Interview with the man of the moment, Tarique Rahman

Tarique Rahman is the Acting Chairman of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which was founded by his father Shaheed President Ziaur Rahman, Bir Uttam. He joined politics in the late 1980s as a general member of a Upazila (sub-district) unit during the autocratic rule of General Ershad and played a vital role in mobilising the grassroots activists of the party. His political acumen came to prominence after the landslide victory of the BNP-led alliance in the 2001 general elections. After spending almost thirty years in the political arena, he rose through the ranks and became the Senior Vice Chairman of the party. In 2018, he became the Acting Chairman of the party and has been leading the movement for democratic reforms from the forefront.

Recently, The Road to Democracy team had an opportunity to interview him where he discussed various political, economic, environmental, and foreign policy challenges confronting Bangladesh and spoke candidly about some personal aspects of his everyday life, struggles, and inspirations. You can find the full text of the interview here.

Road to Democracy (RTD): Welcome to this interview with the RTD.

Tarique Rahman (TR): My thanks to you and the RTD team for arranging this.

RTD: There are two parts to today’s interview. The first is mainly political. In addition, I would like to ask a few questions about your private life. It seems to me that the people of Bangladesh are interested in knowing about your personal life and family.

RTD: Let’s start with contemporary politics in Bangladesh. There have been a few significant recent developments in Bangladesh politics. BNP has been able to hold several large public meetings. However, just the day after the 28 July meeting, law enforcement agencies and cadres of the ruling party attacked the sit-in programs at various entry points to Dhaka, injuring leaders and activists of BNP, including its central leaders. New cases have been lodged. In this context, how do you see the government’s stance against BNP’s protests?

TR: If you look at history, you’ll see that Awami League’s past record displays naked fidelity to power and force. The Awami League has never had a practice of tolerance towards its opponents, as befits a party governing a democracy. Whenever they went to power, they had taken away the people’s right to voice their opinion and their right to speech. Look at how in the name of the Digital Security Act, dissenting opinions have been suppressed in recent times. And this is not applied to just the opposition parties, anyone expressing a dissenting opinion regarding this illegitimate government, whether they are an individual, an organization, or even a political party, instead of facing it politically, Awami League has resorted to using force.

We have seen the expression of exactly this on the opposition’s 29 July program and other events before that. You would notice that they have always used the state machinery to carry out their political goals. Awami League is using their party cadres and thugs with the police for repression. One even hears that they are putting police uniforms on their partymen. It is clear that they are misusing the police uniform. That means, that not only are they using force, but they are also using their power to disregard the law.

Another precedence of the use of the law and the administration for partisan interest is the 2018 vote rigging. Nearly 95 million voters were robbed in the darkness of the night before the election. This kind of vote rigging by using the administration and the police forces is unprecedented even in underdeveloped countries. This makes it clear that they have no confidence or faith in the people.

Another recent evidence is the recent Gulshan by-election. Here an independent and non-affiliated person was a candidate. How could the Awami League party cadres attack him in such a violent manner? This also proves the extent of Awami League’s political bankruptcy.

RTD: You have said on many occasions that the current political movement is not only BNP’s movement. Why?

TR: Of course, it’s not just a movement for the BNP to go to power. This movement to restore democracy is a movement of all Bangladeshis to recover the right to vote. This is not “BNP versus Awami League”, rather it is “Bangladesh versus Awami League” or “Bangladesh versus fascism”. Whoever the people of Bangladesh elect by voting under a neutral election-time government will form the next government.

It is now amply proven that BNP’s demand for a neutral government, that its claim that no credible election is possible under Hasina, are correct. Uncountable BNP leaders and activists have died, were injured, and tortured along the way to establish the validity of our stance. After all the sacrifice, almost all opposition parties and all classes of people including the country’s civil society have accepted our stance, and are supporting it. And the government’s repression has not been just against the BNP. Rather, whoever dissented was tortured. There are civil society people who were tortured in jail and even died. That’s why this is a movement of all.

