About Politics and Political Parties of the Country
At present, a credible election is at the core of everyone’s concern. Before we criticise the national elections of 2014 and 2018, we need to scrutinise the root cause behind it. The movement in the 90's brought all the political parties on the same platform. Through the national election in 1991, Bangladesh started to build a democratic framework. The caretaker government soon became an established practice until it was contaminated by BNP in 2006 and burnt by Awami League in 2012. BNP thinks it is only Awami League to blame but, they have never apologised for the things they have done. They try to justify their corruption by accusing Awami League to be more corrupt. Before the collapse of our Electoral process by 1/11, both Awami League and BNP were coming into power in every five years, and, people ensured their accountability by changing them. The grenade attack of 21st August is not just an attack but created unimaginable distance between both the parties. However, they still had opportunities of getting closer when our PM called Khaleda Zia and was willing to offer her any ministry to form the national government. BNP made some severe political mistakes in the past and they have not apologised yet. For example, even if it is Khaleda Zia's birthday on 15th of August, she should have not celebrated out of respect for Bangabandhu and his family. It's important for politicians to have political etiquettes. Those who advised her to do this are not her well-wishers.
Soon after the provision of caretaker government was removed and Khaleda Zia was evicted from her cantonment house BNP failed to plan ahead. In politics, you have to pay for your mistakes. Had BNP participated in the election of 2014 it is highly likely they would have won. At least, their massive victories in the city corporation elections suggested that they were more popular than Awami League at that time. Politics for parties like Awami League and BNP is about existence. There are rumours that decision makers of BNP were told by foreign agencies that if they don't participate there will be another 1/11 situation and they can enjoy the benefits. BNP wanted to stop the election but they failed.
On the other hand, Jamaat failed to apologise for their stand in 1971. The young generation needs to know how their leaders at that time got involved in helping the Pakistani army. Some of Jamaat leaders were tried for their involvement in war crimes. The problem in our country is that when we like someone we start idealising them blindly. This is what Islam forbids. Jamaat uses religion as their political strategy or simply tries to copy Erdogan's style. I can never be alright with an ideology that prohibits women from wearing headscarf or, a stylish dress that is classified as "revealing". The way our beloved prophet ruled Makkah and Medina was much different from the ideologies of these Islamic parties. Yes, 90% of our population is comprised of Muslims but, our Muslims are not radical but, their faith is unbreakable. Bangladesh could have been an example of religious harmony. It is a place where Muslims guard temples during Puja and Hindus visit Muslims’ houses during Eid. Christians invite people of all religions during Christmas. However, it is sad but some people often use the victim card to gain asylum or other benefits in another country. Such desperate moves portrayed Bangladesh as an unsafe place for minority. Awami League claims to be the ultimate protector of minority religions while BNP claims to be the protector of Islam. In reality, none of them are walking in the right direction. Awami League did a great job in curtailing the growth of a radical force called Hefazat-e-Islam. Hefazat deviated from being the principal body of Madrasa Education to a fundamentalist group with political aims. Their leaders often gave insulting speeches regarding women's clothing and education. One of their leaders even compared women with tamarind. These uneducated fundamentalists do not represent 90% Muslims of this country. Islam never prohibited women from learning and working.
BNP failed to realise that it would have not been easy for the ruling party to outsmart BNP in 2014. I still remember how Khaleda Zia called a long march few days before the election in 2014. The roads around her house were blocked. Thousands of members came to Dhaka but failed to contact senior leaders. Some say, an order from London created confusion. On the other hand, Awami League simply enjoyed the walkover and formed the government again with Jatiya Party in the opposition. After the election of 2014, BNP actually stopped their movement and waited for Awami League to arrange another election before completing the term. And, people still remember the violence BNP and Jamaat caused by their protest to prevent the election. Finally, after waiting for a year, BNP decided to protest again with continuous strike for around four months without any outcome apart from alleged burning of people alive with petrol bombs. Leaders of BNP were always confused. As a result, most party workers faced severe legal consequences including conviction and imprisonment.
After making their worst political mistake in 2014, BNP should have reorganised their party from grassroots level and tried make a strong comeback in the election of 2018. When Khaleda Zia got convicted and went to jail BNP faced a serious leadership crisis. They will always say Tareq Rahman has filled up the vacuum but, my observation is different from BNP's. In fact, we have seen BNP's political death when they failed to build any protest after Khaleda Zia was imprisoned. If we look back, it will be apparent that some masterminds of BNP wanted Khaleda Zia to remain in Jail so that they could earn sympathy votes in the election of 2018. At some point it felt like BNP wanted to come to power over Khaleda Zia's dead body. Their decision to beg the government to allow Khaleda Zia to leave the country seriously questioned her uncompromising character.
Few weeks ago, the protest regarding Ishrak's arrest made me feel he is more important and popular than Khaleda Zia. I am sure most supporters of BNP were shocked to see the sudden alliance before the last election. Their slogan was to free Khaleda Zia but their alliance with Oikko Front soon became a joke. Their electoral manifesto looked ambitious but, lacked substance. During this phase, BNP never really raised a strong voice or protested for the rights of people. They have only demanded an election so that they can go to power. BNP never made any promise to strengthen the entire electoral and democratic framework. They never promised to repeal oppressive laws like Digital Security Act 2018.
