March for democracy or martyrdom?

M. Shahidul Islam

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It’s a strategy that has taken the government by surprise. Opposition Leader Khaleda Zia has pulled off a spectacular political coup by declaring to launching a march for democracy on December 29. If allowed to proceed, at least a million people with national flags in hand will flock in Dhaka to demonstrate to the world that the people of Bangladesh not only yearn for democracy, they’re willing to die for it, as they did in the past.

The strategy may seem weird, risky and out of fashion in the context of the blatant brutality being displayed by the government, but it does have similarities with the movements for restoration of democracy launched in the late 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.
More revealing is that the movements for democracy have often been launched either against military regimes (Ayub, Yahya, Ershad), or against a particular political party with suppressive outlook (against the Awami League in the 1970s and now).
There are other similarities which are no less stark. Skeikh Mujib regime in the mid 1970s arbitrarily amended the Constitution (the fourth Amendment), imposed a one party rule, and, unleashed an orgy of mayhem and persecution on political dissenters using the notorious Rakhi Bahini.
The Hasina administration has emulated the same script since coming to power in 2009. An arbitrary amendment brought to the Constitution (the fifteenth Amendment) has been accompanied by a design to impose a one party rule on the nation, and, the post-mutiny, self-styled BGB, along with the RAB and a section of the police, have been conducting genocide in the country particularly since early 2013.

Timing is crucial
The timing of this latest march for democracy is of more essence. First: The government has ended its tenure in office but remains unwilling to face the people on a level playing field for another mandate to govern. Second: The majority of the seats (154) for the 10th Parliament have been declared elected without a single ballot having been cast. Third: No major opposition parties have stepped into contesting the electoral race under the prevailing scheme. Fourth: Domestic and international observers have vetoed the adopted scheme by not sending observers to monitor polling. Fifth: Despite bloody and swelling protests for months, the policy of the government as yet remains unyielding to accommodating the oppositions’ demand for an inclusive election. In the regrettable losses of lives, properties and the image of the nation that we’ve witnessed for too long, some responsible people could have behaved otherwise to change the seemingly irreversible course of this tragic turn of history. For instance, if the CEC had said he would step down because there is no discernible contest in a poll which he has been tasked to facilitate and oversee, the government would have been pressurized further to change its stance.
As well, if the police, RAB or BGB chiefs said to the government that shooting of unarmed protesters is not allowed under law, the government would have felt there are people with conscience who knows what lawful and unlawful command is.
Thoughts like these are not utopian; they’re normative and much expected in any civilized society. But this is a country where personal gains are considered supreme. The absence of conscientious people at all level of the social strata has brought this country to where it’s today.
The public servants, military or civil, always say I do unlawful things because I’m ordered to do. Well, if someone does things bad because he’s asked to, will he also shoot his innocent brother if ordered? Non-cooperation with unjust activities springs from moral conviction and needs sacrifice. Sacrifice must begin somewhere until it jolts the national psyche back into the rule of law, reason and sanity.

History has it
A nation bereft of heroes often discovers lame excuses in peoples’ behaviour that are designed to grease self-interests. These are nations that also find themselves amidst man-made calamities and collective tragedies (Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, etc, in recent years). In the end, the collective gains of freedom, sovereignty and self rule are lost to foreign subjugation and perpetual slavery.
An impassionate glancing back to our own history will help us understand what we’re faced with. We too as a nation had treaded past the Somalian or the Syrian syndromes in 1971 due to our democratic aspirations getting crushed by Yahya Khan’s military regime. Mockeries and pretensions aside, none of us then was ready with a master plan, a mindset, or boxes full of guns and ammunitions to wage a war of liberation against the Pakistan army. Even Sheikh Mujib himself was basking in the glory of becoming Pakistan’s Prime Minister while the war was foisted upon us.

Lurking scenarios
This time, as the nation wages another epic struggle to restore democracy, it too occurs when the guns of our own security personnel stare vengefully to shoot at sight the democracy-hungry demonstrators marching towards Dhaka. This we say because the security men are being seen everywhere, roaming about in streets and highways; despite there being no formal imposition of emergency rules.
We forgot that the same armed personnel had rebelled in 1971 to join the rank of the democracy-hungry people. In late 1990, the military even did not come to rescue its own master HM Ershad. The new generation may be oblivious of the consequences of another military crackdown on our freedom-loving people, but our civic responsibility prompts us to remind the law enforcers the following scenarios that will get played in coming days.
Scenario one: If the oppositions’ march toward Dhaka is foiled by force, guile and intimidation, incessant program of strikes and agitations will destroy what is left of the economy, the infrastructure and the polity.
Scenario two: If the program is allowed to take place, it will be peaceful and the combined 18 party alliance is most likely to declare further peaceful programs from that congregation which will persist until the election schedule is scrapped, dialogue initiated, and, a modality found to hold an election with all major political parties joining the electoral race.
Scenario three: A dreadful third scenario is that the planned march toward Dhaka on December 29 will be allowed to proceed; implanted fifth columnists will be tasked to carry out sabotages of a kind that will offer the needed pretext to the government to go for a major crackdown in which many will be killed and maimed while the remnants of the opposition leaders activists will be arrested to remove any foreseeable risks of polling disruption on January 5, 2014; in the as yet undeclared constituencies.

Science vs. miracle
This may not be an election of any merit or consequence, but sources say the government is yet to abandon its blueprint to holding the election on January 5, come hell or high water. An exit from power is not an option due to a pervading perception in the ruling coterie that the Awami League cannot win a contested election.
Given that this irrational strategy has failed so far to yield any tangible benefit to a government that is in total isolation within and without, it’s time to trash the go-alone election strategy and move forward to building a national consensus on the crisis. The nation sits on a precarious time zone. Either science, or a miracle, can pull it from the brink.
The Archimedean Law of science says a floating body displaces an amount of fluid the weight of which is equal to its own weight. The miracle, on the other hand, will violate that law and show a man walking on water by displacing an amount of fluid the weight of which would be considerably less than his own bodyweight. The arts and the artifacts of Sheikh Hasina’s politics are neither based on any science, nor is a miracle going to save her. Her cohorts must think hard about this dawning reality.
Meanwhile, we’re dead scared that the third scenario broached above will come to the play and an orgy of violence orchestrated by planted fifth columnists will degenerate the planned march toward Dhaka on December 29 into a march to martyrdom for many. We fervently pray for a miracle to spare us from another major tragedy.

Source: Weekly Holiday

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