RTD: There has been another sentence against you. What is your comment in this regard?

TR: The Awami League government has been abusing the court willfully for partisan political ends. This government and their toothless Anti-Corruption Commission lodged a case against me under the Money Laundering Act. I was proved innocent in that case and was acquitted. But then we saw the honourable judge who issued that verdict was threatened. The Awami League harassed him and even his family. He was forced to leave the country. As far as I know, he is still outside the country.

You see, when the government forces the head of the judiciary, the Chief Justice, to flee the country under gunpoint, well, what comment can one make about the court’s verdict under such a government? Under this circumstance, let alone me, no one can expect any verdict other than what the Awami League orders, for the judiciary is not capable of issuing the correct verdict.

And also if you notice, usually it takes a lot of time to solve the other cases, while my trial moved through the court proceedings like a rocket. The enquiry report on the stealing of the Bangladesh Bank reserves was postponed 73 times, the enquiry report on the journalist Sagar-Runi murder case was delayed more than 100 times, but the tailor-made verdict on the politically motivated case against my wife and I was issued in only 16 working days.

In present-day Bangladesh, the government, the parliament, the judiciary and the Prime Minister are all rolled into one. In this case, how do you expect justice or can hope for any governance that is accountable to the people?

RTD: You have been out of the country for a long time. BNP’s recent protest meetings and rallies have been attended by a massive crowd. Hundreds of thousands of people joined the 10 Divisional meetings late last year. There is a widespread belief in the party that BNP’s revival is due to your regular contact using internet-based technology with leaders and workers from the centre to the grassroots. Do you also feel the same?

TR: Let’s think analytically. There are cases against about half a million BNP leaders and activists. False, made-up cases. And these cases are against those who are active BNP activists and leaders. And there are many other leaders, activists, and supporters. The question that you asked, my answer to that is —no, it is not possible for me to do this awakening by myself. I didn’t do this alone. I have received cooperation from everyone to energize BNP’s organization. Where BNP stands today is due to the cooperation I have received from everyone, from all levels of activists and leaders, members of the Standing Committee, those who are in various leadership positions at different levels in the Central Committee, those in leadership at the district level, at the thana level, in the main party as well various allied organizations. Everyone has worked together, none of it due to just me.

RTD: You are considered among the most important political figures in Bangladesh’s current political scene. How was your journey of becoming a politician? When you look all the way back to the beginning, how do you see this journey?

TR: Well, you see… the fact of the matter is, I don’t know if I am among the most important (persons) in politics. That is up to the people to judge. The learned individuals in the society, various personalities in society, who think about politics, the politically conscious parts of the country’s masses —it is for them to consider. However, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, BNP, is undoubtedly the largest political party in Bangladesh. And millions of people support this party. And this is why it has been demonstrated that, in elections that were credible and fair and were recognised at home and abroad, it has been seen that in most cases the people gave victory to BNP in great numbers. So, this long electoral record and popular support, even after a lengthy period out of power, show that the majority of the country’s people support BNP’s political philosophy.

As a member of that party, I too am trying to play a role in this critical juncture faced by the country. Previously, when BNP had run the country, or been in the opposition, it had always been on the side of democracy, always played a role in support of the people, of the country’s development, in support of one’s right to speak freely, right to vote, in support of human rights. Sometimes it has been more successful. Perhaps sometimes the success was less. But it has always played a role, tried to play a role. I too am working from that standpoint.

Tarique Rahman is leading the movement for democratic reforms in Bangladesh.

RTD: You said that you consider yourself a member of the party. As a political party, how important is it for BNP to practice democratic norms, and to bring up the leadership from the party’s root levels, from the grassroots?

TR: My basic political philosophy regarding party politics is that if BNP is to be sustained among the people, then it must go to the grassroots.

