Published: Thursday, April 4, 2013

Political impasse: Light at the end of the tunnel?

HARTALS associated with violent hit and run processions, arson, indiscriminate destruction, and torching of vehicles and trains, business establishments and even residences have currently become the order of the day. All these started with the pronouncements of the verdicts of the war crimes tribunal.

Holding of the trials for crimes against humanity was one of the election pledges of the AL for which it received mandate from the people. Initially, the protesters were the party cadres of the Jamaat e Islami (JI). Most of the persons who are being tried for crimes against humanity committed during our War of Liberation in 1971 were leaders and members of that particular party.

The JI enthusiastically supported and collaborated with the murdering Pakistani armed forces. They were directly involved in the killings, rapes and arsons as members of the Razakar, al Badar and al Shams bahinis, the auxiliary forces created by the Pakistanis. The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) initially lent support to the JI in their protest movements but joined them later.

The BNP lost miserably in the last Parliamentary elections because of widespread corruption perpetrated by party leaders and members, and due to the repression unleashed against minority communities just after the 2001 parliamentary elections which they won. Later, the BNP, because of its leadership failure and organisational incapacity, also failed to act as a responsible opposition party. It was also unable to develop effective opposition against the Awami League’s failures and mismanagements both inside and outside the parliament.

Under such realities, the violent protests unleashed by the JI provided an opportunity to the BNP to master destructive opposition, especially in the streets, on the shoulders of the cadre-based JI. Later, other Islamist forces also joined them on the pretext of “saving” our religion, Islam, from the members and supporters of the Gonojagaran Mancha, whom they termed as “atheists” for allegedly planting anti Islam blogs.

Now, lives are being lost every single day. Police stations and members of the law enforcing agencies, especially the police force, are being attacked and even mercilessly killed whenever the so-called protesters find an opportunity. This type of violence is a completely new phenomenon in the country. The whole purpose of these heinous activities seems to be to turn the country into a failed state to seek vengeance for their defeat at the hands of the people in 1971. They want to create a situation similar to that of present day Pakistan where people are being killed regularly even while praying in mosques.

Against this backdrop, let us analyse what the various stakeholders of the current impasse are ultimately going to gain in the end. Here, the stakeholders include the JI, BNP, other Islamist forces and the AL. The people of Bangladesh, who are the real owners of the country, would be the recipients of the outcomes of the activities of the above mentioned stakeholders.

The Jamaat is out to save its long-time leaders with the commonly accepted allegation of crimes against humanity committed against the people of Bangladesh during the Liberation War. But here, it must be noted that the Jamaat, in successive elections, could not manage to get more that 3-5% of the popular votes. It, of course, has some pockets of supporters, in almost all cases in the border belts.

These pockets have a sizeable population who migrated from India during the partition of 1947. In all these years, they have not been able to get rid of the ghost of the two-nation theory based on religion; this is still deeply ingrained in them. However, the JI, with this meager popular support base and past stigma, will not have any noticeable gain out of the current situation. Though it has been able to enlist the support of the BNP and other Islamist forces (many have sufficient reasons to believe that these are their subsidiaries or B teams), but under no circumstances will it be able to grab state power nor will it be able to free its leaders and other members being tried for war crimes.

Even if the BNP comes to power, it will not dare to set them free going against the collective will of the general masses. In this case, the example could be cited of the case of the convicts of the Bangabandhu murder case. The BNP definitely deliberately delayed the process of justice at the Appellate Division, but could not venture to set them free on any pretext.

As such, the Jamaat is not going to gain anything out of its violent agitation and close alignment with the BNP. Rather, the BNP is using JI to further its own agenda of grabbing state power. The Jamaat will only earn renewed wrath of the common people who are aware of its past deeds and also the hatred of the younger generations who had only heard of their past roles, but are now experiencing the vengeance and atrocities committed by the JI.

On the other hand, even if BNP succeeds in dislodging the elected AL government or forces it to hold elections on its (BNP’s) terms and come to power, it will not be very happy sailing for it. There will be immense pressure from the JI and other Islamist forces for concessions, which will be extremely difficult for BNP to accede to as it will lose its identity as a political party.

In the context of elections, we also should not forget the Jatiyo Party of General H.M Ershad. With 7-8% of popular votes, it will also play a crucial role in deciding the fate of the next elections’ outcome. The AL, with its historical popular support base of 36-38%, will come up with agitation programmes from the very beginning and will be joined by a more informed and awakened new generation with their demands for justice and rule of law more vigorous than ever before.

The above analysis and perceptions suggest that the political parties in Bangladesh are engaged in a game of mutual destruction. This will not bring any good to them. But the economy, society and the common men and women will have to pay very dearly with their lives, properties and future prospects for the zero some game that is currently going on.

On an optimistic note, we hope that the political parties will come to an understanding soon and good sense will prevail as history suggests that ultimately the evil forces are defeated and people emerge victorious.

The writer is Professor, Department of Public Administration, University of Dhaka.