In her latest salvo, The Honorable PM Sheikh Hasina used the pulpit of parliament to reiterate the allegation of the country’s largest two newspapers and their editors continuing to conspire against her personal self. This time the PM also brought into the picture the country’s only Nobel Laureate (Dr. Muhammad Yunus) to make up an unenviable trio of supposed perennial conspirators. This commentary seeks to understand the apparently inconceivable trajectory the PM is on.
The PM is already very popular among her electorate, especially following the war crimes trials. She is also acclaimed for her commitment to global causes like the rights of women, poverty reduction and battling terrorism and religious extremism. Domestically, the PM is facing literally no opposition, and regional politics appears to be in a friendly state. Overall, the PM is currently enjoying a dream world of any national leader anywhere. The PM’s increasingly aggressive campaign against the trio is hence all the more perplexing.
First, joining the ever growing body of legal cases and the heated rhetoric from the ruling alliance leaders to the PM’s parliament cannonade, it now feels like an all-out street fight. It is beyond my humble wisdom and I suspect that of many fellow citizens as to how the high honor of a PM, a very popular one who happens to be the daughter of the nation’s cherished liberating leader Bangabandhu, is uplifted or even maintained by bringing her down to a street brawl level. Isn’t it a misaligned contest of no winners?
Second, is such a street fight the most befitting contrivance of resolving the PM’s grievance against the alleged wrongdoers? Can the PM not choose to rely upon the due process of the organs of her own government? Why not take this opportunity to open up the government to greater transparency by declassifying previously confidential information? Many developed democracies do follow the practice of allowing access to currently unclassified (not compromising the near term national security) government information by private citizens and entities upon request, declassifying information that is not deemed classified any more, and allowing the media to keep the sources of their information unrevealed.
Third, a clear downside of the PM’s current campaign is that the public perception, at home and abroad, is likely gathering the unmistakable flavor of a personal vendetta. Did the PM really have to append her long held allegations against Dr. Yunus to those against the two editors and their newspapers? Since the recent cases did not name Dr. Yunus as a defendant, the most damaging perception could be that the PM wishes her followers to file similar suits against Dr. Yunus. Even more serious is the concern that the threat of prosecution for treason is hereby extended to Dr. Yunus as well.
Ironically, the PM’s own grievance of conspiracies is based on the trio’s purported personal crusade against her governance. Then the last thing that the PM needs is her grievance to be perceived the same way.
Fourth, various efforts to criminally prosecute Dr. Yunus have so far failed, adding only to the bewilderment of the population at large and the external world. Meanwhile, the Padma Bridge related graft case is still alive beyond Bangladesh and very few are inclined to believe the exonerations declared by the Bangladesh Anti-Corruption Commission. This is not to imply the impunity of Dr. Yunus or the culpability of the Bangladesh officials; it only means a very low level of credibility for due process and democratic institutions in Bangladesh, especially when the governing regime is involved and is known to be predisposed. Wouldn’t injecting Dr. Yunus into the 1/11 editorial saga only strengthen the paradigm of ill-motivated governance?
Fifth, couldn’t the PM’s grievance campaign in the open domain, including parliament, jeopardise the legal merits of the allegations? The defense could advocate that the allegations are reflections of preconceived biases and the confidential information has been moderated or manufactured for personal retaliation, and is not grounded on facts, especially against the state.
Sixth, as a step toward asserting leadership by taking responsibility, the PM has simultaneously recognised in parliament the alarming trend of child murders in the country. And I am more than confident that the PM feels the pain of the grieving mothers as well as numerous other ordinary citizens who have been routinely but abnormally losing their near and dear ones. Unfortunately, the PM’s public recognition of the security problem comes in the same session as her personal grievance barrage and following the anniversary of the writer Avijit Roy’s tragic murder that remains disturbingly unresolved, similar to many like ones. Whose unsettled grievances then matter more and deserve faster resolution becomes a matter of confusing priority. Viewed differently, how is it beneficial for the nation to be obsessively engulfed in a controversy surrounding the PM’s personal grievance when her people are desperately grappling with the very security of their life and are in a long queue for justice yet undelivered?
Lastly, the PM herself has reportedly undergone the tribulations of many politically motivated but baseless allegations, in the courts and beyond, only to be vindicated later. In fact, that is the essence of her currently resurrected grievance. But, like the Honorable PM, aren’t her fellow citizens entitled to the benefit of being innocent until proven guilty? If so, the principle also applies to those the PM personally most disapproves of. Isn’t this a golden opportunity for the PM to lead the nation in upholding and advancing this cardinal rule of a civilised society? Such judicious and righteous leadership would of course necessitate a courageous detour, perhaps starting with a much needed lull in her current campaign.
The history of the PM’s political prudence and foresight is rather remarkable and her dedication, service and commitment to her people have never been in doubt. With that recognition, the PM’s mounting feud against the trio of two news editors and Dr. Yunus needs to be viewed beyond the angle of her personal displeasure. Unfortunately the PM’s personal campaign portends ill for the nation. Perhaps she does see dark clouds gathering for an ensuing storm that is still under the public radar. Perhaps her intensifying row with the trio is meant to navigate the nation away from harm’s way. Only time will tell!