There must be a process whereby the party’s supporters, its leaders and activists will use their judgment and bring out the correct leadership. The current ruling party and the opposition in the United Kingdom, the Conservatives and the Labour Party, the people who formed them, are they around? None of them are alive. But they had created political ideologies that were successively followed by others. That’s why these parties have survived among the leaders and activists and survived among the common people. So that is my objective. I think that if a political party is to reach the people, this has to be through a process, and the party leaders and workers are part of that process.

This is why I think the grassroots is important. What does our party constitution say? It prescribes how the party is to be formed and that the party must have internal democracy. The party’s organizational activities will follow this principle. I am following that.

RTD: What do you consider to be the three important attributes of your leadership?

TR: Well I cannot comment on my own attributes, it’s better to let others speak about it. But what I feel is that, as a political activist, I will have achieved something only on that day when I can do something for the people. This is what I have always been trying. Whether within the party or in the election, what I believe is that everything has to be through a democratic process. At the current moment, we are in a political movement that involves the whole nation. And the purpose of this movement is to restore people’s right to vote that has been lost. To recover people’s right to speak. If you ask me, what is my achievement? I would think that as a political activist, I will have achieved something only on that day when I can return the right to vote to the people of Bangladesh.

RTD: One of the steps that BNP has proposed to “state reformation” is that no one can remain Prime Minister for more than two consecutive terms. The South Asian political tradition is that politicians usually don’t try to limit their terms in power, rather they usually try to extend it. In that sense, this is a unique proposal. What is your comment on it?

TR: If we are to take the country forward politically, economically and socially, then we have to keep the path open to create new leadership. Only a continuous succession of competent and effective leaders can take Bangladesh forward. You see that there are about 30 million new voters in Bangladesh in the past 15 years, but they haven’t been able to vote. But the world is moving forward at a rapid pace. Bangladesh must move by coordinating and balancing with globalization and rapid technological change.

In that regard, we must hand over the country to new leadership. If we can’t create new leadership, then we will fall behind. And I personally feel that, as you put it, under our proposition to the nation, no individual repeatedly assumes the post of prime minister, not more than two terms. I feel this system will create better political leadership.

RTD: Most of those killed by the police firing or attacks by the Awami League before or after BNP’s 10 divisional meetings are from the working poor or lower middle classes. How do you see the extent of support for BNP in spite of all this oppression and repression? Do you feel that BNP is representing the demands of the poorer parts of the population, that their demands resonate with BNP’s demands?

TR: Of course. BNP is a party of the masses. I believe there is a commitment to the party and to the people of the country among the leaders and activists of BNP. BNP is integrated organisationally with the common people. BNP is regularly talking about the sorrows and sufferings of the common people. BNP’s movement is against rising prices, the lootings in the banking sector, and rising prices of energy, electricity, and food. Who suffers first in a country when there is plunder, money laundering, economic collapse? The poor. So of course the poor are the first to push back. That’s why, cutting across political, religious, and class boundaries, all the people are encouraging, and inspiring our leaders and activists. BNP’s leaders and activists are motivated by the demands of the people of Bangladesh because these are also their demands.

RTD: What is your message to the mass people of Bangladesh?

TR: Everyone in Bangladesh surely understands one thing today, which is that whatever else, Bangladesh today is not on the right track. If we are to take Bangladesh forward then we must bring about a political system where those who are in charge of governing the country will be accountable to the people of the country. And this accountability will have to be established through a proper election. Many might say, yes, there were elections in the past too. Did all popular representatives perform well? Perhaps not. But we have to start this process of accountability.

It is like water, which is not going to be clean by just one round of filtering, but if you filter two or three times the water becomes clean. We must establish the process of neutral election and must continue this process. If we can continue this (process), then maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon the future of this country will be built on a strong foundation. So I call upon the people of Bangladesh, not just as a political party, but everyone in Bangladesh must work together to establish the right to vote. If we are to properly create the future for everyone, then we must establish functional and substantive democracy.

