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BNP-khaleda-hasina (3)One doesn’t get more frustrated than when a war goes on without any clear ending. The situation in Bangladesh has bogged everything down just like the ancient wars. The situation is increasingly beginning to resemble the fabled Kurukshetra war of the legendary Kauravas and Pandavas, mentioned in the Mahabharata of ancient India. Since I really don’t understand what is going on very well, I will commit to an exercise where I pose questions to myself and answer them as best as I can.

What ignited the conflict?

The Awami League (AL) – Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) conflict never stopped since its birth. It was always there. Once Sheikh Mujib and the other leaders were killed and Zia took charge, the battle had begun. The conflict may have dipped a bit in the Ershad era, when both parties went to battle against him; but even then, they were always each other’s most bitter enemy. The 1990 switch-over from Ershad was not actually of political development, but had transitioned from being disorganised to being a more structured enmity. Both parties knew that the battle had been reduced to only two sides. So the latest trigger which did away with the Caretaker Government – the 15th amendment, was significant but not the sole factor. There will be many more happy amendments in the future that will continue to stoke fires of hate between the two parties.

Was the 15th amendment necessary?

Is any amendment necessary? Was it a constitutional, governance, or political crisis that drove the AL to do it? I don’t know which factor informed the changers, but many had said that this amendment would cause problems. Sadly it has. I am not sure how we can get out of this peacefully and legally. But what we know is that the political factors are very important. In 2001, the sitting AL government was unseated by the JI-BNP combine, so taking to the polls against the combo was risky for AL. This was followed by the 2007 fiasco.

BNP created the 2007 mess when they tried to manipulate the system knowing that victory was elusive. So AL took to the streets and challenged BNP with violence that ultimately brought in the army in an unusual arrangement. Fortunately for AL, they gained from the mess and won the election. Many claim that the military helped the tilt but as I have no such evidence, I shall refrain from remarking. What we know is that the incumbency factor was hurting the government in 2013. The local and municipality elections showed that BNP was quite popular and this was backed up by electoral and opinion polls, indicating AL was not very popular. Naturally, AL’s last hope was the silliness of BNP, a political party without much political intelligence. However, they trapped themselves into a corner through the 15th amendment whereby the BNP would boycott elections, creating a crisis for themselves and others.

Why do you say that?

Today’s crisis was created by the BNP decision to boycott the election. Of course the election should never have been boycotted. It forced BNP into a corner and drove them to settle on agitations as a means to not only force out the AL, but also as a way to survive as a party. This violence could well have been avoided had BNP been able to see how the electoral boycott would not serve them. They believed that citizens would take to the streets or that the military would intervene. It was a terrible mistake, and the price has been paid by all. BNP is in a slump and has no way out save for indulging in this mad violence. BNP has not moved beyond the 2014 stage. They don’t understand that there is no one to take them to power and that they cannot go to power on their own.

Even leaders within the BNP wanted to go to elections, but Khaleda Zia was influenced by her son to decide otherwise. It is odd how BNP talks of democracy when they not only ignored the party interest, but their supporters as well, who would have benefitted from the party being in parliament in any capacity. What is it today, other than a group reportedly dependent on the Jamaat for its political street survival?

Pandavas and Kauravas in the field of battle.
Pandavas and Kauravas in the field of battle.

So the AL is blame-free?

No, AL has been smarter than BNP, but they remain equally cynical particularly in passing the 15th amendment. They must have known what BNP would do, so instead of risking a contest, they excluded the BNP entirely. By excluding the BNP, AL have taken what they think is a calculated risk. They knew there was going to be violence and also knew that they could handle it. So AL went ahead. As you can see AL have been significantly successful for a year through arrests, harassment, police action et cetera. They know the capacity of the BNP. What the AL didn’t care about was the impact of their non-consensual decision on such a matter as the form of electoral governance in Bangladesh. I can’t say either party cares too much about what is happening to the ordinary people.

So why don’t either party care?

Well, the business of political parties is to do politics. This means an arrangement run by the interest of the people, governed by the constitution, guarded by the courts, and led by the political parties. But history doesn’t show we have developed such a tradition. We are much better at power transfer through confrontation, agitation, murder, and violence than any by other means. Our glorious moments are of street insurrections, not constitutional and legal achievements. Power through law is not part of this tradition. So basically politics has not developed, and as a result there is no confidence in political institutions so parties do not trust each other. In a culture where this is the situation, the caretaker system is a solution until maturity arrives. Its early death without consultation and lack of the general environment of rule of law means this enactment was an act of political violence. It initiated certain actions that are extremely destructive caused by the BNP and its allies.

