Vol. 5 Num 698 Wed. May 17, 2006  

The Horizon This Week
Elections in West Bengal: Bangladesh perspective

West Bengal has just held its elections. As expected it has brought victory to the ruling CPI (M). Only this time the victory is much larger than the previous six occasions. CPI(M) is the colossus that strides the political horizon of India.

From the election results the stamp of leadership of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has been firmly affixed. There is not only no party to challenge his party but the veterans like the Congress and noisy Mamata Banerjee of Trinamul, but other assorted left parties have almost become irrelevant in the political scene of West Bengal. It is as if a one party system has been established through ballots.

And what perfect elections, almost to make us envious across the border! There is no question of a caretaker government, there is no debate about the integrity and independence of the Election Commission. Everything went smoothly. The results announced was not challenged. And thanks to the election results the government of Manmohan Singh in New Delhi will have to lean more heavily on the rulers of West Bengal. After all with the support of CPI(M) Congress has been able to form a government at the Centre. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is not burdened by Marxist ideological moorings but will now have a stronger hand in the fulfilment of the Common Minimum Pro-gramme.

We have also entered the election year. But when we look at the scene in Bangladesh, what do we find? With much fanfare we devised the concept of caretaker government system. We were so pleased with ourselves that we toyed with the idea of exporting it abroad! And what has happened to the caretaker concept? The ruling party has so arranged that it is their man, Chief Justice K M Hasan, who will take over as the next chief of the caretaker government, whose sole responsibility will be to organise fair, independent elections. Chief Justice Hasan retired recently. In order that he may be the next head of caretaker administration, the ruling BNP amended the Constitution extending the tenure of the judges by two years. Former Chief Justice Hasan has been an Ambassador to Iraq during the tenure of former President Ziaur Rahman, who founded the BNP. Hasan has also been a member of the BNP. Can anyone expect impartiality from him?

About our Election Commission, I believe the less said the better. The Election Commission is supposed to be an independent body. Yet the occupant of that office gives every sign that he is hell bent to carry out the wishes of the Prime Minister's Office (PMO). A high powered European Union (EU) delegation came to Bangladesh recently and the CEC (Chief Election Commissioner) played hide and seek with them. His behaviour with his two recently retired Election Commissioners was unacceptable by any standard. He has gone ahead with the preparation of a new voter list although the High Court had directed that he needed to update the earlier list. In his new list there are 9.3 crore voters out of a population of 14 crore, exactly two crore more than the last time! Ask anyone around you and his answer most probably will be in the negative about his inclusion in the voter list!

From an analysis of these developments it would appear that the present government is determined to steamroll the next election according to its own design failing which it will have created such a chaos and confusion that the nation will sink deeper into trouble if that were possible!

If we take a cool view of the present situation, we inevitably come to the conclusion that the events of that fateful night of 15 August 1975 have made a permanent scar on the nation. We are groping for a way out. Let us recall that after the surrender of the Pakistani occupiers at the Ramna Race Course (Suhrawardy Udyan) on 16 December 1971, we made a brilliant start and rapidly established ourselves as a proud independent nation in the world under the leadership of the father of the nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. He along with his members of the family and near relations were wiped out. In sheer savagery we surpassed the murder of the Czars following the advent of the Bolsheviks. 15 August was followed by 3 November 1975, when the second echelon of leadership was brutally murdered in jail. The murder of Syed Nazrul Islam, Tajuddin Ahmed, Monsur Ali and Qamruzzaman, four very important leaders of the ruling Awami League, who played very prominent roles during our Liberation War, was done in order to cripple the Awami League.

In 1973 the Marxist leader of Chile, Allende was elected and later toppled by the CIA under direct order from National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger. I was sent as Bangladesh Ambassador to Algiers post haste because Algerians were staging the Non-Aligned Summit and they wanted us to join. It was of very great importance to us because Non Aligned Group had more than 100 members from Asia, Africa and Latin America. We needed their recognition. The widow of Allende and her daughter made their appearance in Algiers and it created a wave of sympathy for them. It might have been due to this consideration of drawing sympathetic support that the entire family of Bangabandhu was wiped out.

Since 1975 Bangladesh has been in the wilderness. What we are living with today is the direct outcome of those fateful days. There are daily outbursts throughout the country. It is electricity, it is water, it is steep rise of prices of daily necessities, it is educational institutions seething with discontent. Only very recently the MP of Shanir Akhra area was seen running from an enraged mob. The Vice Chancellor of the ShahJalal University of Science and Technology (SUST) had to resign due death in police firing of one of his students.

Those who plotted the assassination of the father of the nation, may take great satisfaction that they had succeeded in destabilising the state that they fought tooth and nail so that it did not see the light of day. Yet Bangladesh is there and to quote Bangabandhu 'so long there is the sun and the moon, so long there are the stars Bangladesh will continue to live'. Let there be a fair election like that of West Bengal.

Arshad-uz-Zaman is a former Ambassador.