Tarique Rahman as the Saviour
Professor Khandaker Mustahidur Rahman
Tarique Rahman is a leader of the future of Bangladesh in the 21st century. He has become pre-eminent in the politics of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) by proving repeatedly himself at different levels of the organisational hierarchy. Before being named the Senior Vice Chairman of the party in December 2009, BNP’s top leadership, including the Chairperson Begum Khaleda Zia, launched a number of positive schemes to groom Tarique to look after strategic party affairs and eventually take charge as its next generation leader.
Tarique Rahman joined politics formally in 1988 accepting the primary membership of the Gabtali Upazilla, Bogra BNP – the birth place of his father Shaheed (Martyred) President Ziaur Rahman. He became a member of the Bogra district BNP at a conference held in June 1993. Oftentimes openly and oftentimes behind the scene, he played a vital role in providing strategic solutions and solving crucial crisis for the party.
Tarique Rahman was the mastermind in devising the election campaign and the election strategy in the parliamentary elections held in 2001, in which the BNP won with more than two-third majority. Shortly after the party formed the government following this victory, the BNP Standing Committee, its highest decision making body, unanimously appointed him as the Joint Secretary General in June 2002. Assuming the new office, Tarique Rahman took reformative political programmes for the BNP with a view to making the party modern and suitable for the age. He implemented a programme titled as “Conference in the Grassroots Level” in every district, with a view to knowing the outlook of the grassroots leaders and activists about the party, to gain proper idea about the complaints and necessities of the common people, and to formulate party policies accordingly.
The conferences, principally based on Shaheed President Zaiur Rahman’s view to conduct national politics with particular focus on the rural areas, were held in six divisions separately with the grassroots level leaders (Union Council level). As a result, the top level leaders of the party became aware of the demands of the common people and these were reflected in the party’s activities. Under this programme, Tarique Rahman took part in hundreds of public meetings all throughout the country. Top level party leaders and senior politicians of respective regions participated in those meetings along with him. The series of meetings with grassroots activists promoted Tarique’s image as a party organiser rather than just the son of the party founder or the party chair. It was amid his visit to the Gopalganj district as part of these grassroots conferences, when he made a formal visit at the grave of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in Tongipara to pay homage to the departed soul on behalf of the BNP, despite the fact that the Awami League continuously speak ill of Shaheed President Ziaur Rahman. Though the Awami League has consistently criticised other family members of Tarqiue, his visit to the grave urged a change in the political malfunctioning of Bangladesh.
Such activities and approaches not only reflected Tarique Rahman’s political attitude, but also widely created a positive response and awakened a new era in the BNP. During the time, he stood beside the distressed and stretched out his helping hands towards them. As part of his commitment to social welfares, he established a nursing home for asthma patient, Komol (nickname of Ziaur Rahman) Seed Project, Komol Water Resources Project, Flood Control and Agricultural Rehabilitation Project, Shaheed Zia Children’s Hospital, Plastic Surgery Camp, and many other social welfare centres. He was involved with the party inextricably till the state of emergency was imposed in the country.
An unconstitutional government took over the power of Bangladesh on 11th January 2007, which began to run the country in the name of caretaker government, but pragmatically, in the behest of the army. The state of emergency was declared. It was being said anonymously that a civil war would have erupted if the scheduled 22nd January election were held, thus justifying the undemocratic takeover of power. The office bearers asserted that the state of emergency was imposed with a view to avoiding the civil war, stopping corruption and countering maladministration. They took their stand against the politicians in the name of stopping corruption. As the political events advanced with time, it was made clear by the observers speaking up in the media that the army backed takeover was pre-planned as part of a conspiracy dating back to 2005. The Awami League made a secret entente with the army officials to resist the BNP from coming to the state power and implemented the agenda through some foreign diplomats. The role of the assuring party of the agreement to implement that agenda had also become clear. In fact, it would not be an exaggeration to argue that the undemocratic government took the power by force with a view to destroying the BNP.
The undemocratic regime arrested some leaders and workers of the Awami League, including its President. But these arrests appeared to have been done as a show off. It seemed that the major plan was to destroy the organisational set-up of the BNP from the grassroots to the central levels by resorting to filing of cases, harassments, oppressions and repressions against its leaders and workers through systematic exploitation of national law and order forces. They arrested all the top leaders and numerous workers of the BNP on false cases, including Begum Khaleda Zia, and threw them into jail. They ventilated their total anger against Tarique Rahman, the future leader of the BNP. They filed against him false cases of extortion, corruption and money laundering, and sent him to jail.
