Feature Img
BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia was attacked while campaigning for party-endorsed city election candidates in Dhaka on April 20, 2015. Photo: Asif Mahmud Ove/ bdnews24.com.
BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia was attacked while campaigning for party-endorsed city election candidates in Dhaka on April 20, 2015. Photo: Asif Mahmud Ove/ bdnews24.com.

After more than three months of political agitation and unfettered violence causing the death of over 150 innocent human lives, loss of over 700 public and private vehicles by fire bombing, and untold suffering of millions of people up and down the country, as political headwind subsided a bit and unacceptable demands were withdrawn for the time being, things started going belly up. The fresh political clash and, needless to say, associated violence is now just about in the offing!

Khaleda Zia, the leader of the BNP and the 20-party coalition of political-religious groups, was agitating against the present government of Awami League for the restoration of democracy. Her demand for democracy might have been be correct and admirable, but her tactics and mode of enforcement were definitely disingenuous. How could she hope to restore democracy by the most undemocratic means – by bringing down the government, by punishing people, by blockades and strikes and paralysing the country economically?

Khaleda Zia chose to launch her political action of enforced violence on the anniversary day of the national election that took place on January 5, 2014. She boycotted the election and consequently the incumbent Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina of Awami League, was elected almost unopposed. The reason she boycotted that election one year ago was that she claimed no free and fair election could possibly be held under the running government. It’s a damning indictment of the honesty of a government in Bangladesh – be it the Awami League or the BNP government!

However, despite repeated pleas from the then ruling party – the Awami League – despite strong pressures from national organisations and international bodies such as the EU, UN, and a host of friendly countries including the USA, UK, Japan, China, India and many more to participate in the election, Khaleda Zia paid no heed to good counsel. The ruling party pointed out that it is the constitutional requirement (by virtue of 15th amendment) to hold the election under the incumbent government.

She probably mistakenly assumed that no election can possibly be held in Bangladesh without her participation. When election was indeed about to be held, she did everything in her power to stop it: she called for national strike on the day of the election, she ordered her troops – mainly the Jamaati morons – to disrupt the election by all means; voters had been intimidated and physically attacked, the polling stations had been vandalised and burnt. Despite all these things, elections did take place, a government was formed, and the country got going again. Admittedly it was not a participatory election as such, but it was the least of the bad options.

It may be pointed out that Khaleda Zia had no political clout to demand any change in the Constitution or the running of the government whatsoever. The BNP and the 20-party alliance had no representation at the national parliament and hence she could not move any legislative programme. To demand any constitutional change and to threaten violent action if it is not implemented is blatantly illegal.

For three months this direct action programme of blockade and strike continued. Those three months were a vivid nightmare for the people of Bangladesh. Bangladeshis were, in effect, imprisoned in their own country. The net outcome was the suffering of the people. People had been denied of their most fundamental rights – the right to lead normal lives, to earn their livelihood, to live in peace. No party, no institution can deny people of these rights, for political or any other reasons.

Then suddenly, after three months of this vicious nightmare, it comes to an end, at least for the time being. People try to pick up the pieces: the psychological wounds to heal, the financial loss to the family to recover, the broken relationship between friends and family, and above all the long-term damage to the country to overcome.

The World Bank (WB) in a recent report stated that due to this political turmoil, Bangladesh has suffered a loss of $2.2 billion in lost production and a substantial amount of agricultural output. In other words, each and every person of the land suffered a loss of nearly 1000 taka. On top of that, the reputational loss of Bangladesh to foreign investors is quite substantial. Can delivery of goods be relied on in time by foreign companies if such turmoil happens in the country?

Although Khaleda Zia bore the brunt of this vicious programme and carried political responsibility, one may ask, was she wrong to presume that free and fair election was unlikely under the incumbent regime?

Yesterday’s event attacking Khaleda Zia’s campaign in Mayoral election testifies that she was not possibly wrong. How could alleged Awami League vandals come and disrupt the campaign and damage six vehicles including Khaleda Zia’s own?