So what is the final word?

I have no idea. But no matter what the ending, this is not the last phase. This is not the end of bad news, unfortunately.


Afsan Chowdhury is a journalist and researcher. He has worked for the Dhaka Courier, the Daily Star, and BBC among many others. He has also worked as a Human Rights specialist with the UN and other agencies. Afsan was the Oak Fellow on International Human Rights of the Colby College in the USA in 2008.

Afsan Chowdhuryis a bdnews24.com columnist.

15 Responses to “Redoing the Pandavas and Kauravas war”

  1. Zoglul Ahmed

    Dear Mr. Afsan,

    Good evening and greetings.

    1.Afsan Chowdhury (AC) is a great historian (we knew him as a Marxist historian during our University days). Does he know that ZAM Wahidul Hoque ( a student of Dhaka University History Department and junior to Afsan Chowdhury by one year), a team member (Research Officer) of “Muktijuddher Itihash Prokolpo” under the Project Directorship of Poet Hasan Hafizur Rahman? He worked very closely with Afsan Chowdhury, Ahmed Reza and one senior guy from Jamalpur (I cannot remember his name now). But ZAM Wahidul Hoque was an Al-Badr Commander (Al-Badr forces were a brutal killing squad of Jamaat-e-Islami), a highly trained commander in sophisticated heavy military equipments. He is from Thakurgaoan District and his uncle (Khalu) Maulana Tamizul Hoque was the-then Jamaat Amir and President of Peace Wahidul Hoque also worked with Scholastica Group and got retirement from there for more than a year back. Since AC is a historian, he can verify the veracity of al these truths. At the same time, I shall ask AC how did he work with this Al-Badr Commander during that time who deliberately distorted and suppressed many truths presented in the 15 volumes of books of “Muktijuddher Itihash Prokolpo”(he did voluminous works in

    2.Afsan Chowdhury :How did you work with such an Al-Badr Commander? How did ZAM Wahidul Hoque dare infiltrating into this project of our glorious Liberation War and become a part of a highly important project of our supreme sacrifices? It proves that Jamaat, Al-Badr, Al-Shams forces can do and undo anything for their own interests. I express my strong resentment to you and your team members for your failure to scrutinize his candidature/identity before recruiting him. Many have commented about your intention (most of them consider it written with an ill motive) to write such a piece. I also don’t find any good intention in writing of this article. You also wanted to demean or belittle our supreme sacrifices in 1971 and I strongly condemn your intention in this regard.

  2. Sumit Mazumdar

    It is time to ask a much more fundamental question. Neither Pakistan nor Bangladesh has had 5 continuous years of peace since the 1947 partition. Would the situation of the common people have been as bad as they are had they not jumped at the two-nation theory? There would not have been the 1 million dead in 1947. There would not have been the genocide of 1971. There would have been a contiguity from Muslim Bengal to Muslim Peshawar, with Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan’s Khudai Kitmatmatgar dominating Pashtun politics, which means there would not have been the Taliban! There would not be the stranded Pakistanis in Bangladesh, refugees twice in their lifetimes!

    There would have been Hindu-Muslim riots in United India, there would have been discrimination, but we would have figured out how to rise above them. Once the Pandora’s box was opened in 1947, it seems Pakistanis and Bangladeshis have had neverending fights to reach utopias that do not exist!

    • Golam Arshad

      I totally disagree with you Sumit! One India! Two dominant Religion! To us Bangladeshi 1971. To you guys India and Pakistan. The Indian and Pakistan Movement for separate Nation was Not only Poignant But a Historical Reality. Look in Pakistan after 1947, the so called Elite and Ruling Families looked down upon Bengalees. Mind it and Historically it was Bengal the land of Milk and Honey! The mariners from the North through the Ages right from the Ancient Times, in the Mogul Rule, punched Bengal right and Left, looted Bengal wealth in a Rambo style; and then the English cut the Life Line of self reliant Bengal. Now Two Bengal Divided by those marauders and their cohorts. The Secularists playing their game on both sides of Bengal, nesting their nefarious design to keep two Bengal divided, in a Suttle way: on religious NOTE! Delhi takes a messianic pleasure on rafting the rifting. division between two Bengals: on Water issue and the long drawn land deal settlement: Berubari, Anger pota.and other critical border post belonging to Bangladesh. The irony is they call extremism if it falls under Nationalism or in other words Patriotism.If Bengal unites politically, then the rest if India will be total economic disarray. The Seven Sisters surrounding Bangladesh will call it a Day for Freedom. Therefore, my distinguish friend and Pundits watch out BUT never yield. BANGLA AND BANGLADESH will rise up and will Lead ! Thank you Sumit!!

