Three trends have been watched with concern lately. The first one is the virtual launch of election campaigns by AL and BNP chiefs without having settled their differences over the modalities of the next election. They do not even talk about initiating a dialogue over the CTG issue. In fact, the prospect for a negotiated settlement of the political question has all but vanished awaiting almost an act of God to revive it.
The second phenomenon is an attempted polarisation among the Muslims along theist and atheist lines (agnostics thankfully out of the extremist equations). The overly religionist Qawmi Madrasa-based Hefajat-e Islam is trying to rejuvenate itself as a political factor via its retrograde 13-point demand. A silver lining around the cloud is etched by BNP and Awami League, both being on the same page about the unjustified Hefajat’s list of demand.
Jamaat-e-Islami, the vanguard of political Islam, with a declining vote bank over the years stands now totally beleaguered. Its top leadership is either in death row or condemned to long sentences in prison. Its repeated hartal calls accompanied by rabid terrorisation before and during shutdowns have made them way too unpopular beyond repair.
The third trend, now on the wane, consists of attacks on religious sites and temples of the minorities who are thus left with a deep sense of insecurity. Ironically, all this has happened when Awami League, a party traditionally wedded to non-communalism, has had to take the blame for the untoward incidents. This was clearly the handiwork of saboteurs with a combination of motives including land-grabbing and smearing the image of communal harmony in Bangladesh.
That the likes of Narendra Modi, whose political star is apparently on the rise, did not fiddle with any Hindutva sentiments to start any reprisal in India is a tribute to a change in the complexion of Indo-Bangla relations. Not unsurprisingly though, Amartya Sen, who highly regards Bangladesh for its socio-economic progress, has made it clear that he doesn’t want Modi as Indian prime minister. Thank God, there is no Modi-like leader in Bangladesh.
In the changing mood of politics the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) is behaving as if it is forming the next government. An air of confidence is circulating through party leaders and activists since its victory in five mayoral polls on the trot. The party waxes vociferous in making pledges to various professional groups. It mulls over setting a new trend in politics topped up by introduction of a bicameral legislature. The first House as usual will be made up of hybrid elements dominated by businessmen. The second is envisaged to represent intellectuals, iconic figures, professionals, technocrats, experts and cultural personalities. Meritocracy is promised where there is dearth of it across the board. If the BNP’s tainted and tarred role between 2001 and 2006 is any measuring criterion then one is looking to a sea change within the fold. Will that be possible?
The AL chief has vigorously launched on an election campaign. She is repeatedly making a plea for a second term to complete her unfinished development agenda. She has asked her party men and officials to publicise all the good work done by her government. But her protagonists must have effective answers to the string of scams attributed to her government. As for the Padma Bridge, we hear of the luxurious transports bought under the project being surreptitiously used by the relatives and favourites of bridge authority officials. Such small infractions, if not nipped in the bud, can snowball into massive corruption.
For Sheikh Hasina to regain some of the lost ground, one strategic move could be to seal some accords with India on the Teesta water sharing, land boundary demarcation and exchange of enclaves that would add 10,000 acres of land to Bangladesh territory. Understandably, the foreign minister and the PM are planning to go to India to have verbal promises of India translated into accords. It won’t be easy in the current Indian political scenario of pulls and counter-pulls, but not impossible either.
The bottom line for peace and prosperity though is that the AL and BNP strike a formula for an interim nonpartisan caretaker arrangement to hold the upcoming national elections without ado.
The writer is Associate Editor, The Daily Star.