A Bengali proverb captures the mood of the moment. A disputant tells the judge: “Whichever way your ruling goes, the palm tree is mine.” When the bone of contention is fleshed out to make a meal for one, the other goes hungry and angry. “Head I get, hunker down to the tail wagging at you,” seems to be the message from the trajectory we are on which all of us want to disembark.
The sequel to the lively talkathon performed by UN envoy Oscar Fernandez-Taranco with Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina appears to be a casualty of what we have known, to our misery, the predictability syndrome or episodic predictabilities. The persuasion mission sent by UN Secretary General Ban-ki moon to both our top leaders for a dialogue to kick in, sees cold water poured all over. Though talks seemed only a missive away, and the letter readied as well so we were told; curiously, it is still not getting delivered to the addressee.
Meanwhile, at the verbal level, the rhetoric is getting acidic again as provocation and intimidation are resorted to as though programmed to wreck any dialogue prospect.
The prime minister was giving Tk 50,000 worth of compensation to the hawkers each for restarting their businesses laid in ruins by militant violence. It was a noble gesture luminous by its own light. Yet, she could not resist an aside to the opposition leader saying: “Don’t kick the belly of the poor; please, shun the path of violence and take to the ways of peace, join parliament and have talks.”
There may be a grain of truth in her statement but it was not the time and place in which to have made such remarks when she herself had made an offer for talks to the opposition not just once but thrice. And the UN emissary’s visit kindled a hope for dialogue where there was none.
The first lesson in adult psychology is: “If you want to change somebody’s attitude to a delicate matter, you can’t achieve it through a rebuke.” Bitter criticism only makes the subject persist vigorously in old ways.
In the public domain, the respect for sensibility of the people and the persons being talked about must be even more pronounced.
Leave aside the prime minister’s indiscreet words, these have been surpassed by a suave PhD holder minister dealing with environment who said the unsayable. Addressing an anti-hartal demonstration programme organised by the Bangabandhu Sangskritik Jote at the Press Club on Tuesday, he alleged to this effect: “Khaleda Zia after having consulted with ISI in Singapore, is carrying out her political programme including giving 48-hour ultimatum to the government to restore caretaker government.”
Your auditory nerves were soothed by the BNP indicating it will not lay any precondition to starting a dialogue which was that the AL must first agree in principle to be restoring the caretaker system. But then such a conciliatory approach from the BNP has met with the AL laying its condition for talks: They will settle for nothing less than Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina heading the interim caretaker government.
Take-it-or-leave-it attitude can never cut a deal. If both sides genuinely wish to settle their differences that perforce have be a negotiated outcome then it will require a give-and-take approach. BNP concedes somewhere and the AL does the same elsewhere arriving at a common ground.
Neither side should appear as a victor over the other; for it will spoil everything.
On non-elected headship of the interim arrangement, the AL has to give considering that the interim body otherwise would be constituted by elected representatives drawn from both sides anyway. The BNP for its part should compromise on restoration of caretaker government system as embodied in the 13th Amendment. The BNP needs to show a degree of deference to the 15th Amendment, some of its provisions meriting support and endorsement on a healthy, farsighted bipartisan line.
To obviate the experience of 1/11 type caretaker government, do take into account the fact that a reliable and scientifically accurate electoral roll is in hand. Strictly mandating the interim set-up for three months to deliver an election is made that much easier.
An add-on can be de-linking the judiciary from the system. Also, there can be a quid pro quo between the opposition demanding a non-partisan head of the interim government and the defence portfolio remaining with the president.
For level playing field to all parties, the administration, top down, will have to be de-politicised which each caretaker government by turn had done. This may not curry favour with the ruling party as it did not with the erstwhile BNP government but under the watch of a neutral arrangement and the president, this should be achievable.
The concept of contextual intelligence is considered to have an overarching importance in human affairs. To be clever, intelligent, witty are not enough by themselves; actually, these can be counterproductive if divested of contextual relevance and focus. Contextual intelligence is rated above emotional intelligence in today’s world.
The writer is Associate Editor,
The Daily Star.