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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Thursday, November 11, 2010
OP-ED

Wheels of misfortune

Our politics goes around in circles. Photo: Chad Baker

THE other day I was greatly saddened by the news of the tragic death of my ex-colleague. He was pushed down from a running bus by its conductor. A few days back a student of sociology department of Dhaka University was crushed under the wheels of a speeding bus near the airport. The litany of tragic deaths -- be it through a bus or a bike -- has become a regular feature of daily newspapers.

We are living in a desperate society dominated by a vicious cycle of hostility. The brutal killing of Mizanur Rashid, a college teacher of Natore, is not a collateral toll that homicide takes of a society. The killing of hapless mother Chanpa Rani quickly followed. BNP activist Babu of Natore was pummeled to death allegedly by AL activists. The woes of his widow and orphans have failed to move the hearts.

Justice plods! I would not stray into other recent killings for the matter is much more sensitive and deserves to be treated with utmost discretion. But it is clear that there are compelling grounds to ponder over the malaise that spurs on the desperados to indulge in acts of most inhuman murder.

It is the business of governance to build a healthy order in the country. There is a bright recent example in front of us. The commitment and resolve shown by the President Sebástian Piñero of Chile in rescuing the trapped 33 miners in Atacama Desert has lifted Chile out of the infamy of the grisly rule of dictator Augustinho Pinochet. It was an example of setting the right tenor of governance and has marked the rebirth of a badly scarred Chilean society. When he said: "We made a promise never to surrender and we kept it," the words spread like a mantra.

We had our times of glory as well during the anti-autocracy movements of 1987 and 1990. Nur Hossain set a valiant example of defiance of autocratic might with his life, which has since then been forgotten in the acrimony of politics. Dr. Milon was a bright son of the soil who succumbed to the perfidious attack of the hirelings of the autocrat under siege. Jehad is the name of another sacrifice that the country made for democratic rights.

The wheel of time has traversed nearly twenty years since parliamentary democracy was established in 1991. Sadly though, the politics of dialogue in differences and rapport in meeting national responsibilities have failed the national expectations. Virulent antipathy and mutual disdain continue unabated.

The country today is perilously polarised. It has become a fecund breeding ground of the desperados, warmongers, plunderers and scavengers. Our democratic set up with its myopic outlook has not been able to unite the nation and build a broader consensus of striving together for an accountable and just society marked by advancement and stability.

In the twenty years of parliamentary democracy, no parliament saw full participation of the opposition throughout its tenure. The 1991 parliament started in great camaraderie with the unanimous passage of amendment for the restoration of parliamentary democracy. It was heart warming to see the opposition Awami League's vote of no-confidence against the BNP-led government. The leader of the house and the leader of the opposition delivered wonderful speeches.

That was that! After that the working relationship started getting worse over the issue of caretaker government. The opposition finally continued abstaining from the parliament from 1994 until the end of its term. It is painful that BNP-led government unwisely took a stubborn stand and only saw defeat in accommodating the opposition demand. Bipartisan spirit had its first chance and it was missed. And there was 'Jantar Mancha'!

Polarisation in all spheres of life was baptised in the country. BNP went for a mid-term election under guns. The parliament had the shortest life in the history of Bangladesh democracy. They lost the election that followed, which was held under the caretaker government. The distance grew.

When Awami League came to power with a slim majority it began by taking a hard stance against a powerful opposition in BNP. The chasm that divided the government and the opposition threatened to engulf the country, making its populace desperate and restless. The Awami League poured scathing scorn on the opposition BNP and it alienated them. BNP returned to the streets, and that made the parliament ineffectual. A succession of hartals followed. The wheel of total polarisation came full circle.

Three thoroughly dignified persons in Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed, Justice Habibur Rahman and career bureaucrat M.A. Sayeed conducted the election in 2001. It was by all standards a free and fair election. There was not much difference in the percentage of votes Awami League normally gets but their number of seats nosedived to 60. The Awami League however smelt a rat and kept sulking.

There was no palpable effort on the part of BNP-led government to raise the sunken spirits of Awami League by accommodation. The BNP rather allowed Awami League to drift to the street. It stood idly when its members went on a countrywide rampage against the Awami activists and the members of the minority community. And then they succumbed with great alacrity to the euphoria of reaping the windfall of a big electoral win. The wheel of misfortune turned full circle one more time.

Discontent among the Awami Leaguers turned into seething rage after the August 21 carnage, and when A.S.M. Kibria was killed by assailants. The assumption grew stronger that the BNP government gave latitude to the terrorists and the assailants. A cult of anger and hostility cultivated at the top found followers in all spheres of the society and all over the country.

The wheel of time delivers its own judgment. BNP was chastised at the last poll by a scale even bigger than the last one. It is presently leading a marginalised existence if a party is to be judged by the number of seats. As far as one can see the Awami League and its chief feel vindicated and have little thought for accommodating fallen leaders.

The other side of public opinion says that the Awami League is conducting a witch hunt against BNP members. It will be wise for Awami League to see that more than 3.5 crore voters voted for the BNP.

Syed Maqsud Jamil is a contributor to The Daily Star.

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