Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) organized march processions with black flags on Friday (25 August) and Saturday (26 August) to achieve its one-point demand for the resignation of the government. On Friday the procession was held in the capital and on Saturday in the rest of the country. The program was held as part of its simultaneous movement with other opposition parties.
The scheduling of the event and its symbolism begs the question of the political reasoning. BNP or any other party is surely free to put forward political demands. But a Black Flag march in the month of August can be translated into the first political attempt to skin the historic tragedies of the entire nation.
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August of 1975 and 2004 directly connect heinous acts of political violence to two out of three members of BNP’s ruling family. It is the Awami League who brings out the black flags to symbolize mourning. It is a month when generally BNP goes into the backfoot in a political chess board. It has failed to create any legitimate political narrative in favour of the party.
The brutal conspiracies of August and BNP’s involvement
The ‘Black Flag’ is seen as a symbol of mourning or funeral in many parts of the world including Bangladesh. The month of August, which the ruling Bangladesh Awami League and the entire country observe as the month of mourning. As all who know this country’s history, on August 15th, 1975, the father of the nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was killed alongside 15 members of his family which included Bangabandhu’s 10-year-old son and a pregnant woman. BNP was born in the aftermath of these heinous murders. Its founder General Ziaur Rahman can now be accused of colluding with the assassins, or at the very least having knowledge of the plan.
During the trial of Bangabandhu’s murder case Jobaida Rashid, the wife of convicted murderer Khandakar Abdur Rashid in her testimony said, ‘Major Farooq was in contact with General Zia as they were childhood acquaintances. One night Major Farooq came back from Zia’s home and told my husband that Zia wanted to become the President if the government changed. Zia says, “It is a success, come to me. If it’s a failure don’t involve me. Changing the government is not possible keeping Sheikh Mujib alive.” A few days later, Major Farooq came to my house and told Rashid that Zia had said, “We need to find a political figure who can take responsibility.” He accordingly contacted Rashid Khandaker Moshtaq at laters Agamasi Lane residence. On the afternoon of August 15, General Ziaur Rahman visited Rashid at Bangabhaban to make him the Chief of Army.’ [Published on Daily Prothom Alo: 15 August 2018]. General Ziaur Rahman and the BNP also legalized the Indemnity Ordinance of 1975 through as an act of parliament in 1979.
The two immediate members of Bangabandhu’s family who survived on account of being abroad were his two daughters current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana. 29 years later in 2004 on 21st August attempt was made to kill then-opposition leader Sheikh Hasina, who had been head of the Awami League since 1981. In a peaceful rally in the capital’s Bangabandhu Avenue assassins hurled live grenades at the makeshift stage where Sheikh Hasina was giving her speech. The incident resulted in the deaths of 24 people and injuries to over 300 others.
The verdict in the case led to the conviction of 19 individuals, including BNP’s present Acting Chairman Tarique Rahman, party leader Harish Chowdhury, and former MP Shah Mofazzal Hossain Kaikobad, who were all sentenced to life imprisonment. Additionally, former state minister for home affairs Lutfozzaman Babar and deputy minister Abdus Salam Pintu were among the 19 other people who received the death penalties
Attempt to Alternate Political Narrative?
BNP leadership has recorded a history of downplaying the tragedies of August. BNP Chairperson and former prime minister infamously started celebrating her birthday on August 15th. His party tried to make it a national celebratory event when they were in power from 2001 to 2006. It became an event of national mockery instead when records of six different birthdays were found registered with her. In 2021, the High Court had to rule on her birthday record, a case that is still going on.
But when narrative fails symbolism works in the public psyche. It is one of the oldest tricks in the political playbook. When citizens were hungry, Roman Emperors held gladiator fights in the Colosseum. BNP’s black flag march thus can be explained in a much deeper thought the demand for the government’s resignation.
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BNP is often criticized by political analysts for its lack of strategic and political manoeuvring. BNP was a party created by bureaucrats and second-tier politicians, most of whom were on the wrong side of Bangladesh’s independent struggle. It has lost in almost every historical political narrative against Awami League. But this time the black flag can be interpreted as a malicious political move. Not only it is attempting to create its own political space in August but it is also sending a PR message to its foreign well-wishers. In the West, the black flag also often symbolizes strong discontent and protest. Some of the international media which are closely connected with the party has reported on that.
BNP has so far failed to create a movement with general public participation. Its call for a caretaker government has not been accepted by the general populous. Its leadership strongly tried to get hold of the field politics in the capital last month by creating anarchy and violence. So far this month in August, the Black Flag march was the only field political activity of the party. The cynicism behind must be closely observed and interpreted.