Was the leader of Awami League – the present Prime Minister – not aware that this vandalism was going to take place? Is it believable that such an action could have been taken without the knowledge of the leader?

Sheikh Hasina needs to testify that she was not complicit in this heinous activity. (It may be pointed out that President Richard Nixon had to resign from American presidency only because he lied on oath that he was not aware of the Watergate break-in, whereas he was complicit in it).

If Hasina was unaware of this incident, she must initiate, as a matter of extreme urgency, an investigation to look into this matter. All involved individuals, no matter how important those people may be, must be brought to book and properly punished. It may appear outwardly that over-jealous political activists may have taken things beyond the normal course of decency. This is not acceptable and must be dealt with severely. Democracy must be applied scrupulously and must be seen to have applied scrupulously.

However, Khaleda Zia had also made a wrong decision in falling back on violence and declaring April 22 as a day for a national strike (except in Dhaka and Chittagong, where Mayoral elections are going to take place on April 28). She should have waited to see if the ruling party would rein in their unscrupulous and vicious activists and punish them properly. By pre-empting the legal process by her tentative direct action, she is giving away her political advantage and high moral ground. The world would watch which way things move.

The two -times British Prime Minister, Mr Harold Wilson, once said some half a century ago, that “a week is a long time in politics.” It was true in Britain then and even now and it seems it is true in Bangladesh too. Only about a week or so had passed since the withdrawal of direct action of blockade and strike by Khaleda Zia and the people had sighed in collective relief. Now it seems the direct action is just back on the menu.

Bangladesh seems to uphold one and only one tool when faced with a conflict situation and that is violence. In any civilised society, faced with a conflict situation the antagonists would go for discussion, mediation, and compromise, thereby diffusing the situation – but not in Bangladesh.

Why and how this mind-set developed in a country which was traditionally peace-loving, is very puzzling and frightening. The unhesitant use of violence can be seen not only in politics, but also in students’ dispute, personal discord, theological disagreement, and much more. The recent killings of secularists, violence against teachers, and violence in student politics all tend to show that there is a fundamental degeneration in national moral standards.

Dr. A. Rahman is an author and a columnist.

A. Rahmanis an author and columnist.

6 Responses to “Is the nightmare back?”

  1. Harun Shafiuddin

    Sometime in the future, after the aggrieved combatants are gone or have lost their gall to bite, historians will cast a cold and dispassionate eye on the events spanning 1966 to 1971.

    And their finding might startle some and disappoint others.

    A general unfamiliarity with the politics of the late sixties and the maelstrom of confusion spawned by the war in 1971 have created a few myths. One such myth is that secularism has been Awami League’s gift to Bangladesh.

    Secularism had never been a plank in Awami League’s platform in the election held under General Yahya Khan. Awami League fought the election and won a massive victory to implement the 6-point/11-point demands. The main thrusts of those demands were universal adult suffrage, provincial autonomy and restoration of democratic rights. The ideology of the state of Pakistan remained unchallenged.

    By the time the war broke out religious politics was already an alien concept to many of us young Chhatra League and Chhatra Union activists, and some Awami League and National Awami Party leaders. Nevertheless, secularism was not a stance of any party. It emerged as a state policy only during the war when the rationale for the armed conflict gradually began to take an ideological shape. People jettisoned Mr Jinnah’s “two-nation theory” and a new consensus on the future of the new country evolved.

    The angry, democratically-deprived Bengalis went to war but a new-born nation returned home with a vision of secularism. That vision was forged in the smithy of jungles, trenches, swamps and city alleys.

    It would be a grave error to credit only one party for the national awareness that the rights of a citizen must not be determined by his/her religious identity.

