Seeking apology for past conduct is coming into sub-continental political culture. But just. We have a long way to go in matching some Asian countries like Japan for one, and of course, the West in terms of public expressions of contrition for wrongdoing by leaders.
Former Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi had expressed her remorse publicly over her government's excesses during emergency in 1975. She returned to power in 1980 on a resounding note. How much humility contributed to her victory and how far was it due to Morarji Desai-led Janata government's failure, is difficult to determine. But coming from a scion of Nehru family, her apology struck a genuine note with the Indian electorate.
Bangladesh's Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had apologised to the people when she went to polls in 2009 for "any omission or commission" on her part during her rule between 1996 and 2001. Almost with eyes shut, one could say that an anti-incumbency wave against Khaleda Zia clinched the Hasina victory more than her act of apology. There is little to show, however, that the reasons for which she had asked for public forgiveness before 2009 have been wholly avoided by her this time round. Although her track-record in the second term features some good points, these have been squarely obscured by her precipitation of issues that were simply not there. Anyway, she has pleaded with the public to give her a second term. Would she be next time lucky?
Opposition leader Khaleda Zia also sought forgiveness of the people for any wrongdoing of her government the last time over. Then she has doubled it up by imploring for a term in office on a promise of taking the country forward on Wednesday's public rally in Dhaka.
Khaleda Zia has made two points in her latest Dhaka speech, both for the first time: One, she says she is apprehensive of the Awami League fiddling with the idea of proclaiming emergency at some stage down the road; and two, she underlined the issue of Paribartantra(translates into dynastic lineage of power and aggrandisement).
The first apprehension is entirely the product of political polarisation morphing into an anarchic situation, avoidable only through engaging politics wbetween the two major political forces in the country. As for dynastic politics it is bred into the system maintained through copious dearth of intra-party democracy.
A word about Jamaat-Shibir. After things hit the roof with their nerve-wracking terrorisation it is interesting to note how calmly they assimilated into the huge public rally that the BNP organised in the city on Wednesday. When a junior partner joins the senior one and pools their resources in staging a big show the former comes out of the feeling of isolation, maybe alienation and a gnawing sense of desperation.
No reason to believe though, Jamaat-Shibir has sobered down from a sense of solidarity. On the contrary, if indulged by hawks in the BNP, one hopes they are outnumbered by peace-loving elements in the party, the religion-based elements can come out in their colours. Indeed, it is difficult to live down the effects of their blitz attacks on police and vandalising of public property in Dhaka, Chittagong, Rangpur, Rajshahi, Barisal and some other districts from November 5 to 7. One wonders whether this was an act of sabotage.
Jamaat as a legally constituted political party is entitled to its legitimate space in national politics. But yes, they must behave as one. Let alone Pakistan, India, constitutionally a secular democracy, has Hindutva-centric political parties and even the vestigial remnant of pre-partition Muslim League. They not merely operate, particularly the BJP, RSS included, but also figure in regional and even central political power equations.
Does Jamaat need to court pariah image perennially? It perhaps doesn't have to, if it takes two steps: First, it seeks apology for its rabid anti-people role in 1971; and second, it does not begrudge the war crimes trial in progress to bring the collaborators and perpetrators of crimes against humanity to justice. It is a universal demand that must be met, no question about it. Significantly, no liberal democracy, not even the USA, is opposed to war crimes trial, only that they, like every right thinking country and people, demand transparency and fairness of the trial procedures including meeting international standards.
Staunch religion-based or leaning parties have changed like in Egypt and Turkey. Even from power they are reconciling to changing circumstances. By refusing to change as a political party Jamaat is only alienating itself even more from public consciousness. It is time the new genre of Jamaat activists push for updating the party's politics.
The writer is Associate Editor, The Daily Star.