Published: Saturday, April 6, 2013

News Analysis

State under siege

A beleaguered government has made its first concession to its detractors. With the law enforcers now going after some bloggers and taking them into custody, the government has made two things clear, one openly and the other indirectly.
The first is that it is quite desperate about preventing the extreme rightwing political and religious groups from creating a situation that could only worsen matters for itself. The second is that by clamping down on the bloggers and therefore on the Projonmo Chattar movement, it has disappointed the nation’s secular forces hugely.
The disappointment could not have been expressed better than what Rashed Khan Menon had to say in his reaction. For him, there is an inherent contradiction in the government’s prosecuting the war crimes trial and at the same time caving in to the bigots’ demand that “atheists” be dealt with firmly. Unsurprisingly, a very large number of secular-oriented citizens agree with Menon.
A particular difficulty with a besieged government handing out concessions to the opposition is that there is hardly any end to such slipping away of moral authority. One concession leads to another, and then another. And so it goes on.
Some recent instances of concessions not really helping governments in distress, despite the conditions being at quite a variance with those pertaining in Bangladesh today, might come in handy. In 1977, having triumphed (with a good deal of rigging thrown into a process he would have won anyway) at the elections, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was swamped with demands that fresh elections be called. He eventually reached a deal with the rightwing Pakistan National Alliance on the evening of 4 July that year. At dawn the next day, the army overthrew his government.
Earlier, in 1974, Pakistan’s Jamaat-e-Islami and other fanatical groups pushed the Ahmadiyya community into a corner and loudly demanded that the Bhutto government declare the community as non-Muslim. Bhutto did as asked. And then came other demands, all of which the Bhutto administration acquiesced in. Those concessions did not help Bhutto survive.
An embattled Shah of Iran, in his final year as monarch, went on a spree of concessions to the clerics. He dismissed his ministers, arrested his respected Prime Minister Amir Abbas Hoveyda and installed his long-time critic Shahpour Bakhtiar as head of a new government.
Such a retreat only emboldened Ayatollah Khomeini and his followers, who made it clear their goal was a capture of power in Tehran. The monarchy collapsed, secular Iran passed into history and the country turned into a closed society.
Today, in Bangladesh, the great danger is that the agitation spearheaded by the clerics and publicly supported by the opposition BNP has pushed the war crimes trials into the background. Into that suddenly empty space has come an assortment of demands that patently militate against constitutional politics and democratic order. Organisations like Hefajat-e-Islam have vowed to bring the country to a standstill.
The Jamaat remains conditioned to demonstrations of violence. The BNP, trying to derive as much advantage as possible from the clerics’ agitation, now has a single demand — the overthrow of the legally established government. Meanwhile, demands have begun to arise from the fundamentalists that secularism be done away with and replaced by invocations to Allah.
The fundamentalist assault has cleverly moved from condemnation of the government to an assault on the principles and values of the War of Liberation. The state of Bangladesh is now under threat from those who have already forced one concession from a nervous government. Any more concessions could clear the path to even bigger danger.
Where does Bangladesh go from here? The BNP’s Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain has spoken of a government conspiracy to impose a state of emergency in the country. The past comes in here again. Indira Gandhi clamped emergency in India in June 1975 when Jayaprakash Narayan asked the military to act against the government. The move discredited her, but it restored order in the state.
In December 1974, the government of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, confronted with demands for a “Muslim Bangla”, extreme leftwing lawlessness, creeping rightwing-engineered chaos and rising crime, imposed a state of emergency in Bangladesh. Disorder was rolled back, until conspiracy overturned the state in August 1975.
Circumstances today call for a firm yet humane handling of the opposition agitation. The government must not be seen to be caving in to the forces of bigotry and extra-constitutionalism. Preserving the state, with all its original principles intact, must be the priority. The job can be done in line with the constitution.

  • Mohd Shah Alam Khan, Canada

    Thank you Dev Saha; I also comments like you that early election is the remedy but now opposition will not agree for it. If Hasina did it early March she could success. Now opposition will ask for caretaker government which is also not good for nation. We see the caretaker in 2001 and 2007 so that I will not balm Hasina if she doesn’t go with caretaker govt. Believe me now it is totally depend on Allah. When and with whom he will control Bangladesh. Sir if you want you can mail me: we can discuss. Allah is great; Allah Varasha.