    • Dr A Rahman

      Thank you for your dispassionate remarks on the source of ‘secularism’ in Bangladesh’s Constitution. Your view that secularism took hold in ‘the smithy of jungles, trenches, swamps and city alleys’ definitely carries weight. My view is that ‘secularism’ came into Bangladesh’s Constitution due to (i) appease the left wing of the freedom fighters, who were spearheading the fight in the trenches, swamps and alleys in the city and (ii) Indian influence. Please note that whereas Pakistan struggled for well over three decades on its Constitution, Bangladesh managed to have a decent, workable Constitution within 12 months of its liberation! That is, I think, Bangladesh’s great achievement. However, military rulers subsequently had carried out amendments to the Constitution (damaged it in the process) to derive political advantages. We must treat the Constitution with utmost respect, not a tool to derive advantages.

  2. Sarker Javed Iqbal

    I was going through the article with my utmost interest for an ‘expected’ conclusion from Dr. A. Rahman, but unfortunately I missed that! Hope he will focus his views on that in his next appearance.

    What I think is that there is a fundamental difference between AL and BNP in the perception and belief on our liberation war. AL led the liberation war with a vision of freeing the country from the clutches of Pakistani rule and establish a secular country ensuring rights of every citizen irrespective of religion, caste, creed and language. But the followers of BNP and the allies wished a replica of Pakistan. Until and unless these differences are met, ensuring stability in democratic practices and nurturing a healthy political culture will be very difficult.

    • Dr A Rahman

      I appreciate Mr Sarker Javed Iqbal’s reply and agree with the comment expressed in para 2. Our founding aspiration was also ‘democracy’ and ‘secularism’. Democracy involves, among other things, the free and fair election – which is being denied by the ruling party to the opposition. Secularism is violated by both the parties. So we need to correct ourselves on many fronts.

      • nurul

        That is a matter of opinion, its not if The Ruling Party went out of their Way to include BNP in the Elections, it was Not The Ruling parties Fault, That the BNP Boycotted the Elections and the Fact that they were holding hands with the Jamaat’s, These People Should Go Back to their Beloved Pakistan and Ruin and Petrol Bomb and Grenade Attack that Nation, Ziaur Was an ILLEGAL Dictator and he is the One that introduced Terrorist Fascist Corrupt Jamaat Politics after the Death of Mujib. After Mujibs Death Ziaur Set President of Corrupt and Fascist Politics in Bangladesh for a Good 30 years Plus, With Ershad taking over the Rein another Militant dictator for extra Wahhabi Petro Dollars, The Peaceful Mindset of the Bangladeshis reformed into the fascist Mindset of the Jamaats and the Paks, then Ziaurs Bimbo Wife came into power with Pak ISI funding, Which again more Growth to a Wahhabi Pak fascist Mindset into the Nation, Now Awami League is cleaning Up this Mess, out of 44 years of Bangladesh History The Real Initiators of Independence didn’t get the Chance to Free Bangladesh from the Fascist Mindset that People like Ziaur, Ershad and Khaleda brought into the Politics of Bangladesh, I hope You can also do a Comparison of Corruptions and Developments Between the two major parties through TI, in order to develop the Nation you have to bring in the Lesser evil, Politics in general is evil, but the lesser Evil is Awami League, they have done a lot of good for the Nation, we are a developing nation, and you can not do comparisons with developed nations, you have to compare it with developing nations there is a lot of thing s that we are both beating India and Pakistan in, Gender Equality, HDI = Human Development Index, GPI Global Peace Index, Employment Industry National Reserves, we are the Highest Providers of Peace Keepers to UN missions around the world all under the Awami League, also compare the GDP index too. there are many improvements under this government. You have to do an educated guess which regime will eventually take bangladesh forward. We also have alot of international investment under this regime, because now its a peaceful Regime which is intolerant to Terrorist and Terrorism, Awami League is NOT turning Bangladesh into a Failed State like the BNP and Jamaat Alliance were doing in their last Regime, Like their Beloved Pakistan is Today.

  3. 6/6 vision

    The cameraman has made life of so many so easy! When will our ‘superiors’ reign in their followers and school them into a sober, more logical existence? Why will they (followers) throw themselves onto such uncertainties?

Comments are closed.