladesh and ensure that the disadvantaged people do not need to move from the villages to the major urban areas to earn proper livelihoods, and as such, the economic incentives would be spread across the country to defuse intra-country migration. This in essence, as Tarique argues, would ensure the holistic development of Bangladesh instead of a development programme revolving around some selected cities.
To me and many others that I have spoken with, Tarique is the symbol of youth and he bears the torch of charisma and courage. His political visions centre around an improvement of the society, and the young generation in particular. As I travel in various parts of the country and mix up with the general people, I have been able to see the popularity of Tarique among the youths and the extent to which they are desperately waiting to see his return to Bangladesh. As the last genuine hope of the youths, Tarique appreciates his popularity and plans to revolutionise the education sector for the enhancement of their employability prospects and to ensure that the next generations would come out of the curse of unemployment. He commits to introduce leading-edge subjects in the high school level, including foreign languages and apprenticeship schemes, and thus make the education system more practically motivated and job-oriented. As such, Tarique’s education policy is directly related to the policies of industrialisation and business development, so that new industries are facilitated, new businesses are formed, and new jobs are created at a fast rate.
In Tarique’s view, it is imperative to accelerate Bangladesh’s economic growth through securing jobs for the students, both inside and outside of Bangladesh. By ensuring proper teaching and learning mechanisms, he believes, our workers would be much more trained and competent to work in the local industries and agriculture sectors. This would then help the economy to achieve more efficiency and effectiveness. He articulates his plan to export more of trained and bilingual workers in various countries, including the Middle East, who will have certificates of technical and vocational education, as well as language proficiencies. Also, Tarique commits to send the bilingual workers to new, underexplored countries and get them involved in different, new professions. Tarique dreams that many of the young individuals coming out of such system would use their enthusiasm to become self-sustaining entrepreneurs. They will open their own businesses through the financial and institutional supports of the government. Tarique aims to create new industries that complement our garments/textile sector, such as data entry and processing, call centre business, electronic appliances, agri-biotech, frozen foods, ship building, etc.
Tarique has learnt the lessons of development and progression through his involvement with the people at the grassroots. He reckons that the only way the BNP could change Bangladesh radically is by using its political engagements as a means of social reformation, which would then set up an example for all other political parties to unearth a new, constructive political culture. Building on these ideas, Tarique wants to pursue positive politics by reaching out to the general people, solving their problems, mitigating their miseries, and winning their hearts. In the eyes of the people, however, Tarique’s works is on the course to show the unwillingness of the Awami League to change the traditional mal-culture of politics, as well as its inability to understand and respond to the needs of the people. So akin to his previous experience during the period of 2001–2006, I believe in the years ahead, while Tarique would flourish as a politician and make the BNP as the dynamic party suitable to march the country in the 21st century, his political oppositions would slide down and struggle to keep in pace with Tarique’s developmental programmes and value-added politics.
The success of Tarique Rahman beyond expectations in organising and expanding the BNP in the grassroots levels, as well as the popularity of his illuminated leadership in the youth communities, generated revengeful and malicious political psychology based on fear and apprehension in the Awami League leadership. The Awami League became perplexed to see the reflection of the political behaviour of Ziaur Rahman’s personality, leadership and political programmes in Tarique. Instead of facing the political rise of Tarique by an alternative positive political programme, the Awami League, maintaining its characteristic tradition, has been engaged in media propaganda full of Goebbelsian falsehood in a fascist and despotic way. The only objective of the conspiracy is aimed at character assassination of Tarique and to tarnish his popular image by using startling imaginary stories of falsifications. The Awami League wants to permanently destroy the possibility of getting the future leadership of the nationalist forces. It is still spreading the net of conspiracy against Tarique through the intellectual media coverage within and outside the country. This rising leader, a symbol of the youth of the nationalists, is going ahead overcoming all the obstacles.
The party and the persons who are involved in inflicting brutal torture, heinous oppression and disgraceful conspiracy on Tarique Rahman will certainly have to stand one day before the dock of the court of the people. Those who want to stop the wheel of the history of Bangladesh and make the nationalist politics silenced and motionless either by killing or crippling Tarique Rahman are unaware that the nationalist political ideology of Tarique lies deeply in the hearts of the patriotic people of Bangladesh. They do not accept that he has already become the symbol of an independent entity and progress of Bangladesh.
Today, under the terrible ruling of the Awami League government, Bangladesh is overwhelmed by unprecedented corruption and politicisation of the administration; the judiciary is crippling and constitutional institutions are breaking down; intellects are enduring oppression in expressing their views; media outlets are getting shuttered; law enforcement agencies are transforming into sectarian political forces; parliamentary opposition parties are facing heinous fascism; social, political and economic systems are collapsing; and the overall democracy is decaying. Given the current volatility in Bangladesh, the country has reached the tipping point from where it needs to start afresh and go forward through drastic improvement in democracy and governance.
In this situation, a change in the top leadership is a must, and under the competent guidance of Begum Khaleda Zia, Tarique Rahman, with his unique and forward-looking political philosophy, is the change that we all want to see. His safe return will lead Bangladesh to prosperity and progress with an agenda of social equity, and as an iconic leader of the developing world, he will act with wisdom to promote peace within and outside the world of turmoil. Having said that, I realise that expectation needs to be tempered by reality. And the reality is that despite his perceived popularity, Tarique does not enjoy unfettered power. He is constrained by antagonistic Awami League opposition, as well as public scrutiny and censure, perhaps more so than any other leader in the country.
Former Alternate Executive Director, World Bank
Former Economist, International Fund for Agriculture Development of the United Nations