  3. javed helali

    Good general with a big danda for a short time is the only solution besides Negotiations. The Choice is BAL’s.

  4. M. Asaduzzaman

    We may vote for one or other party or neither. But that should not cloud our vision. And terming AL-BNP collission as Pandava-Kaurava battle is totally false. As some of the commentators have indicated there was something called honour issue in that kurukhetra battle, or was there? Did not the Pandavas kill Durydhan in an unjust manner? In any case who are the Pandavas and who are Kauravas by the way, Afsan?

    • M Hossain

      I second this comment. In my opinion the only reason to bring the names from Mahabharata saga is to draw attention of the readers( which is perfectly alright and I must say successful to some extent). Our politics has the basic elements like power struggle,injustice, death of commoners etc that were described in Mahabharat but apart from that, there is barely any resemblance. “Redoing the Kurukxetra”would be a far befitting title, given that Kurukhxetra represents mess in Bengali idiom. Moreover, I ABSOLUTELY disagree with the following line:

      ///the caretaker system is a solution until maturity arrives///

      So the solution has to come from a bunch of psuedo-elite, unelected group from some particular professions? Jeeze!

      The solution of the problems of democracy is MORE democracy, nothing else.

  5. probashi

    This analysis is so one-dimensional as if politics is only stupid and idiot.

    Your opinion “Today’s crisis was created by the BNP decision to boycott the election……” is a completely false. Did you erase from your memory the only event that is 15th amendment which not only repeal “Caretaker System” from constitution, but also full of self contradictory laws? Who will trust a liar (and wrong headed) like Hasina as Head of government during election time? AL has to carry forward the outcome of shame for the rest of its political life. Have you ever seen any election where out of 300, 154 were elected without need of a single vote?

    And this opinion “No, AL has been smarter than BNP,…” will make very happy only those blind AL supporters who now are on the street to fight while wearing “longi” or “gamcha”. I hope they will now come out on the street without even wearing any cloth. Listen pal, for us smartness is not cheating, lying and plotting scam in the name of election. OK?

  6. Mohammad Zaman

    there is not a iota of kuruskhetra here … there is nothing like honor or valour or ‘dharma’ in this petty fight between two intansigent leaders…

    kuruskhetra was decimated the whole aryan Bharat, but the winner was able to rise up and able to ‘ashwamedha’ …

    i am not sure there will be a winner in this one …

  7. Hafiz A. Rahman

    Well Afsan, a pro-AL analysis. BNP did not take the risk to lose a election that they could win. Instead AL made the game that risks their own survival. In the careful low intensity fight (where BNP and Jamat) are only losing few of their people will give them an ability to fight for many years to come. At the end, who will win? See the trend in the Muslim world.

    • Golam Arshad

      Excellent response! What next that is to be seen? Currently pain and trauma triggered a strong antipathy to Politics! Parties Ruling and Parties in opposition trapped in a dead end logjam! Who will untie this Gordon Knot!! I wonder in total dismay!! Thank you Mr.Hafiz for a superb comment on our current state of politics.

  8. Akteruzzaman Chowdhury

    Both the AL and BNP had won sweeping victories in elections by making coalitions. Then there are swing voters who swing towards these coalitions. These sweeping victories may have gone to the heads of the the netris. Due to the demise of Jatiya party now the vote has swung in favour of BNP/JI and that is why AL is not very keen to give the CTG election. If Sk Hasina takes a step backwards there may be an attack on AL from JI. There is also a possibility of Jamat getting a better deal in the coming days. It is not a simple matter of ‘Sanglap’ or 3rd force. Politics is more complicated now. Foreign powers are also reacting in a different manner.

  9. Mausumi

    A great analogy but at least in the case of the classic battle between the Pandavas and Kauravas, there was some semblance of honor or pursuit of a higher ideal

  10. jasim

    Dear Sir, Excellent analysis. But with due respect a minor mistake.In 2001 BNP was in power and was unseated by JI-AL combined.Thanks for writing such a wonderful piece.

  11. Golam Arshad

    Afsan: Your conclusion is an adage to something “Strange and elusive”and I quote, ..”This is NOT the end of the BAD news, unfortunately”. (End Quote). A painful situation! Who is Right and Who is Wrong! I wonder in pathetic Error!

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