The Future Leader of BangladeshShaukat Mahmood

        There has been a rendezvous by the elite groups of Bangladesh so as to debate on the country’s politics centring one pivotal issue: With Tarique Rahman or without Tarique Rahman? In addressing this issue, let us all accept one truth: combating innumerable gossips spread against him, Tarique stands invincible as the future leader of the country. The vindictive and vilifying efforts of Sheikh Hasina’s government have failed to dishonour his distinct stature as the most popular politician of the age. The failed efforts to brand Tarique as the number one villain of the country, as well as the manner in which he has upheld himself in the midst of provocative and adverse atmosphere, have in fact endeared him more to the general people. In terms of the popularity scale of the contemporary politicians in the minds of the mass Bangladeshis, Tarique Rahman holds the second position only next to his mother Begum Khaleda Zia.

 It is not that just because I have the privilege to write columns, I have written whatever I felt like and documented a eulogy on Tarique Rahman. In every drop of dust of Bangladesh, the truth is evident that the responsibility of running the country will be reposed on Tarique and he will phenomenally glide the country’s politics for a long time to come. At this point, there are only a handful of people who would ridicule this claim. It is not a fault on the part of the citizens to want to know about their politicians’ activities. Towards that end, raising some questions about the nature and dynamics of the political leadership is now a necessity and getting answers to those questions may also be possible.

 The future leadership of a political party lies in the united consensus of its party leaders. In the absence of Tarique Rahman, in the ‘Coucil Session 2009’ of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), the determined chanting of the slogan “Save the Country, Save the People” led to the election of Tarique Rahman as the Senior Vice Chairman of the BNP. The whole party wanted him as the leader not because he is the son of Shaheed (Martyred) President Ziaur Rahman and Former Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia. Instead, he was elected because he is a tested, indispensible and rightful commander-inchief with an extraordinary track record.

 According to the book titled as ‘Tarique Rahman: Opekkhay Bangladesh’ (Tarique Rahman: Bangladesh is Waiting), he was elected as a primary member of Bogra Zilla BNP in 1988. In the parliamentary elections of 1991, he was closely associated with the elections campaign. From 1997, he became actively involved at the BNP Chairperson’s Office in Banani. The pioneering role of the Research, Monitoring and Election Conducting Cell under the competent leadership of Tarique Rahman into the historical victory of the BNP in the 2001 elections is known to one and all. Had he wanted, Tarique could have joined the BNP-led government in any capacity he would have liked. Yet, he stayed out of the government to reorganise the party and to make it the true political entity that stands for the fulfilment of  the desires and demands of the general people. On 22nd June 2002, the BNP leaders unanimously appointed Tarique as the Senior Joint Secretary General of the party. As a young grassroots-venturing politician, he brought dynamism into the party politics by organising regular meetings with the representatives from various levels.

 Tarique Rahman’s entrance and rise into politics cannot be compared with other subcontinental politicians who came as a result of hereditary politics. Unlike Rajiv Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi, Benazir Bhutto, Asif Bilawal, Chandrika Kumaratunga, Khaleda Zia or Sheikh Hasina who took the helm in the existing vacuum at the request of the party, Tarique Rahman proceeded step-by-step and proved himself long before serving the people of Bangladesh. From his soul-burning urge to contribute to the country’s growth, Tarique was motivated by a mentality to sacrifice for the nation rather than to gain as a person. Although Sheikh Hasina’s son Sajib Wazed Joy has also taken the membership of the Awami League, he is yet to become active in party politics. He is probably not even interested in the first place. Contrasting to Tarique, he does not have the experience of getting embedded with the people and soil of Bangladesh. In the case of a vacuum, Sajib Wazed may take up the responsibility, but that too would come with little prior political engagement.  There is a widespread propaganda spread by a particular group over Tarique Rahman assuming a bigger role at a young age. However, we need to put this argument into perspective. When Shaheed President Ziaur Rahman became the President on 21st April 1977, he was 41 years and 3 months old. When he appeared on the centre-stage of power through the Sepoy-People revolution on 7th November 1975, he was a spirited youth aged 39 years and 10 months. Begum Khaleda Zia was 39 years old when she took over the responsibility of the Chairperson of the BNP. When Sheikh Hasina was made the President of Awami League, she was 34 years old. Rajiv Gandhi became the Indian Prime Minister at 40 years. So by no means is age a detrimental factor for Tarique Rahman. I would like to insist that on top of his direct political engagement from the early 1990s, Tarique Rahman had the opportunity to watch critical national events from a great proximity. Having heard the announcement of independence in his father’s voice, seen the liberation war and its victory, felt the revolution of 7th November, watched Shaheed Zia and Begum Zia’s democratic journey in strengthening the development of Bangladesh, viewed the odious military rule and Awami misrule – on several many measures – Tarique has got enough firsthand experience to assume a bigger role than he has taken up till date. 

