Published: Thursday, March 14, 2013

COMMENTARY

Déjà vu

Awami League repeats what BNP did nine years ago

Our party politics has become, over the years, totally devoid of any morality. Our politicians have no respect for democratic norms, human rights, individual freedom, and practically no regard for simple decency. For them “truth” is only what suits them and “facts” are only that which supports their narrative. Anything that contests their claims has to be condemned and claimants subjected to indignity, even if these are based on irrefutable evidence. They lie through their teeth and their indignation at being wronged is just as fake as their promises to uphold the constitution and the rule of law, which generally means to abuse both to harass their opponents.
We submit the two following events to demonstrate what we mean.
Scene one: Monday, 1 March 2004, later afternoon —
The location is the Awami League’s office at Bangabandhu Avenue. The present opposition BNP is in power, with Khaleda Zia adorning the seat of prime minister. Of course the present prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, is the leader of the opposition and, as can be expected, her party office is under police guard, and on every possible occasion party activists are at the receiving end of police batons, as is the case with the BNP at present.
In the late afternoon, suddenly some cocktails or homemade bombs explode (eyewitnesses say they were thrown from the rooftops of some adjacent building) near the AL office and one constable is injured. Seeing the police getting agitated, the AL leaders and workers enter the office and lock it from inside. Soon police break down the collapsible gate, enter the office, vandalise everything and arrest nearly 150 workers and send them to jail.
Hearing of the attack on her party office, Sheikh Hasina tries to rush to the spot, but her vehicle is stopped at several places on the way. Ultimately she reaches it around 7 pm, when suddenly electricity in the whole area goes off. Police later “recover” cocktails and some rudimentary bombs from her party office and accuse the AL of harbouring explosives to disrupt public order.
The home minister at the time, Altaf Hossain Chowdhury, declares that the police were attacked from within the Awami League office and consequently they had to enter the premises to “recover” explosives to ensure public safety and police security.
The AL calls a hartal in protest.
Scene two: Monday, 11 March 2013, late evening —
(Many of the preliminary scenes being the same).
Police are “attacked”, enter the BNP office, break down doors, “recover” explosives and arrest 157 leaders and workers to “ensure public safety and security of the police”.
And, of course, the BNP did not miss out on calling a hartal. Rather, the BNP upstaged the AL this time. It called a hartal (for Tuesday) hours before the police action, and threatened to enforce a shutdown for two more days (March 18 and 19) over the release of the arrestees.
With a gap of nine years, it is the same “reasons”, the same actions, the same “justifications”, the same “ recoveries” of home made explosives, the same claims of “public safety and police security”, the nearly same number of arrests, the same breast beating of being oppressed, and of course the same call for hartals.
(An amusing irony: Altaf Hossain Chowdhury, the home minister who ordered the attack on the AL office in 2004, was arrested last Monday by the order of the present home minister).
The only difference is that the actors have changed. The powers that were in 2004 are now out, and those who were out of power then are now in. The attitude, the lies, the aggression, the desire to humiliate the opposition, remain the same.
The BNP’s righteous indignation at the office attack is perhaps politically gainful, but morally bankrupt. As public memory is short, some political mileage may be gained from it. But it is an opportunistic position, and a part of the political game that our two major parties play with the people. There is no reason for us to believe that it will not do the same if elected to office again.
On the Awami League side it is indeed sad for our politics that a party that was elected with a two thirds majority on its own, and a four fifths majority with its allies only four years back should find it necessary to use the crudest and the most barbaric police action to deal with the opposition.
How and why should the government of the day and the “government in waiting” (as the opposition is called in parliamentary democracy) should reach a stage that police should be let loose on them as if they are a bunch of gangsters? That is how it looked as we saw on TV police dragging opposition workers either by their collars or trouser belts and hurling former ministers and present-day MPs into prison vans as if they were nothing better than common criminals.
The post emergency electoral sweep following on the general disappointment with the last BNP government, especially its “Hawa Bhavan” phenomenon, gave the Awami League a magnificent opportunity to turn our politics into a new and constructive direction, transforming the country and its destructive politics.
But, alas! The Awami League and Sheikh Hasina opted to repeat history instead of making one. “Digital Bangladesh”, a clever coining of an electoral pledge, could have really meant a total transformation of how a society learns, thinks, behaves and dreams, instead of just hardware installations and some rudimentary services. The fundamental failure of the present government is that it brought about no change in our political culture, though it was a prominent part of the AL’s election manifesto, one that attracted the younger generation. In fact, it reinforced some of its worst aspects as illustrated above, like oppressing the opposition and demonising them.
A supreme tragedy of our politics is that neither Awami League nor the BNP, the two political parties which have alternated in power for the last 22 years, and which have profited maximum (both in terms of power and wealth) have never aspired for a higher moral ground. They never seemed to have any “ideal” they tried to reach out to. Yes, they talked about democracy, freedom and justice but interpreted these as it suited them.
There was never any instance of win-win and fairness. It was always “zero sum”. The fault was always with the other side, never with themselves. If one confronted the AL with cases of abuse of power, the snap reply always was “It was worse under the BNP”. If the BNP was asked about corruption during its tenure, the response invariably was “The AL is far worse.”
And so go the justifications and counter justifications, with each succeeding government getting deeper and deeper into corruption, partisanship, politicization of government institutions, patronization of criminals to strengthen party ranks, rent seeking, commission business, seeking bribes to get government employment, party activists being recruited in public bodies. The list is endless, with never a word of reversing the trend.
Meanwhile, our politics continues to be devoid of any values and moral moorings and continues to drag the country towards uncertainty.

  • McSood Alley

    There were opportunities far beyond those listed. A government with absolute majority could have performed miracles, instead of cutting each others’ throats to the cries of Joy Bangla! . President Ziaur Rahman shot a young nation into international limelight in a leadership position with his concept of SAARC, -an innovative idea that bigger nations could not produce. The AL government could have maneuvered itself diplomatically into a position where both India and Pakistan would look to it as a trustworthy go-between.