But this is not possible by BNP alone without your support. Each conscientious person of the country must come forward. Especially today’s new generation and the youth must come forward. Come forward with strong, and robust confidence. Then we will be able to do something good. We have no reason to lose hope. We have much to be hopeful about. Many people in the country support the BNP, and some don’t. I have no problem with that. Whether you support BNP or not, everyone will admit that right now, people don’t have the right to vote. I want to establish the right to vote and to do that, I am seeking cooperation from both those who support BNP and those who don’t.

RTD: The ruling Awami League often alleges that BNP is involved in ‘violent politics’. Especially, they try to spread such a narrative internationally. What is your statement on this matter?

TR: If you look at the history of Bangladesh, BNP has contributed to each one of these: institutionalizing democracy, introducing multi-party democracy, institutionalizing the people’s right to speak, and freeing the judiciary in Bangladesh from the government’s control. That’s why people voted for the BNP. If these false allegations against the BNP were true, then the common people wouldn’t have voted for the BNP. None of these allegations are true.

Against that, if we see who is making these false allegations. This allegation comes only from the Awami League and its beneficiaries. You would see that such allegations are from the Awami League chief, Sheikh Hasina, who herself said ’There should be 10 dead bodies for one dead body [from Awami League].’ It is Sheikh Hasina who said ‘Burn those hands that write these [against us].’ It is Sheikh Hasina who said that ‘she feels like throwing Khaleda Zia off the Padma bridge’… about Dr Yunus, she said she wants to ‘drown him in the Padma once and then get him out of the water.’ When someone says these things, her and her party’s politics are as clear as these words. They indulge in violence and threats.

On the other hand, starting from Khaleda Zia, all the way to village-level BNP leaders or activists, none have ever said this kind of threatening words. We don’t practice violence in the party or indulge in violence like the way Awami League does. So, they are making false allegations against the BNP to cover their own violent politics. In Bangladesh, if anyone has done positive politics, democratic politics, or politics of people’s right to vote then it has been BNP. BNP ensured this in the past. It is doing so currently, and in the future too, the Almighty willing, BNP will continue to do so.

RTD: To continue this discussion, let me ask about another allegation by the Awami League. Many from the Awami League blame BNP for the rise of terrorism and run a propaganda campaign internationally. What is your comment on this matter?

TR: I feel I have more or less answered this question in my previous answer. The answer is quite simple. My personal political philosophy, and that of my party, is democracy. When I believe in the people, in their right to vote, their right to speak, on human rights, naturally I will take pro-people policies. And that has to be peaceful.

If what people want is peace, then recognising it, naturally I will take that course. Let me say it clearly, I and BNP have a ‘zero tolerance’ policy towards terrorism. We will cooperate with our neighbors and international partners, and abide by all international protocols and obligations, to combat terrorism. I believe in resolving any problem peacefully by mobilizing public opinion. Terrorism and violence cannot bring any solution.

RTD: We can see another charge against the BNP that is made by Awami Leaguers at home and abroad. Particularly, this allegation is made in the international sphere by the Awami League or intellectuals who support the Awami League. It is that BNP is an ultra-rightist party. Some even call it ‘fundamentalist’. What is your statement reacting to this allegation?

TR: Every political party has a philosophy and a political standpoint. To put it succinctly, our leader Khaleda Zia said it correctly “We are to the right of those in the left, and to the left of those in the right”. In essence, we are moderate. To this, I want to add that we are pro-Bangladesh.

I will take any program or any policy that will help the development of my country and its people, ensure the national interest, and let people live peacefully. That is the direction I will take, that is my ideal. That is my destination.

RTD: Formation of a post-election government of national consensus has been proposed by BNP. What is your comment regarding this?

TR: This is not anything that is personal to me. It is our collective party decision. In future, we want to govern the country together with all of those who are with us for democracy, all the political parties, all the individuals, be they political persons or members of the civil society, who help us get a government that is elected in an election under an election-time neutral government. If, by the grace of the Almighty, we win the election, then we will form such a government afterwards.