 One question that often arises in the political conversations about Bangladesh is: Which politician has been physically tortured the most in a false case? The name that can be pronounced in one breath is Tarique Rahman. Tarique was the main target of the so-called 1/11 government of 2007. During that period, children were growing up amidst the propaganda that he is the villain of democracy and governance. Tarique’s office of that time, known as the Hawa Bhaban, was shown as the root of all irregularities. Just like the Hindi movies, storied of venom and hatred were made about him all across the country by systematically spreading as to how he was disgraced and belittled in the eyes of the people.

 At that darkest moment of the annihilation of democracy, vindictive and motivated propaganda against Tarique Rahman became a part of some people’s regular activities. On 7th March 2007, without any complaint, Tarique was arrested from his house. The illegal caretaker government of 1/11, led by Fakruddin Ahmed and Moeen Uddin Ahmed, filed 13 cases against Tarique. Tarique was directly accused in none of those 13 cases, as he did not hold any post in the government, nor was there any document bearing his signature in any of the claimed misdeeds. Making the alleged accused admit their guilt through beatings was the weapon for implicating Tarique in those cases. The High Court passed stay order against 11 of the 13 cases. A case was filed with the Kafrul Police Station on 17th April 2007 under summary trial law. Desperate to implicate Tarique in the case, the government amended the law twice within a gap of only two days. But the High Court did not take it into consideration. Of the remaining two cases, one case, known as ‘The Dinkal’, was dismissed. Another case pertaining to ‘Zia Orphanage Trust’ is still under trial. Tarique was later implicated in a money laundering case. An attempt is still on to implicate him in the ‘21st August’ case. But he is not the main accused in these cases either.

 Tarique’s internment of 554 days at that time is a fearful history of human rights violation. Have we ever witnessed a politician adorned in the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) outfit and helmet to be produced before the court? Many politicians have served their times in the jail. But no one has been made to undergo such inhuman physical torture. Neither any head of a state nor any head of a government had any continuous internment in the dark cell of the jail, and none was forced to suffer from blindness like this. As a victim of barbarous acts in the interrogation cell, Tarique gradually moved from ailment towards death. Nowhere in the world is there a similar example of attacking a prominent politican like a hyena, and that too, in the name of so-called remand. In an interview given to me while I was in London, Tarique shared his bleeding past: “While I was in remand, together with electric shock, they physically tortured me in many ways. Among these, one was dropping me repeatedly from a great height. I agonised in great pain. But those officers did not have any mercy. Their assignment was to gradually kill me through torture. Back in the jail, no doctor ever came to me or no treatment was ever offered to me. I passed every single day in hellish pain. The pain of broken bones of my waist is so intolerable that I cannot express it in words. It is just too unbearable.”

 In January 2008, Tarique sought his life’s security before the court. He said: “In the name of questioning, they took me on remand blindfolded. They tortured me for 18 hours out of the 24 hours of a day. I am a politician, not a terrorist.” On 29th January 2008, he was admitted to a local hospital. On 9th June 2008, although he was taken to the court in an ambulance, he was even unable to stay sitting in his wheel chair on the dock. After getting bail in 12 cases, he was finally set released on 3rd September 2008. Tarique broke down in tears in the arms of his mother Begum Khaleda Zia at the PG Hospital. The painful tears of the mother and the son, along with their exchange of words in chocked voices, made the air of the hospital heavy. On 11th September, Tarique left for London in the pursuit of treatment. Nearly five years have passed since then. He is now much better than before. However, he still limps when he walks and he will never be fully cured again. Tarique’s mental strength remains immensely high though. In his simple soulful manner, he said: “I want to forget my bitter past and move forward. I will return to my country one day. Insha’Allah, I will make my dreams surrounding Bangladesh come to the reality.”

 Are false cases and physical tortures the only punishments for Tarique Rahman? The answer is no. He had become the victim of an unprecedented hatred in the media outlets. A group of journalists and some members of the elite society – not to speak of the Awami Leaguers – had disseminated all reports and information concocted and distributed by the Director General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI). Stories of corruption and false confessional statements were published in abundance. Those red headlines had hurt the democracy itself. The propaganda was planned in all parts. One may wonder: Has it stopped now? Again, the answer is no. The present government, after coming to the power, has sustained the propaganda by installing more hatred against Tarique, undertaking measures to make him an unpopular figure, sending Ministers to bring him back from the UK, carrying out international lobbying, making use of foreign detective agencies, publishing various types of misleading documents, and undertaking many other similar conspiracies. But nothing has worked in the government’s favour. Tarique has stayed abroad in silence and loneliness by keeping his sufferings locked in his own soul. He has kept himself in exile, carefully allowing his wings of pleasure by staying aloof politically. By accepting the dreadful past and dissuasive present, he is building himself up for the future. In his life, Tarique Rahman has never violated anybody’s rights, never arrested any journalist for writing against him, never locked up any media office, and never did anything beyond the political norms. Still, he had to go through such pain for no reason.

