Nothing seems appropriate enough to mark the past two weeks as anything but the ‘blame weeks’. Our collective dementia must not let us forget the overwhelming presence of ‘blame game’ during the weeks as the all important soap opera on the national, albeit political scene. It was not a stray occasion, but part of an interminably long chain of past ‘shows’ that the ruling and the main opposition parties have been performing on the dreary national stage ever since they came to exist. One needs to be curious: do they do it consciously or is it a reflection of a sordid state of mind they care less having it exposed?
The recent incidents at Ramu, Ukhia, Teknaf and Paitya speak volumes of the cabaret in which both sides are taking turns to bare themselves as much they can. What happened in those places, especially in Ramu is a deep, bottomless hole in the heart of the nation that only the sensible souls can be expected to suffer. Now, condemnation of the barbarity is one, and pointing fingers at others is another. However, in reality, both are not as remote as they apparently look like. Condemning the act and trying to make amends in whatever forms possible including finding out the criminals is only one aspect of the reaction that an ideal situation will demand. But when condemnation coincides with an instant ‘you did it’, it becomes a totally different ball game. Soon after the news of the ravaged and charred Buddhist monasteries made it to the headlines and video flicks on TV screens began to torment the hearts of the vast majority of the countrymen, the ruling party and the main opposition found the timing perfectly right to go haywire. Half of the barbarity was done by the criminals who swooped on the scenes in and around Ramu with rampaging spree, and the rest by the self proclaimed protectors themselves. Brutality did the half and hypocrisy and opportunism told the rest.
It was disgusting to watch senior leaders of either side routinely visiting the sites of destruction only to gain as long mileage as possible from the ashes and thick swirls of smoke. The worst-hit of the sites is Shimla Bihar, an early 18th century tick wood structure that housed as many as four hundred Buddha statues along with invaluable relics and rare manuscripts.
The saddest part is that most people in the country were not in a mood to blame either of the parties when they heard the news. They were shocked more than they could imagine. They read news stories about the questionable inaction of law enforcers, reportedly posted a few hundred yards from the key place of occurrence. The Rohingya theory also came up in the media, which did not seem totally implausible. These and perhaps a lot more are matters for the investigating agencies to deal with. But it is not to be so in a culture bred by cannibalism, and both the sides did not waste a moment to confirm the point. Allegations followed counter allegations in ruthless extravaganza. To fend off the allegations of the ruling party, the main opposition even rushed to produce sixty-some-pages of probe report pointing out, as decisively as they could, the involvement of the ruling party in the incidents. The ruling party struck back in no time terming the report fictitious. Hilarious indeed, what the government is now attributing to the so-called probe report as potentially capable of jeopardising the enquiry being conducted by the law enforcers is more fittingly applicable to its pointing at the opposition, naming its local lawmaker as the mastermind.
Who gains from the blame game? Social psychologists would be quick to surmise that blaming others is in the first place disempowering. Even if it is one’s own mistake, pointing at others erodes one of self-esteem; more precisely it is perhaps a symptom of insecurity. From a broad social perspective, blaming is infectious – communicable in the sense that once blame attribution is part of a culture, commoners are prone to blame each other for totally unrelated failures. No wonder, blame gaming has become a ritual, believed to be recommended by political counselors as a handy expedient to shrug off responsibility or accuse others for actions they may not have anything to do with. Thus it is often a matter of how quickly to jump into a situation, preferably as “breaking news” to reframe things to one’s advantage.
That the post-incident hullabaloo means politics, and is not in the least related to securing protection for the sufferers or punishing the culprits is clear enough to the victims themselves. Again trying to have them name the culprits or asking them point fingers at the masterminds belonging to either of the predominant parties – as a calculated stratagem to cause division among them – is the worst that their ravaged hearts can take. So far, the elderly monks and the commoners in the strife-torn Buddhist hamlets have been prudent enough not to allow themselves to be tricked into the game.
One need not be too naïve to discover that the entire game is agenda-driven. Besides targeting the general elections where the minority is a factor, one of the motivations, not a difficult one to discern, is to send signals to the outer world to befittingly label one or the other party as campaigner of communal hatred ¬– discovered lately by the West as the most sinister of all sins and hence abominable.
So, who hopes to gain? It is wicked than stupid to conceive of the idea that in the 21st century, a location, however remote and forlorn, inhabited by peace-loving Buddhists could be a hunting ground to cash in on communalism, no longer a hidden manifesto of the political parties. Traversing the arid wastes of Bangladesh politics, one cannot blame one’s sense of sanity while confronting such cynicism.
Wasi Ahmed is a journalist, short story writer and novelist.