You see, we are politicians, we are engaging in politics. We have a certain kind of thinking. But overall, the entire world has been changing, there have been many new thoughts and ideas in the past few decades. There are many professions of active contributors in our society. There are educators, writers, journalists, and poets. Each of them somehow or other contributes towards building the state and building the nation. If in future, the people of Bangladesh give us a chance to form the government then we would want to synthesize the thoughts of all these various professions of the society. We would need everyone’s co-operation, we would need everyone’s contribution.

RTD: I would like to ask a question in light of the importance of national unity in nation-building that you are speaking about. From the reports of various human rights organizations, international institutions, and research organizations, we notice that there is democratic backsliding and a terrible human rights situation in Bangladesh. But we also see terrible damage to the economy under this government. If there is a change in government and BNP forms the government, what will BNP do under your leadership to return the state apparatus, politics, and economy to the right path?

TR: BNP is a big party. Here it’s not just my leadership, rather we will work collectively. The thing is, the question you raise, is a complex matter, the answer will be long and will take a lot of time to respond to. But if I am to summarize it, some days back, BNP and its allied parties announced 31 points to repair the state, which a lot of subjects have been mentioned. We have presented a guideline.

If you notice that, we have tried to present our viewpoint to the nation on the problems facing the country right now, to repair the structures that are crumbling, and that are destroyed by the Awami League government. There we have spoken about the participation of various professions, in integrating civil society into our work programme. We have presented before the nation these 31 points to repair the society, economy, and the state. Restoring democracy, strengthening the economy, improving the human rights situation, recovering people’s freedom of speech, and most importantly, maintaining the rule of law, peace and stability— our government will place importance on all of these.

RTD: Let us now turn to foreign policy. According to various geopolitical analysts, the foreign policy of the current Bangladesh government is that the incumbent regime is becoming closer to authoritarian governments instead of liberal democracies. Against that background, what is BNP’s stance on global politics?

TR: Look at Awami League’s political history. Observe it closely. Look at their activities after the country became independent. The evidence is too glaring to ignore. Awami League’s essential nature is authoritarian: that is true of how they exercise power in governing the country, and it is similarly true regarding the practice of democracy inside their party. Show me where there is democracy inside the Awami League. They created BAKSAL during the period when they were in power after independence, usurping the rights of the people.

Naturally, regarding what you have said about global politics, Awami League will not feel comfortable allying with liberal democracies. They ally with the autocratic regimes. BNP always believes in the freedom of thought. BNP introduced multi-party democracy in this country. BNP believes in the independence of the judiciary. And of course, we are practicing democracy in the party. Therefore, in governing the country, BNP will naturally align with those countries around the world that promote democracy and human rights. That’s the direction BNP will tilt towards. After restoring democracy in Bangladesh, and establishing good relations in the international sphere including with our neighbours, we will work together with international partners to take steps towards a rules-based global and regional order.

RTD: What is your message to the international community on the current political situation?

TR: I call upon all those in global politics who believe in democracy, those who believe in the right to vote for ordinary people. You see, Bangladesh is a country of 180 million people. So, in terms of population, this is a large country. If we cannot protect democracy here, if we can’t establish democracy here, then the loss is not just to Bangladesh, this is not just a regional matter, but collectively a blow to the whole international community.

I appreciate everyone in the international arena who has taken a strong stance in favour of the people of Bangladesh. The lack of human rights, absence of democracy, economic plunder, corruption and instability in this country of 180 million will influence other countries too. If we cannot resolve these problems that come from the absence of democracy, if we don’t all come forward, then who will be encouraged? Those who want to take the authoritarian path will be encouraged. However, we shouldn’t helplessly accept the rise of authoritarianism as an ideology. This is why I request all those countries in the world who believe in democracy to stand by the people of Bangladesh. The people of Bangladesh want other democracies of the world – near or far – as their friends.

We also believe that with the confidence of the people of Bangladesh, we can create a friendly relationship with the broader world within a liberal democratic, rules-based, value-based international system. That’s why I call upon them, request them not to support any political party, but rather stand by the common people of Bangladesh. Support the demand of the people of Bangladesh to establish their right to vote.

