'Bangladesh has a serious governance problem': Trinamool BNP chairperson

Shamsher Momin Chowdhury was earlier with BNP


Interview/ Shamsher Momin Chowdhury, chairperson, Trinamool Bangladesh National Party

Shamsher Chowdhury leads one of Bangladesh's youngest political parties, but he is no novice to politics. He was earlier with the Bangladesh Nationalist Party under Begum Zia before he resigned. Chowdhury, who served as the foreign secretary of Bangladesh for four years from 2001, spoke to THE WEEK on the relevance of his party and the BNP's decision to stay away from the polls. Edited excerpts:

Q/ Can you talk about the BNP Trinamool and how you plan to fight the elections?

A/ The BNP Trinamool is a new party. Our organisation is still not strong. But we have very good candidates who have experience in politics. Some of them have been MPs before. They are confident that if the elections are free and fair, they have a very good chance, and we will have a respectable number of MPs.

Q/ What is your manifesto?

A/ One of our slogans is what our founder Nazmul Huda had said, “Healthy politics is the foundation for good governance”. Bangladesh has a serious governance problem. The language in politics has become quite non-political, harsh and crude. We want to reinforce non-fundamentalist, non-communal politics. The Awami League also stands for non-fundamentalist politics. The BNP has aligned with the Jamaat-e-Islami. We thought we should be another force for non-criminal politics.

Q/ What are the main challenges for a new party fighting the elections?

A/ The political space in Bangladesh is actually hostage to two political forces―the Awami League and the BNP. A new party that wants to make an entrance in Bangladesh is up against these two Mount Everests. But look at the FDP (Free Democratic Party) in Germany. It is a small party, but it can be kingmaker. The present population in Bangladesh has actually turned against politics. They don't trust politics or the election system. [The elections in] 2018 was a bad experience for them. They think the result may be a foregone conclusion. A small party can bring some changes into that thinking. You have to start somewhere.

Q/ The BNP is boycotting the elections.

A/ It is a very wrong decision. If you have an issue, then you test it on the ballot paper, not on the streets. Of course they have a critical mass of support, which has not withered, but why not test it on the ground? Had the BNP taken part, it would have been a very participatory election. It would have been a major challenge to the Awami League. The BNP, perhaps, would have thought who would lead the party. Begum Zia is unwell and the court ruling against her disqualifies her. So is the case with Tarique Rahman (Begum Zia's son), who is abroad.

The Awami League should have been in a position to create a situation where the BNP participated in the elections by joining a dialogue. But it didn't do that. I think the BNP is in the process of writing itself out of the body politic of Bangladesh. By not going to the elections, it has shot itself in the foot.