 Tarique has upheld the long-lasting tradition of ‘newspaper friendly and open to criticism’ Zia family. In fact, the birth of many media houses took place under his patronage, including his own declaration of the newspaper ‘Shamokal’. But today, when unholy means are underway to declare Tarique Rahman as the enemy of the state, some of the very media houses are keeping mum. There are even believers of nationalism belonging to the high society, who hesitate to speak in his favour. We all claim that we believe in the rule of law. Unfortunately but factually, in the present day Bangladesh, the term ‘rule of law’ means that hundreds of criminals can go free through the loopholes of the law, while innocent patriots like Tarique Rahman could undergo the severest of sufferings. It is crystal clear that what has been done with Tarique Rahman is a disgrace to the rule of law and it sets up the worst example of a derailed political culture. At this juncture, revitalisation of the rule of law should mean a safe return of Tarique Rahman to Bangladesh, as well as the formation of a case-free atmosphere which would allow him to resume his political career and revive the country.

 The extent to which fabricated stories are constructed and dreadful gossips are carried out about Tarique Rahman has been unparalleled in the history of Bangladesh. No other politician has been the victim of the creation of a similar situation during his lifetime. Religious scholars (Alems), in the explanation of the Holy Quran’s Sura Asr, explicit that: “If someone spreads gossip that is a lie against anyone, Allah does not forgive the person for committing this sin. Only the victim of such rumour has the right to forgive. Gossip is such a grave sin that the person who speaks ill against anyone, all his good-deeds from his records are transferred into the records of the victim.” According to the Holy Quran, Tarique Rahman is indeed a lucky person from this viewpoint. 

 The most important question that needs to be asked is: Have we come to know the announced dreams of any politician who is going to assume the future leadership of Bangladesh? Without any doubt, we can say that we have come to know about such dreams from Tarique Rahman. He has the dreams to make Bangladesh a self-sustaining nation with its own resources by awakening the people and the land, to make Bangladesh stand on its own feet as a modern and powerful state, to take politics forward by keeping the marginalised people in the front, and to make democracy’s soul vibrant and dynamic. He has several many progressive dreams like the above, all of which would change the face of the country. Importantly enough, all these dreams are complemented by his announced action plans. One may rightly observe that they are the timely expansion of Ziaur Rahman’s dreams. The outcome of the soulful tie that the Zia family possesses with Bangladesh’s independence and sovereignty, as well as its bold and independent journey, has encompassed Tarique Rahman as the perfect descendent of the family. In a roundtable meeting organised in 2005, he had articulated: “I believe that in 2025 Bangladesh will become a self-sufficient, economically successful, developed and democratic country that will be respected by others, looked at by the whole world with undue respect. This is the dream of mine, as well as that of the young generation of Bangladesh.”

 Tarique initiated much interest in the development of the agricultural and industrial sectors of Bangladesh, together with the arrangement of modern education system and rapid technological advancement. He also envisioned programmes for providing good seeds to the farmers, poultry farming to the poor, and many other similar activities. He conducted large-scale surveys to know the exact amounts of fishes, fruits, and paddies produced in the villages across the country. Even turning the shoals that arise in oceans and rivers – into precious gold with high selling values – was not beyond his imagination and reach. By doing and thinking so much for the general people of the country, Tarique had slowly but steadily become the undisputed future leader of Bangladesh. It is now widely believed that in large parts our prosperity depends on him and he would lead the country in coming days.

 Tarique Rahman himself never said that he has not committed any mistake in the past. As it goes with all human beings, if we do something good and great, there will always be minor mistakes. In Tarique’s case, the volume of propaganda was never commensurate with the quantity of mistakes committed by him. Mountain has been made out of a mole hill just to suppress this great leader. As derived in Tarique’s own self-reflection: “It was not always possible for me to guard against what somebody was trying to gain by using me. It may be that some had committed excesses. But whenever something came to my knowledge, I took measures.” In line with Tarique’s words, the famous American political clairvoyant George Friedman mentioned about the mistakes of the politicians in the preface of his revolutionary book ‘The Next 100 Years’: “It is the delight of all societies to belittle their political leaders and leaders surely do make mistakes. But the mistakes they make, when carefully examined, are rarely stupid. More likely mistakes are forced on them by circumstances. Politicians are rarely free actors.”

 In conclusion, I extend my greetings to the focal leader of the country Tarique Rahman. The days of taking him into custody and putting him on the dock are over. All the misappropriation of the Awami League government’s power to defame Tarique has been exhausted. Not only that, all the misgivings about him within the nation and beyond in the international arena have also been ended. The million dollar question in today’s Bangladesh is: When will Tarique Rahman return? The citizens of Bangladesh are eagerly awaiting his heroic return to the country. He is the future of Bangladesh and we all are looking up to him with the belief that Tarique Rahman will build on his father’s sanctified work and make our nation a dreamland of national development.

Shaukat Mahmood
Journalist and Columnist;
Editor, Economic Times

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