Minus formula still at work in politics

The potency of a recent social media firestorm in Bangladesh over a photograph that went viral – where former Indian President Pranab Mukherjee is seen sitting on a chair by himself with dignitaries from Bangladesh’s civil and political leadership standing behind him. 

 

Minus formula still at work in politics

Faruque Ahmed

India is quite silent when politics in Bangladesh is becoming tense with the imprisonment of BNP chairperson Begum Zia in a controversial Zia Orphanage case. In court matters India has hardly anything to do but when it comes about peace and stability and protecting democracy India as a close neighbor can call for careful handling of the situation by the government, least it puts into risk the holding of an inclusive, free and fair election.

India is quite silent when politics in Bangladesh is becoming tense with the imprisonment of BNP chairperson Begum Zia in a controversial Zia Orphanage case. In court matters India has hardly anything to do but when it comes about peace and stability and protecting democracy India as a close neighbor can call for careful handling of the situation by the government, least it puts into risk the holding of an inclusive, free and fair election.

Here India remains focused otherwise. It is difficult to figure out what the Indian leadership may have advised Bangladesh government except Sushma Swaraj’s comment that India wants to see an inclusive election. But she did not make it clear how it will be free and fair without an election time government.

Many believe here in Dhaka that the government is using court order to oust Begum Zia from politics now in this election year and forever if possible. India could be helpful to Bangladesh at this critical moment to chart out a peaceful inclusive election unlike in the previous occasion in 2014. For a peaceful Bangladesh India’s cooperation is a very important.

To many the imprisonment of Begum Zia is nothing but part of a renewed attempt to a ‘minus one’ formula this time instead of earlier minus two formula resorted to by army backed caretaker government of Dr Fokhruddin during 2006-08.

The only difference here is that Gen. Moinuddin Ahmed wanted to create a new political system backed by the army, bureaucracy and some members of the civil society and that needed him the minus two conspiracy to wipeout the two ladies as major political obstacle on his way.

This time the situation is different. Awami League government now wants the minus one formula in its bid to continue in power over many years. India had always supported Awami League and Sheikh Hasina in particular in its political game plan to win and hold on power.
Even senior Indian leaders visiting Bangladesh now avoid seeing BNP chairperson or other opposition leaders, least it makes the ruling party unhappy. Sushma Swaraj had to ignore opposition from several Awami League leaders when she went to meet Begum Zia during her visit to Dhaka at the middle of last year.

On the other hand former Indian President Pranab Mukherjee during his recent visit to Dhaka last month not only had shun Begum Zia, he even stopped short of mentioning the name of former President Ziaur Rahman in a list of reference of regional leaders who fell victims to assassins’ bullets.

India as a great neighbor could be more even handed;otherwise its policy can poise big risk of undermining democracy and rule of law in Bangladesh. The Indian Express in a recent editorial has raised the concern while making it clear that India can’t openly interfere in the situation for its own national interest.

As part of minus two formula of the former caretaker government the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) had filed at that time corruption cases against both the party chiefs—nine against the present Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and four against Begum Zia.
But when Awami League later formed the government it shelved all those cases against the party chief.But the number of cases against Khaleda only exponentially grew to 36 so far to add to the long list from four ACC had initiated at that time.

The military backed formula was essentially aimed at eliminating both the party chiefs. The Awami League government backed formula is now apparently taking aim at Begum Zia and her family to eliminate them from national politics.

She is now almost isolated. Her younger son died in exile in Malaysia several years ago escaping from prosecution in controversial cases. The eldest son Tarique Rahman, who was brutally tortured and physically impaired in military torture cell is now living in exile in London and unable to return home fearing arrest.

Begum Zia is in prison and when party men are trying to free her on bail, the government lawyers are planning to make sure that she stays in jail for life in other cases when their attempt failed to get a life term in the Orphanage case.

Many rule out the possibility of the return of the nightmarish political situation of 2006-08 or violence that swayed the nation during 2014 election. But the way the political wind is changing direction is also not reassuring for peace and stability during this year election.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has made the announcement last week that election to parliament will take place in December as per constitution whether or not BNP takes part in it.  This is a multi-party democracy, she said and those who believe in democracy and people’s right to vote and have confidence in the people will take part in the polls.
But many wonder the Prime Minister may be going to make the mistake again, her stubbornness to hold election asper her blue print may break into chaos. When she talks about multiparty democracy it is essentially Awami League led 14-party coalition comprising of some name shake left political parties who let their names to add to the number of parties behind the government. But their leaders personally contest election with Awami League tickets.

So the Prime Minister’s claim for multiparty largely sounds empty unless BNP led 20-party alliance and such other parties take part in the election. Moreover, when she speaks about winning people’s trust many believe she should make the polls open to be free and fair.
Keeping her cabinet in power to run election and parliament not dissolved to allow incumbent MPs to take part in election from power deny plain even field to the opposition. Her constitutional amendment scrapping the caretaker government does serve the purpose of a free fair election.

Awami League’s formula to minus Begum Zia appears working well to hold next election without her. She is quite old and in broken health. In this situation if Tarique Rahman is unable to return to the countryto give leadership and his wife who may be a replacement without experience may create setback to the party.

Now if the ruling party’s becomes successful to create split within BNP, as many believe this may be on  card, the biggest challenge to Awami League’s bid to continue in power may disappear for the time being. But BNP has the chance to survive any situation based on mass support at the grassroots.

But here the nation is going to be a biggestloser through chaos. Here the presence of a strong political party or parties always provide backbone to a strong foundation of the state and it is key to keep the democratic process functioning. Otherwise the state may fall into the grip of authoritarian leadership which The Indian Express fears.
The Deccan Chronicle in an opinion piece recently writes, “It’s a vendetta in Dhaka, India must not meddle.” It continues,” India has chosen not to react publicly …… this is likely to be interpreted as continuing support for Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League government. It said India tacitly supported the one sided parliament election in 2014 boycotted by BNP. With a mere 22 percent polling that election was legitimized by India’s backing.

The article further said New Delhi may be tempted to go along with the legal machinations of the Awami League government to grab the coming general election. But it warned India would be making the same mistake – backing a particular party or leader – thathas caused it so much grief in Nepal and the Maldives.

The article appeared in the Holiday on 23/2/2018

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