Tarique Rahman became subject to brutal physical and mental tortures after his arrest on 7th March 2007 in the name of remand. After some days, his health severely deteriorated and his spinal cord was fractured. A serious allegation of violation of human rights was raised against the caretaker government at that point. On 3rd September 2008, Tarique Rahman was released on bail, but stayed in the hospital where he was already recovering from the inhuman torture. Four days later, on 11th September, he left Dhaka towards London for medical treatment, directly from the hospital. On the eve of his departure from Dhaka, the representatives of a military intelligence agency forced him to sign on a statement at the airport, where it was said that he had taken retirement from active politics, including the post of Senior Joint Secretary General of the BNP.
Is it difficult to explain the main reason behind inflicting such torture on Tarique Rahman? It is not. Such an effort was made to weaken the BNP, led by Begum Khaleda Zia, at the conspiracy of the expansionist forces with a view to making the country dependent on others.
Now it is necessary to explain in brief about the politics of the BNP. Shaheed President Ziaur Rahman established the BNP upholding the ideology of the National Revolution and Solidarity Day of 7th November. Before 7th November, the country was free but not sovereign. There was no independent foreign policy. Everything was controlled at the hint of Delhi, India. After 7th November, the sovereignty of the country was established by becoming free from the clutches of the imperialist and expansionist forces. Ziaur Rahman established the BNP by taking independence, sovereignty and Bangladeshi nationalism as its fundamental principle, and expressed his confidence to build the country self-reliant through sustainably freeing it from poverty and illiteracy. It is noteworthy that Ziaur Rahman observed that there was no other option but to achieve self-reliance if we want to be known as a self-respected nation upholding our sovereignty.
For achieving self-sufficiency, President Ziaur Rahman focused on boosting production, especially in agriculture and agriculture based products of small industries. He also aimed to expand the industrial products and create new industries. He committed to ensure the balance of power and derived an independent foreign policy building on friendship and agreement with neighbouring countries on equal footing. He established friendly relations with the Islamic states, extended bilateral agreements with the East Asian countries including China and Myanmar, and fostered an excellent working relationship with the Western countries including the USA and the UK.
As soon as Ziaur Rahman started running Bangladesh as the President, thanks to his positive politics and revolutionary initiatives, the evil reputation of the country as a bottomless basket getting started disappearing. He started a green revolution by supplying seeds and irrigation instruments to the farmers at a nominal price. He began the nationwide canal digging programme through mass participation on a voluntary basis, with a view to ensuring the use of surface water and combat regular floods. In the agreement of Farakka Barrahe reached with India in 1977, he ensured the equitable share of water for Bangladesh and finalised the guideline for establishing a regional cooperation alliance among the South Asian countries.
By overthrowing the elected President of the BNP, as a dictator, Hussain Muhammad Ershad seized the state power within 10 months following the martyrdom of President Ziaur Rahman. In such a wretched condition of the BNP, upon communal demand of the party activists, Ziaur Rahman’s wife Begum Khaleda Zia took the leadership of the party. On the one side, she was reorganising the BNP and giving it a strong foundation to mitigate her husband’s absence, and on the other hand, she was conducting the movement against the dictatorial government and striving to re-establish democracy in the country. Begum Khaleda Zia performed both these responsibilities efficiently and was widely applauded as an uncompromising leader. Later on, her popularity brought her the honour of performing the responsibility as a Prime Minister three times, after taking her party to power in each of those national elections.
In continuation of the BNP politics intact, based on the foundation rooted in the 19-point of programme of President Ziau Rahman, Begum Khaleda Zia had implemented some epoch-making programmes. Some of her acclaimed programmes are trade liberalisation through structural changes, food and stipends for education, free education for girls up to the higher secondary level, reduction of poverty by implementing pro-people economic projects, and increase of the rate of national GDP. We can take some of the socio-economic metrics to assess the success of her governments. For instance, during the BNP period of 2001–2006, the rate of literacy, particularly among the girls, rose highly at that time. The poverty rate was 58.9 per cent in 2000; but it came down to 40 per cent in 2005. Population growth rate lowered down to 1.5 per cent. As a result of the development of child and maternal health condition, the rate of child and maternal mortality decreased notably. The average life span rose to about 67 years in 2005, which was 67 years in 2000. There are many similar examples.
Throughout the BNP period, Tarique Rahman, staying away from any government position and thereby from all policy making activities, under the direction of Begum Khaleda Zia, took the initiatives to reform the BNP with a view to making it more dynamic. He materialised several programmes of holding local level conferences of the party, with a view to incorporating the working class and the grassroots people into the mainstream politics. It was a significant step in changing the face of Bangladesh in the political arena.
I have mentioned about Bangladesh in the 21st century in the headline of this article. How would Bangladesh appear at that time? Who will make sure that good things happen to the country? If we pause for a while and visualise the incidents expected to be happened after 10 years, we will notice that the present context would be changed. Tarique Rahman will take all the initiatives that are required to rebuild the nation.
