The arrest of the bloggers/activists evokes the aphorism “One doth the scath and another hath the scorn.” They are paying for the crimes of the Jamaat-Shibir cadres. Thugs, who derailed rail lines, burned power station, public transportation, attacked religious minority, and killed police and civilians, remain unscathed. But, the bloggers/activists, who put up a non-violent protest demanding fair trial and justice for War Crimes, get muzzled and thrown in jail.
Why Awami League is in such a self-destructive mode, trying to appease the extremists who barely have any sweet paean for the secular values the AL claims to be the guardian of?
Au contraire, at every opportunity in the past, the extremists tried to kill the progressive voices in the party. Just consider how many times over the past decades the Prime Minster herself had to escape attempts on her life.
Delving deeper, one would find a silent transformation, turning the Awami League into a party looking more like the right-wing BNP of the 1990s, behind such action.
To cite a few examples, in the mid-90s, it formed a political alliance with Jamaat-e-Islami aiming to oust its key nemesis, BNP, from the power. The strategy heftily paid off. The party got elected to the office after a long hiatus of 21 years. Then, in December 23, 2006, it signed a four point self-destructive electoral pledge with the Khelafat-e-Majlish, also a religious outfit often sides with the extremists.
Since its impressive electoral victory in December 2008, the party seems to be tilting more to the right, manifested in its eagerness to forge alliance with the corporate and military interests. Newcomers lacking commitments to party’s core values and individuals accused of incompetence and corruption have been elevated to the party high-ups and ministerial portfolios.
While corruption allegations against the high-ups have been a regular phenomenon, more common has been the ways that such allegations would be swept under the rug. For example, not a single party official accused of skimming the stock market and scamming the financial institutions has yet been tried. Little to nothing has been done to prosecute the corruption in the power sector and in the Padma Bridge project.
Worse yet, it has entirely failed to build a national coalition on the War Crimes Trial and effectively deflect unfair criticisms aimed at the trial process.
In the process, the party evolves more like into an oligarchic platform, shunning grass-root level leaders and activists while embracing people with lack of commitment to the populist causes. Only the skeletal of populist sentiments remains on the surface and in rhetoric.
For all these, despite winning the two-third parliamentary majority, it has yet to earn the political legitimacy. In most recent polls, AL would either be losing or barely maintaining a lead without majority had the election were held during the time of the poll, an omen for any incumbent.
Then, the youth uprising at SHAHBAGH threw a lifeline to the government, giving it an opportunity to make things right. Initially, it seemed to be heeding to the people’s voice.
But, as the Jamaat-Shibir cadres started their reign of terror, aiming to save the convicts of the War Crimes and derail the trial process, THE AL’s susceptibility to such attack and separation from the core activists became apparent.
During the attacks, demoralized and dedicated grass-root level party activists practically abandoned the fortresses. District level government officials and members of the law enforcement agencies stood inactive probably fearing retribution if the opposition returns to power in the 2014 election. Beneficiaries of the party corruption and neophytes constituting the party’s power-base could not be seen anywhere.
Failing to contain the violence, the government simply sacrificed its traditional allies, opting for appeasement.
It has thrown the comrades under the bus, muzzling free speech and arresting youth activists falsely accused of being sacrilegious.
The Prime Minister may have chosen a strategy of frying fish in fish oil, But, compromise that sacrifices party’s core values would unlikely to bring a sustainable solution at the price of alienating traditional allies.
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman also compromised, but at his own term. He never gave up Bengali identity and never abandoned allies. He embraced freedom of religion above religious identity. He stood up against the mighty and feared military junta. People trusted him, supported him, and backed him all the way to the national freedom. He prevailed and got a country for the Bengalese lost more than two-hundred years ago, in 1757.
The daughter of the great leader must act like her father: by embracing the core principles of Liberation War; by earning the trust of the allies; and, by freeing up the arrested bloggers.
ABM Nasir is an Associate Professor of Economics at the North Carolina Central University, USA.