In the upcoming national election, BNP is trying to form a national government under the leadership of Tarek Rahman. It may sound appealing to the blind supporters of BNP but it will fail to attract mass people and the civil society. And, why will people have faith in someone who left the country thirteen years ago and never returned. On the other hand, they barely talk about Khaleda Zia and have this wait and see attitude regarding her future. After the last election BNP failed to build protest in relation to the fairness of the election. Instead, their confused decision to send six MP's to the parliament made them lose their moral grounds to accuse the ruling party of vote rigging. People stopped going to polling booths. People have changed a lot in the last 20 years. It is much difficult to fool them anymore. They are well aware of the wrongdoings too.
BNP never promised to bring significant changes to our democratic framework. BNP failed to propose any practicable amendment to our Constitution which can ensure balance of power. The weaknesses in our constitutional institutions are evident. It is time to strengthen our glorified judiciary to establish absolute rule of law. Hence, MPs should never have the authority to terminate judges. Our election commission is very powerful by law but, in practice we have always witnessed a slave trying to please the master.
Bangladeshi has just completed 50 years of its independence. Sadly, even after so much bloodshed and sacrifice we still have to ask how independent we are. We still have to fight to uphold the spirit of our independence. It's shameful that most of the people feel rule of law doesn't exist. It is disgraceful how bribes have become the final test of every government job. In 2022, when the entire world is encouraging flow of information without barriers, we have introduced arbitrary laws like Digital Security Act and are planning to make laws regarding the use of social media. Critics are saying under the proposed law it will be a crime to even say that you are upset. Bangladesh was created under the strong leadership of Bangabandhu. However, we also need to recognise and promote the contributions of other political leaders who supported him. His ideologies were people-friendly, not power-friendly. Yes, we have improved gradually but, for a patriot no development is enough until you see your country at the top in every aspect. Rise of GDP is not the only benchmark to measure development when we have severe pay gap. Around 4 crores of our population are unemployed. A garment worker in Dhaka earns around 200 dollars every month. A decent official job holder earns around 500-600 dollars (50 thousand Taka per month). A two bedroom flat in a mediocre area in Dhaka is around 20,000 Taka. Transportation and children's education would cost 20,000. Only 10,000 is left for grocery but, is it enough? The inflation rate is rising and thus, everything is becoming more expensive. The government finally started talking about syndicates behind the manipulation of prices. These syndicates always existed. From law enforcers to local leaders, everyone needs their share of profit from most businesses and transports. We tend to act blind until something cuts our skin.
It is alarming how our PM has to step in to fix every problem. Surprisingly, she even had to give directions regarding a playground recently. An efficient cabinet needs to supervise and monitor each ministry. Our bureaucrats are qualified but, upholding the chain of command is necessary. All government bodies needs to realise that they are not above the law. And, it is politicians who should govern the country. Veteran politician Tofail Ahmed correctly pointed out the tension between bureaucrats and politicians. The people have always opposed undemocratic governance. Thus, Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia became the face of this country's politics. It is amazing how they have sacrificed so much in life. Our PM definitely lost more than anyone. However, their parties may not be walking in the right direction to make the youth really feel for them. The attacks on our PM made her so strong that she singlehandedly brought Awami League into power for the third time in a row. Some members of the party are simply enjoying a meal served on a silver platter and they will disappear once the fancy party ends.
I think it is beyond my intelligence to understand why our government had to enact Digital Securities Act 2018 after serious questions were raised regarding the persistent abuse of our much controversial S57 of ICT Act. I really feel like questioning whether the advisors to our PM are actually guiding her in the right direction in terms of her political moves. She was always known to be more media-friendly than other leaders. S47 of the Act allows law enforcers to arrest or search without any warrant if they believe that an offence under this Act have been committed, or is being committed, or there is a "possibility". It is worrisome, and eventually it will impede independent journalism and freedom of expression. It is equally upsetting to see that the journalists have failed to stop the application of this dark Act on them over the years.
In S32, punishment of 14yrs of imprisonment or fine of 2.5million, or both, was introduced for offences committed under the "Official Secrets Act 1923" through any electronic mode or device. Are we going back to early 19th century? How ridiculous is that? The stakeholders are mainly concerned with S-8, 28, 29, 31 as it deals with hurting religion, disrupting public order, publishing defaming information or causing deterioration of law and order. These provisions will not leave any scope for investigative journalism. In a society like ours where everything is so politicised that the system bends more towards those in power, only a vibrant and unbiased media can ensure accountability. At the same time, the Act somewhat failed to protect mass people from crimes using digital instruments and platforms.
Awami League fails to realize that they might not be in power one day and such laws will be heavily detrimental. Karl Marx and his theory failed as we cannot afford to have a lawless society but there is no scope to disagree with the fact that some laws can be made to fulfil the desire of the ruling class and oppress the lower/weak class. The western countries are not only concerned about the fairness of an election but cares more about protection of human rights. Thus, American sanctions should be seen as a caution.
Our PM gave houses to those without a home. It's not only about houses and clothes anymore. People want more as their standard of living is improving and it's absolutely fine to have such expectations. Awami League should listen to the people. It is really important to educate people with vocational training to make them more employable. Our PM needs to be here for another term. At the present, we are facing leadership crisis. Bangladesh will not turn into Sri Lanka but we need to assess the feasibility of our big projects. In the absence of Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh might turn into Pakistan, and, our sovereignty and economy will be threatened. She is a strong leader and knows how to maintain balance in global politics although our diplomatic strategies need to improve. In global politics, it's more effective to ensure personal connections between delegates. Real diplomacy lies beyond formal meetings and dinners.
The writer is a Barrister
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