There will be a population of about 175 million, if the present rate of population growth continues. If the agricultural land decreases in an average rate of 1 per cent and the population growth increases in the present rate, it will be necessary to increase the annual agricultural production by 2.5 per cent for achieving self-sufficiency in food. It will be necessary to create wide employment opportunities through pro-people poverty alleviation programmes. It will be required to provide education to all. It will be imperative for health services to be reached to all by extending health facilities. Like the development in the agriculture sector, the industrialisation in the country is required to be developed rapidly, including the small industries for ensuring more employment opportunities.
At the same time, the port facilities would require to be increased, including the development of infrastructural facilities. The supply of electricity and energy would also have to be increased. Some unresolved issues should require to be solved with the neighbouring country, i.e., India, such as the border delimitation, reduction of wide trade deficit, sea boundary delimitation, and equitable water sharing of all rivers including the Ganges and the Teesta. In restructuring Bangladesh’s diplomacy, friendly relationship should be developed with all the states through skilful diplomacy, development of economic cooperation among the regional countries should require to be strengthened, and the relations with the East Asian countries including China should be developed for maintaining the balance of power.
Moreover, the people will be more conscious about their rights as a result of expanding technology. A massive change will occur in the environment due to global warming and climate change. Due to the rise of the water level in the sea, the salinity in the coastal districts will increase, the cultivable land will decrease, and about 20 million people will become environmental refugees as a result of decrease in production. They will have to be rehabilitated.
To solve all the complex issues discussed above, it is required to have a welfare oriented political party and a farsighted capable leader who will lead the country forward by accommodating its people in its political and social activities. The BNP, by keeping its declared policy and ideology intact, has the credit of developing the country by adopting newer schemes suitable for the need of the time. In terms of leadership, a new political dimension is required for taking the country towards fast development in vast areas of improvement, especially in view of the 21st century Bangladesh. We are lucky that towards that direction, Tarique Rahman has already added a new dimension under the capable leadership of Begum Khaleda Zia. He is the only leader who can hold the country together and enable it to move forward as a respectable force in the global village of the 21st century.
Tarique Rahman is a severely tested man. His father, the decorated war hero Major Ziaur Rahman, was in the battlefield when Tarique was a child of only 5 years old. At that time, he saw how his mother Begum Khaleda Zia was passing the days with much anxiety and uncertainty. When he was 10 years old, he saw how his father President Ziaur Rahman filled the power vacuum followed by the revolution of 7th November. When he was a young boy of 16 years old, standing by the side of his mother, he became startled to see the bruised dead body of his father wrapped up in a coffin. He saw how his mother Begum Khaleda Zia had struggled for ensuring democracy, organised the party, and finally went to power overpowering all obstacles. It means that Tarique Rahman has taken lessons of politics every day in his way of life. He has seen its rise and fall, and its joy and cruelty. He has marked his farsightedness, merit and talent in the activities of the BNP. He has added a new height in the politics by including grassroots interaction, with a view to building the country for which he has always dreamt of.
A vision is required for a mentionable change in any social or political field. Throughout the history, such visions have been created by visionary politicians, philosophers, writers and intellectuals. Consistent with them, Tarique Rahman is a visionary politician in the case of Bangladesh. He has evolved ground-breaking programmes of incorporating the grassroots level people, both economically and socially, with a view to making the nationalist politics mass oriented. He has made successful efforts to take the nationalist politics closer to the people, much closer than any other party in Bangladesh has ever taken before. He has included the marginal people in wide-ranging political activities, and added a new facet in the anti expansionist politics pursued by his parents. As a result, the conventional politicians, the vested interest groups, and the local friends of the expansionist forces, are desperate against Tarique.
In the present reality, amid the devastating ruling of the Awami League regime, the awareness of the common people and their commitment to the country can show us the way of freedom. As Tarique has done throughout his political career, there is no other alternative but to strengthen the trend of the patriotic nationalist forces by awakening the population staying in the grassroots level and empowering them to face the challenges of the 21st century. Time and again, Tarique Rahman is required to repeat his much appreciated political activities for the sake of the survival of his nation. He needs to resurrect the great works from where he had left five years ago. Then he will become our obvious saviour and create a Bangladesh thriving with social, political and economic success.
We have got such confidence in Tarique Rahman because he has marked his talent in the past, showed new dreams to his fellow countrymen, and accomplished many of those dreams in a short tenure. We have seen Tarique’s commitment and capability, and there is no one else in today’s Bangladesh who could match him. We hope that he will yet again lead the country towards development through his revolutionary political engagements. To this end, we believe that Tarique Rahman will infuse vitality in the nationalist politics and make Bangladesh a role model of equity and development for other developing countries of the 21st century.
Professor Khandaker Mustahidur Rahman
Former Vice-Chancellor, Jahangirnagar University