A game like hadodo is being played out on our political turf for some time now. The 14 party coalitions, which is led by the Awami League (AL) and which is now the government, continue to huddle the players of the 18 party opposition led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). Each group is desperately trying to outwit the other by a touch or a grip or a knot in order to claim the turf. Yet none of them have scored any significant number of points. But the watch is ticking away and the game must end soon.
Of late there are faint signs that the leaders of both groups may come together to talk on issues that bedevil them and the nation. The signs are however so feeble that many dismiss them as mere conjecture. But it must be remembered that even though both the groups are huffing and puffing and challenging each other, but they both know that they must at some stage sit down to resolve issues. Although they threaten that the issues will ultimately be sorted out in the street yet they know that extra constitutional forces may step in with disastrous results for both and for the nation.
It is well accepted that in a democratic dispensation, a free and fair election, is the way to allow continuity in governance under that system. So politicians of all colors and hue need elections. To them elections provide the needed oxygen to survive and pulsate. So what are the signs that one can deduce that the parties may be sitting down to talks, if not already doing so, away from public view? To start, the Al has invited the opposition to unconditional talks at anytime and at any place. It has an open ended agenda but nothing can be discussed if they do not fall within the purview of our constitution. By stating this it want to put on record that it is unwilling to discuss the matter of reinstalling a caretaker government to oversee the next general elections.
The opposition BNP however does not want to confine its agenda within the perimeters of what the AL has stated. It is willing to talk about anything that relates to the holding of the next elections. But since it fears that the elections under the stewardship of the AL may not be free and fair, it wants that it may be held under a non-political caretaker government. The Al in fact has no difficulty in an interim government during the elections, but it wants that such a government must be run by a group of elected representatives of the people who are now parliament members. The head of that government must be the present Prime Minister with much reduced responsibilities and power.
The opposition BNP has also expressed its concern about the inappropriate political atmosphere for talks. Many of its important leaders are now inside the jail , ostensibly on non-political grounds. During any talks it will not be able to consult them and seek their guidance at will. The BNP also resents the fact that the government has banned all political meetings and rallies for a month in the capital Dhaka under the pretext of carrying out relief work. This would preclude them from having talks about the talks. In reply the AL has raised the issue of calling frequent hartals by the opposition and their alleged resorting to violence to enforce these hartals.
As things stand today, the major parties are agreeable to holding talks but each has provisos. Yet the parties concede that talks have to take place to have a peaceful and fair election. So can we assume that the parties are merely posturing? The Parliament will be seating for debating the country’s budget. This time the opposition BNP will be attending the opening session just to perhaps regularise their membership, as any member not joining the Parliament sessions for 90 days at a stretch lose his/her assembly seat. But are they likely to tarry longer? If they do, then it will give them an opportunity to see whether the government is taking any initiative to start the talks and whether it is allowing the opposition to state their position on the floor of the house.
The AL has overwhelming majority in the Parliament. It is for it to take the first step forward. The new Speaker has already offered her good office to facilitate the holding of the talks if it is within the confines of the house. But to be fair, the AL has to ensure a congenial political atmosphere for the talks to begin. It must release opposition leaders who are still behind bars and both sides must restrain its party members from any act that may vitiate the healthy political atmosphere.
It is well known that when opposing groups are faced with a large task, they can manage it by breaking down the problem into manageable parts. This is how you eat a chocolate elephant. The answer is ‘one bite at a time.’ You deal with one aspect at a time. You resort to what is known as bounded rationality. This is because we have limitations of the human mind and because of the structure within which the mind works.
If the talks do take place, the AL should make the first steps particularly easy. It should offer more than take. The people must be kept focused on the next steps. Before long the AL will have climbed the mountain. As the Greek poet Horace had said, ‘He has half the deed done who has made a beginning.’
The talks must lead each side to present evidence that supports the need for change. The side that produces incontrovertible evidence that stares you in the face, it becomes difficult to put your head in the sand and wish it away. Cold, hard evidence is a good way of changing minds.
Finally, both sides needs to create a motivating vision of the future. This should be done by a small team to discuss what is needed which leads to a program of change which will improve things significantly.
So the talks if they succeed could lead to an immediate closure of our politics of violence. It could gift the nation with a peaceful and free election. So why not stop playing hadodo and start playing politics for the welfare of the people?
The writer is a former Ambassador and a Commentator on current affairs.