Is it too late for political crisis-management?

Sadeq Khan

The ruling party is pursuing a policy of state terror against the opposition 18-party alliance, focussed primarily on isolating Islamist Jamaat-Shibir activity and banning Jamaat as a registered political party. The purpose, if not the coercive policy, has the geo-political backing of our big neighbour, India, as is evident from commentaries by both Indian media and Indian leaders. But popular support base for the government has meanwhile declined tremendously.
A very adverse record of corruption and tyranny has caused deprivation as well as widespread insecurity for common people. Civic disaffection of the ruling party has been further compounded by politicisation of the judiciary, and absence of any hope for obtaining justice or redress for common citizens, particularly for the weak and the poor, for wrongs they are suffering from an increasingly criminalised social order under the current regime.
For psychological battle in this situation, the ruling party had devised a clever propaganda offensive from a supposedly “neutral” new generation base to revive the memory of crimes against humanity during the 42-year old span of the liberation war, and for electoral propaganda, to confront the judiciary of its own “International Crimes Tribunal” with youthful cries for death sentence of all accused, who are so-far mostly Jamaat leaders along with two BNP leaders. The Tribunal and the trial process had in the mean time become controversial in the eyes of international jurists and experts on crimes against humanity. Admission by a chairman of the Tribunal of gross government interference in the trial process as exposed in a private conversation, and his subsequent resignation raised defense demands for retrial, which was not heeded. Under “mob” pressure from government-backed new generation agitators, the sentence of hanging to death against a revered religions preacher and Jamaat leader, whose identification as the person accused of crimes has been impugned as erroneous from the very beginning, came as a great shock to the public at large. Not only Jamaat-Shibir activists, who with or without joint actions by the broader opposition alliance have been calling for hartals and aggressively enduring an attrition of police repression by hit and run reprisals, but also many devout persons from the countryside came out on the streets in protest.
The police confronted this “non-political” mob of protesters with the same fury of terror tactics as it was doing against Jamaat-Shibir pickets and demonstrations. Widespread clashes that followed in mofussil districts caused more than 170 deaths, and a string of hartals throughout the month of March, with a remission for the three days of mourning for the deceased President and the Independence Day. Even the Independence Day celebrations were not free from police attacks, clashes, injuries and deaths. The ruling party had raised the stakes of its demonstration of coercive power by police raid in the central office of the mainstream Opposition party BNP, arresting and charging 90 leaders of opposition alliance in speedy trial court for cooked-up serious offences, and presenting many senior leaders in court with hands and legs bound like dangerous criminals. That only increased the opposition resolve to now go for all out movement to “bring down the government.”
Unfortunately for the ruling party, the protected “uprising” of its “new generation” base, some members of which were found interchanging slanders against Islam and Prophet Muhammad on the internet, provoked an “uprising of the pious” throughout the country. Supplementing the political agitation of the opposition, a religions “long march” from all over Bangladesh to the capital Dhaka, planned to be 5 million in strength, is now scheduled to overwhelm Dhaka on April 6 to demand death sentence of bloggers of the ruling party’s new generation mob who insulted Islam and its Prophet, and to obtain assurance of a legislation providing death penalty for blasphemy. If the government obstructs the march, the religious leaders have warned, then there will be a “religious” call for non-stop hartal from April 7. With the already failing police capacity in containing Jamaat-Shibir “insurgency”-style agitation now joined by other parties of the 18-party opposition alliance, the threat of religious devouts marching to the city is being considered very alarming indeed by the public. The talk of the town is of a possible declaration of emergency or a military takeover. The Leader of the Opposition and the Jatio Party leader who is the principal partner of the ruling coalition, have also publicly hinted about the possibility of a military solution to the protracted political impasse that is putting the clock back arresting socio-economic development of the nation.
In similar crises in the past, the foreign diplomatic community in Dhaka, in particular the development partners of the World Bank-led Aid-to-Bangladesh club had been active. This time the diplomatic community has kept itself aloof except for casual comments about need for dialogue and democratic tolerance. The reason is supposed to be the fact that close relationship between Bangladesh and the World Bank-led development partners had ceased to exist.
The rumour-mill in Dhaka now has it that big brother India has become very much alarmed about developments in Dhaka that may go out of control, and is goading the Western diplomatic community to step in for last ditch diplomatic effort for a “political solution” of the crisis in Dhaka. The idea is to push for early transfer of interim power to a non-party government under a consensus presidential candidate to conduct general election this summer, so that all the contentious issues may be shelved and placed before the electorate by respective parties in the hustings, and violent confrontations die down. Sceptics wonder whether it is already too late for such a political solution.
Source: Weekly Holiday


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