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Bangladeshi political protagonists in crisis

The two most important women in Bangladesh – Begum Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina - are now facing the assault, reports Anirban Choudhury.

world Updated: May 08, 2007 20:20 IST

Just like their country, the two protagonists of the political theatre in Dhaka are facing a crisis of their own. The military backed interim government has successfully established a case against the hegemony of families in running the country.

The two most important women in Bangladesh – Begum Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina - are now faced with this assault. They are in prominence by virtue of their family connections, be it the father or the husband. Now there are whispers and questions all around regarding establishment of democracy not only in the country but also within the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and the Awami League. The demand is for a "reform" within the parties.

A stricture by the Election Commission on Monday has instigated the issue further. Election Commissioner Sakhawat Hossain has categorically stated that laws will be framed to force political parties to hold organisational elections before applying for registration to the EC.

The two women are not known for their fondness for a have a democratic set up in the parties. Leaders and committee heads are selected through their instructions. No decision is taken without their consent.

Hasina has objection to the very word "reform". "What do they mean by that?" she retorted just after arriving in Dhaka. "We don't need outsiders to tell us what we want to do with the party. We will sit together and decide," she said.

Khaleda Zia is the worst affected. She ran the party single handed and at the advice of her son Tareq Rahman, who has been jailed on corruption charges. The other top leaders are in jail too and she is all alone under house arrest with the party breaking into pieces. On Saturday, she suddenly nominated her brother Sayeed Iskandar as the Vice President of the party.

The former education minister of her government Osman Farruk has openly said : "The decision was not right". The top leaders are visibly angry and the prominent ones like Hannan Shah, BNP's Advisory Committee Member and Mannan Bhuniyan the powerful secretary general are feeling left out.

Only the other day the two engaged themselves in a bitter rivalry over who should assume leadership as long as Zia was under house arrest. The fist fight is still continuing. BNP, by all means, is all set to break in splinters and it does not seem Zia is in a position to prevent it at the moment.

In comparison Hasina is better off, but not without any trouble. When she was away, two top leaders of her party Suranjit Sengupta and Fazlul Karim gave interviews to the media expressing their reservations about one person (in this case Hasina) holding two posts of the party head and that prime minister at the same time. They were also against one person serving as prime minister for more than two terms. Many leaders, who are refusing to come out in the open, share the same view.

There is a reason for the discontent. Some leaders were almost certain that both Hasina and Zia will be exiled and just like Benazir Bhutto, become redundant in country's politics at least for a long period. The interim government understood the opportunity and is learnt to have secret parleys with the ambitious leaders.

The law and parliamentary advisor to the government Mainul Hosein has even told in a television interview that the suggestion of keeping the two ladies out of the country came from the party leaders themselevs. Officially, both the parties have rubbished the claims.

With Bangladesh still under emergency rule, all kinds of political activity is banned. Once it is lifted leaders will be allowed to hold meetings inside offices. If the present situation continues, there will be too many bombs exploding inside the BNP and AL offices.