Bobby Hajjaj: We cannot just say politics is dirty

Tell us a little bit about yourself – who you are, where you grew up, where you studied etc. I grew up in Dhaka, studied at Maple Leaf International School. After completing my O Levels and A Levels, I went to University of Texas at Austin in the ’90s and completed my bachelors in political science. Then I came back to Dhaka for a while. I found more opportunities abroad as a business consultant. Throughout the nineties and the early 2000s, I worked locally and internationally in finance and business development. After working for eight to nine years, I went to the Oxford University for an MBA and then did post-grad research in strategy. Finally I came back to Dhaka in 2009 for my family. At this point, I was thinking about which culture I wanted my children to grow up in. What I want to do? Where do I want to stay? Answers to all those questions are the country I belong to. So I moved back to Bangladesh permanently. Since then I have been working as a lecturer and researcher in business strategy at a private university. In 2012, I became involved in politics. What are the decisions that drove you to become a politician? To be honest, I did not plan to go into politics. In Bangladesh, becoming a politician is often a family tradition. I became interested in politics when I was studying political science. I was involved in American politics as a volunteer. Because of my family ties, I also worked with a lobbying firm for a while. I also did consultancy for political parties and campaigning. From networking to election to political party management, I gathered a lot of good experience. Because of that, a political party in Bangladesh approached me to work for them and restructure their organogram. This is how I came into politics as a special adviser to the chairman of Jatiya Party. Even before coming to politics, I always wanted to serve the nation. I always believed that development was not possible without empowering the masses. At a certain stage, I observed that politics in Bangladesh started to go downhill. Everything seemed negative and became dirty. It is not someone’s fault in particular, there were many reasons. But we cannot just say it is dirty so we want no part of it. I am not saying I can do it, but someone needs to try to clean all this dirty stuff. I am doing my part. Without politics, nothing is possible. What sort of a demographic are you trying to attract through your party? We came into politics for the country, for the nation. So we are trying to attract everyone in the country. How do you expect to fare in the next general elections? We believe we will get good response from people. But, exactly how this election will take place no one is sure. May be we will understand a year from now. What is your party’s strategy to come to power? When do you see yourself in a position of power to effect the changes you speak of? We do not believe in the power game. And we believe we will work properly, reach the people and work for them. In future people will decide if they want us to run the government or not. I absolutely believe it is possible to make the changes we speak of. Why did you not join one of the main two political parties? Do you feel the two parties are failing to represent people’s political aspirations? If we thought of any of the political parties were doing their jobs right we would not need to launch a new political party. They are not doing anything to win our trust, so you cannot join them. They even do not have any accountability or democracy within the party. It works like a private ownership or family corporation, where everyone does what the owner says. Then they should go for a job, why politics? Yes, I feel the two parties are failing to represent people’s political aspirations. People do not have any choice. If you ask anyone at random, people will say bad people are in politics. Parents do not want their children to be a politician. How would you describe the current political situation in the country? Our political situation is suffocating and a complete vacuum. We have a party running the government and an opposition which is also involved in that. So actually there is no opposition and outside that sphere politics does not exist. There is another political party which is involved in violence. So there is a political emptiness. We came in to bring politics back to the state and the people. What are your thoughts on banning Jamaat-e-Islami, or at a broader level all forms of Islamist parties, from politics? As the matter is sub-judice, we will not comment about Jamaat-e-Islami. What I understand is that we cannot avoid our cultural values for the sake of politics. Culture and religion are interconnected and one is a big part of the other. But politics based on religion is different, and we do not believe in that. You had earlier launched your career with the Jatiya party, why did you leave? It was a mutual separation with Jatiya Party. At one point we had disagreements and besides, they announced having no relationship with me. I do not want to put anybody down. But I was not happy with Jatiya Party’s activities. Whatever I did for them risking my name, the outcome was not that fruitful. But I have also learned from the experience. You also backed out of the Dhaka mayor election earlier after declaring your candidacy. Why was that? I said the election would not be fair. We faced obstacles and huge discrimination during our campaigns. We complained several times. When everything fell on deaf ears, we backed out of the election. Do you feel your family background – that you are the son of a well-known businessman – will cast a shadow over your political career? I never felt that. But everything has an impact. My father has his own separate identity, and I have mine. People can talk about his achievements, but I will keep my focus on my own work.