RTD: Our earth is facing global warming, climate change and various other environmental disasters. What kind of role will your government play in confronting these global challenges?

TR: You see, Bangladesh is among the worst affected countries by the sea level rise that is happening, and other negative impacts, of climate change and global warming. That’s why we take these problems very seriously. Authorities often neglect our environment in the pursuit of development. But if the earth is not sustained, not habitable, then what use will infrastructure be? That’s why these issues will have to be our first priority. We will put “common-sense regulations” on carbon emissions, and we will have to reduce the use of fossil fuels. We will reject policies that harm the environment.

Various studies suggest that a large part of Bangladesh may likely be affected because of the rising sea level in the coastal areas. We will need to prepare for this disaster. Since Bangladesh will be the worst affected, we cannot sit idle. We must be more vocal in discussing these issues on the global stage. And not just discussion, we have to put pressure on the international community to take effective measures. Those countries who are most responsible for global warming must take strong steps. We will sit with all countries interested in working towards these goals. And we will try to utilize the policies that will be optimal for Bangladesh in this regard.

We need to increase plantation and forestation by planting more trees. Personally, I plan to take the initiative to plant 50 million tree saplings in Bangladesh if BNP can form the government by the people’s mandate. In the 5-year term of the government, I aim to plant 10 million trees every year, which will result in at least 50 million saplings in five years. In addition to planting these saplings, I want to initiate projects that protect these trees. We also need to protect existing forestlands and expand them as much as possible.

RTD: When the entire world is opposing coal-based energy production, Bangladesh has begun it. Electricity is being bought at an inflated price. Billions of dollars are spent in the name of capacity charges. An unequal agreement has been signed with a controversial company. What is your comment on this matter?

TR: In your question, you have described it as an unequal agreement. Any agreement that is harmful for Bangladesh, for the environment, and for the economy, is harmful and unequal. If we form a government, those handling these matters will ensure a more balanced agreement for our country. This is a clear matter. We will never undertake an agreement that damages national interest. So, we have to be very transparent in this matter.

RTD: The Awami League government claims that the country has experienced widespread “development”. What is your thought on this regard?

TR: You see, other than the exaggerated figures and

propaganda by the government, if you look at the data from any independent analyst or research organization, they all say that Bangladesh’s economy has not been in such bad shape for many decades. Inflation, devaluation of taka, reserve crisis, plundering of banks and financial institutions, share market scam, liquidity crisis, money laundering… the list is endless.

The Awami League has created the cover for mega-corruption in the name of mega-infrastructure. They are plundering and laundering the income that is earned through the hard work, blood, sweat and toil of the people in the country and our expatriate workers. While Awami League leaders and those close to them have been booming, the country’s economy has been destroyed.

In my understanding, based on what I have read, there is more to development than a few roads, bridges and tunnels at inflated cost. Development has to be sustainable and durable. Infrastructure development is needed, but that has to be eco-friendly, pro-people, and commensurate with the country’s resources.

Development must also be the development of the human capital. Health services, drinkable water, three square meals a day, employment for the jobless, protection of the environment —all these have to be ensured. The economy is sustained by the remittances from the expatriates, but what support government has provided them? Are our children growing up properly, have we been able to provide the support that they deserve to the disabled, the marginalized, and the minority?

Another important matter, half of the population is women. We have to ensure women’s empowerment, education, and job support. We have to modernize services such as the elderly allowance, widow allowance, unemployment allowance and so on. The ground reality is different from the development portrayed by the Awami League government through data manipulation. They spend the money on buying fancy cars for government officials. There is budget allocation for various perks so that they serve the government’s interest. They don’t think about the public because they don’t need the vote of the common people.

RTD: We have discussed a few important political matters. Now let us turn to some personal matters… Previously, while talking to you, a cat was visible…

TR: Yes, My daughter’s cat.

RTD: There is a photo of you and your daughter with the cat.

TR: The cat stays with me and my daughter. Jumps up on both our laps… My wife is a bit afraid, and she understands that and therefore doesn’t bother her. Her name is Jibu.

