Thus Spake Hasina
Only two months ago the introduction of transparent ballot boxes and voter identity cards had been the buzzword in the Awami League (AL) headquarters in Shudha Sadan. Throughout the month of December, the party had called one blockade programme after another in which a dozen people died and the country's economy was brought down to its knees. On its way to “establish the people's rights to Bhat (rice) and Vote” the party formed an alliance with former military despot Gen HM Ershad and signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Khelafat Majlish (KM), an extremist fundamentalist outfit that wants to establish Sharia in the country. According to the MOU, if it is voted to power the AL-led Grand Alliance will allow “qualified Muftis to issue fatwa”, and Ahmadyyas will be declared heretics. Thus Sheikh Hasina and her party formed a strange alliance of opportunists where socialists (the JSD; the Workers' Party) and Jihadists (KM) cohabited peacefully, where a “secular democratic party” (the AL) joined hands with a vile amoral dictator like Gen HM Ershad.
The month of December witnessed a most pathetic display of shameless political opportunism when Ershad, Hasina and Hasanul Haq Inu (of the JSD) and Rashed Khan Menon (of the Workers' Party) and Mufti Shahidul (who fought for the Talibans in Afghanistan) submitted nomination papers under the same alliance's banner. All 300 hundred candidates, however, withdrew their nomination papers in less than 15 days before the election, because, the AL leadership thought without “a new voter list, voter identity card and transparent ballot box, the election result will not reflect the aspirations of the masses”.
Only a month after that, there is a u-turn in the party's policy; Sheikh Hasina, the AL chief, is now all for holding an election in June, no matter what; her desperation has become obvious last week when she turned up at a press conference with a tin box (which she has called a transparent ballot box) that has an uncanny resemblance to a murir tin (a tin box shopkeepers use to preserve puffed rice). In two consecutive speeches Hasina has talked about holding election as soon as possible, and one of her leaders on a BBC programme said, "There is no instance of any country having Voter Identity card in this wide world". Sadly this is not the only instance of political dishonesty in Hasina's career. At the height of a mass upsurge in 1986 against Ershad's autocratic rule, in a meeting in Chittagong Hasina famously declared, "Only a national traitor can participate in an election held under this government", and a day after that she decided to join the election fray. This decision had cost Hasina dear though: five years later in a free and fair national election the AL failed to go to power, Hasina herself lost a seat in Dhaka to Abdul Mannan, then a little known retired major of the army.
After its defeat in 1991's election the Awami League held its first council in years to drop secularism and socialism from its constitution. That came as a slap in the face for those who believed in the separation of religion from state. But by then the AL could do anything and everything just to go to the power once: Hasina started wearing a headscarf and posters of the leader praying were pasted on the walls of the city to get a few Muslim votes. As the 1996 general election got closer, Awami League leaders were quickly becoming "more Muslim", and all at the cost of the party's democratic, secular ideology. The party eventually won the general election, and throughout its five-year-rule, Hasina, like a proud mother, jealously defended her party's goons (Joinal Hazari, Shamim Osman, Abul Hasnat Abdullah); once, to the surprise of everyone, upon her return from a pilgrimage to Makka, Hasina declared Joinal Hazari innocent, even though this thug and his cronies had maimed Tipu Sultan, a journalist, in downtown Feni a few months earlier for his reports on their criminal activities.
With her party's rank and file infested with corrupt and criminal elements like Mohammad Nasim, Shamim Osman, Abul Hasnat Abdullah and HBM Iqbal, Sheikh Hasina has every reason to be vexed with the current government's initiative to try corrupt politicians and businessmen. It is clear that by demanding an early election Hasina wants to save those who have been hiding behind her for so long. If there is an election in June (it is no less than strange she has wanted an election in June, for almost every year in the Monsoon the country faces heavy flood), there is no guarantee that Sheikh Hasina will not sell nominations to loan defaulters like Salman F Rahman, nor can we say it for sure that we will not have to see Ershad as the president of the country again.
Fifteen years of life under Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia have made Bangladesh a fiefdom, where both the queens' words are laws. If an election is held without the structural reforms that the constitutionally mandated Caretaker government has promised, chances are there that we will have to witness corruption and misrule to a proportion that will surpass the unbridled depravity and unabashed thuggery that the previous BNP government had unleashed in its last term in office. Now that steps have been taken to clean up the mess, Sheikh Hasina has every reason to get scared; this government drive is already giving her a run for her money, and it is high time Sheikh Hasina understands how obsolete the politics of hypocrisy has become in the 21st century, perhaps as outdated as the tin box that she has brought before the press last week.
Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2007