There is no doubt that Prime Minister Shekih Hasina's visit to India was monumental for Bangladesh. Now monumental need not mean good, as Khaleda Zia has continued to point out to us, but it need not mean the end of Bangladesh's sovereignty either. The problem with any Awami League visit to India is that rightly or wrongly they have always been viewed as pro Indian by their political opposition in their actions with our omnipresent neighbour. That vague feeling of discontent was stirred yet again when Hasina made her way to New Delhi in what was touted as a historic meeting. The only problem is that the opposition has had a tough time pinning any real accusations to the government. What they resorted to was a tried and tested formula of open ended anti government statements, which gain traction when someone as illustrious as Khalea Zia makes them. A year into the renewal of our democracy, the opposition has managed to twist and distort one of the very foundations of a working democracy, freedom of speech.
Now there is a lot to be said of the meeting with India, but the long and short of it is that Bangladesh brought more to the table than India. They laid out their cards for all to see in the hope that India would not enter into a game of poker. And while India chose not to play games, they conspicuously kept their cards to themselves. This is not to say we were not allowed a little peak.
Hasina went to India with the nation's attention on the Tipaimukh issue, which invariably led to increased scrutiny of the 54 rivers that run into Bangladesh from India. With that mind all the Indian Prime Minister said was that nothing would be done in the area to adversely affect Bangladesh. A wishy washy statement at best, which neither inspired the public in Bangladesh or the opposition. It provided them with the perfect opportunity to rip into the Awami League, a task which they look forward to with glee. The only issue is how they go about their task.
They could issue sober worded statements, decrying the Prime Ministers lack of bargaining powers, or even take to task her responsibility to protect the people of Bangladesh. But instead they always seemingly choose the path of least resistance, sensational statements backed up not by facts but rumours and hearsay. What they missed in the fine print was that India was ready and willing to help provide the expensive machinery to help dredge the rivers of Bangladesh which we now understand are perilously close to dying. So while India remained non noncommittal on the Tipaimukh issue at least they offered to help our single largest environmental problem barring climate change. International relations is a two way street, if only the opposition understood that.
The opposition also got on the government's back over the $1 billion dollar credit line offered by Indian government. They were quick to point out without overtly mentioning the World Bank that they offer just as much money with lower interest rates and longer payback periods. The argument did not prove to be very logical as the problem with World Bank money is that it always comes with conditions attached. That is in part what makes World Bank money so unattractive at times, while on the other hand a billion dollars to finance our infrastructure with and emphasis on the railway seems like a good deal. The problem as usual will be that of system loss, but in Bangladesh that is to be expected.
All of this is not to say that the government did everything perfectly in India, indeed they made a few concessions with regard to the use of Chittagong and Mongla ports as well as the transhipment of goods through Bangladesh. But then it is the job of the opposition to point out such problems in a constructive manner, rather than issuing vague populous statements which at times are only fit for the tabloids. This has become a major topic of concern with regard to the opposition. They seem to take their title as opposition too literally and for the better part of a year have been oppositional for the sake of being oppositional.
They would have done wonders for their popularity if they had voiced their concerns in parliament rather than the press, at least they would still be representing their constituencies while they did so. At least then they could have spoken on behalf of the people that elected them rather than speaking for the party. At least they would have fulfilled their basic duties as members of Parliament, but instead they chose tabloid sensationalism over hard facts.
The issue is barely even two weeks old and now all that one remembers about the opposition is that they claimed the country had been sold to India. Not a single constructive complaint from the opposition is remembered, partly because they never made any. This is the problem with the opposition in Bangladesh, they opt for pettiness over accuracy, sound bites over policy recommendations and in the end words over actions.
Khaleda Zia has been in power and surely she must realise the counter productivity of a blabbering opposition, she knows better and now its time to act better. If the opposition continues down this road they risk more than making a mockery of themselves, but the democratic process at large. They must find a way to use the power of their freedom of speech to constructively discuss the government, rather than attacking it with newspaper friendly quotes.
This idea also spills into another area of discontent that opposition against government polices and decisions should rightfully be raised in the Parliament by those who have earned the right to do so. Here the government has to take some blame as they failed to accept a few small requests from the Opposition such as one more seat in the front row. With one small gesture they could have kept the Opposition in Parliament and tried to keep themselves above their rivals pettiness. But things did not turn out that way, they played hardball over a miniscule issue and now they have only themselves to heckle in Parliament.
With Khaleda out of Parliament she has had to find constructive things to do with her time, the only problem is that they include anything but constructive criticism against the government. If she continues she could soon find herself likened to Sarah Palin, who now spends her time discussing the Democratic party in broad brush strokes. The only problem is that Sarah Palin has become a joke, a media hog who will say anything to rile the Democratic party. Khaldea Zia cannot afford to do the same, she is the leader of the Opposition and as such the leader of millions who voted for her party, with every awkwardly phrased sentence she utters against the government she does her party more harm than good. Its time to get down to the brass tacks of democracy, use the parliament to voice your concerns and stay clear of sensationalist statements. The choice is clear grow up or go rogue.
(R) thedailystar.net 2009