RTD: Do you like cats or dogs? Are you a cat-person or a dog-person?

TR: It’s not that I don’t like dogs. But dogs require maintenance, whereas I feel cats require less maintenance. For example, you have to take a dog out to walk, and take care of it, cats don’t really need these. A cat can take care of itself. In a way I am kind of a cat person. Especially after getting Jibu maybe, I have become a cat person. Perhaps I wasn’t so earlier.

In our childhood, my brother and I had a dog. When we were school kids, that is when my father was killed, we had a dog. His name was Jumbo.

We also had a bird, a mynah. The myna was in our Cantonment house. The myna died during 1/11. At that time, I was in jail, my mother was in jail, and my younger brother was in jail too. I am not sure if you have an idea, mynas are a bit emotional. At that time, since no one was home, it was alone. In a way you could say it died of a bit of a shock. Because they can understand the situation at home. If you have a pet bird or animal, you may notice that they are always sensitive to the environment of the home. And if for some reason, there is a sad environment at home, you’d see that there is sadness in the movement and behavior of the pets as well. Anyway, during 1/11 when none of us were around, the poor thing died. The myna came from a family in rural Barisal. So, it talked in the Barisali dialect. It was very dear to us.

RTD: I was wondering about what is your favourite food.

TR: I eat everything like anyone else. But comparatively, I eat fish a bit more. And of the drinks, my favourite is black tea, without milk and sugar.

RTD: Are you into sports? Do you watch any games?

TR: When there is time and chance, I watch a bit of cricket. But I don’t really find that much time. And I am not so sporty. But maybe you know or not, my brother made an important contribution to the cricket of Bangladesh. He created the base, the primary groundwork, that later took Bangladesh’s cricket to a respectable position, all the achievements that Bangladesh had in cricket. Whether one mentions it or not, or admits it or not, many of the top cricketers of Bangladesh came through him. He was very sporty. In fact, my brother was so sporty that he perhaps was sporty enough for both brothers. (Laughs).

RTD: Your child Zaima Rahman. She left the country in her childhood. We would be interested to know about memories of raising her abroad and the father-daughter bonding.

TR: Memories? Hmm. You see, we were forced to come here for medical reasons. She was very young then, 12 years old. When she would have naturally grown up among relatives, extended family, with the people of the country, in the environment of the country, exactly at that time she had to come overseas. So naturally I feel some sadness about this. As a father, I could have introduced her to many things if we were back home. I could have introduced her to the people of the country, many things, many social things. This was not possible.
And after coming abroad, naturally, she too had to struggle a lot in this country. At that time, I was unwell for a long period. As much as possible, my wife and I tried to support Zaima. She herself went through a lot. Alhamdulillah, today she is a barrister, a lawyer.
To come this far, she had to stay away from her extended family, relatives, from the country. So her pain is no less. However, even though she grew up overseas, she keeps up with the country’s news, and she has fondness and love for the country… And above everything, as you put it, the family bonding, between a father and a child, whether for a son or daughter, is a great thing. I have tried as much as I could from my side. And she has helped me, is helping me.

RTD: And how much of your father did you have in childhood, how did you see him?

TR: I lost my father in childhood. Over time perhaps I have forgotten many things. However, he got very busy exactly at the age where a child grows up in the father’s company. That’s when he was given the responsibility for the country. So even if he wanted to, perhaps he couldn’t manage. Maybe he also wanted to (give us time). But he couldn’t give us much time. He had to be very busy. Even so, whatever time he had… that was very limited. He tried; it was very difficult for him…

Tarique Rahman’s father, Ziaur Rahman, is a valiant freedom fighter who liberated Bangladesh. His mother Begum Khaleda Zia is Bangladesh’s first female prime minister who brought reforms in education and ensured macroeconomic stability.

RTD: While reading your biography, it seems that even as a child, you had a role in the anti-Ershad movement and in the election campaign of that time. Did you want to change the country even from a young age? Were you interested in politics?

TR: Well, it was like this, when I developed a sense, that is, growing up at a certain age people can appreciate what is happening around them. So, as I slowly started to understand things, I saw that my father was thinking about, talking about, and working about the country and its people. That was the environment at home. After my father, my mother entered politics, though it was in opposition (during the Ershad era), but still, it was politics, and there were discussions about the country and the people.

Then after 1991, BNP formed the government again. So naturally this environment influenced me. From that age, I have seen the environment in the house. Most of the time it was for the people, for the country, for the people, for the country… round the clock it was going on in the house. Normally it influenced me.

Naturally, subconsciously I would think, okay what would I do if I were here? Education policy, women’s rights policy, forestation, poverty alleviation, road communication and so on, I saw and heard about so many policies that the thoughts stayed in my mind. Sitting around and chatting, but the thoughts remained in my mind. You could say that is how my interest in politics grew in me.

When my mother entered politics, leaders came to our home and talked, I used to stand silently at the back or at the side and tried to listen. I tried to understand, okay what are they saying, what’s the matter, the subject? And then somehow I got engaged.

RTD: Usually, the children of top leaders take a senior position in a party. But you started as an ordinary member. What is the reason for this?

TR: I felt that this was the level where I could contribute, where I had scope to work. And I had time to do that. Then I decided let’s do it. As in, the whole thing influenced me slowly. I saw the people around me. I saw my parents, saw their various colleagues who came and went, discussed, and worked. These naturally influenced me. So I felt, okay, I can do something here. I can contribute. The position is not an important factor. And okay, I was known more or less by everyone. I started to do projects for the party. Suppose there was some natural calamity somewhere, I thought I could arrange a relief program for the party. And I did. That’s how slowly I got involved in the party.

RTD: You have faced many tragic events from very early on in your life. You lost your father at a very young age, then lost your brother, your mother has been imprisoned for a long time, you yourself are exiled abroad, and you have faced physical torture. Where do you find motivation to work while confronting these long-suffering, these tragedies of personal life? What is the source of inspiration for you?

TR: (Reflects a bit) I saw my father, my mother… Whenever they had a responsibility, they fulfilled it properly. Their dedication and self-confidence influenced me. When the country was in crisis, they provided leadership. My father declared independence in 1971. People put their confidence in him. When he was later entrusted with governing the country, he did his best. People trusted him again. Similarly, I saw my mother fight relentlessly for democracy. The BNP government in 1991 was a testament to people’s confidence.

Building on that, I also have some responsibility. I said at the beginning, I started my political journey as a party activist. The people are counting on this party. Yes, I have suffered, my family too has suffered. But like me, like my family, countless people, leaders and activists of my party have suffered. There were many common people outside my party. They suffered in the last 15 years. Their families suffered because of the Awami League’s oppression. They survived too. They are still fighting.

Hundreds of thousands of our activists and leaders are going to jail. I see that when they come out (of jail), they are fearless, they are resolute, and they join a street rally the next day. They attend a public meeting, they organize a public meeting. They risk their lives despite the Awami League, police, attacks, and cases. I am inspired by their courage and their enthusiasm. So, if you ask me about my inspiration, I have to mention all of the above. If my leaders and activists can do it, then why can’t I? They are committed to their beliefs and ideals, and that’s why they are still in the movement, still fighting. Their determination strengthens mine and motivates me.

So, to answer your question, my inspiration is the desire for democracy and the uncompromising pro-democracy stance of the people of Bangladesh.

RTD: Thank you very much for participating in this interview.

TR: Thank you, and through you the RTD team, and also the readers of this interview.

Dr Saimum Parvez, a researcher based in Brussels and the Executive Editor of Road to Democracy (RTD), conducted this interview. The interview was organized by Zahir Uddin Swapon, the Convenor of the BNP Media Cell and the Editor of RTD, and Shahiduddin Chowdhury Anee, Member Secretary of the BNP Media Cell and Publisher of RTD.